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Into The Depths








From: Hidden Gold

"Good Lord, Race! What's happened?"

Senator Rexhill, on the next morning, surprised that Moran did not show
up at the hotel, had gone in search of him, and was dumbfounded when he
entered the office.

Moran, in his desperate efforts to free himself, had upset the chair
into which he was tied, and being unable to right it again, had passed
most of the night in a position of extreme discomfort. Toward morning,
his confinement had become positive agony, and he had inwardly raved at
Wade, the gag in his mouth making audible expression impossible, until
he was black in the face.

"My God, Race!" the Senator exclaimed, when, having cut the lashings and
withdrawn the gag, he saw his agent in a state bordering on collapse,
"what has happened to you?" He helped the man to his feet and held him
up.

"My throat--dry--whiskey!" Moran gasped, and groaned as he clutched at
the desk, from which he slid into a chair, where he sat rubbing his
legs, which ached with a thousand pains.

Rexhill found a bottle of whiskey and a glass on a shelf in the closet.
He poured out a generous drink of the liquor and handed it to Moran,
but the agent could not hold it in his swollen fingers. The Senator
picked up the glass, which had not broken in its fall and, refilling it,
held it to Moran's lips. It was a stiff drink, and by the time it was
repeated, the agent was revived somewhat.

"Now, tell me," urged Rexhill.

Prepared though he was for an outburst of fury, he was amazed at the
torrent of blasphemous oaths which Moran uttered. He caught Wade's name,
but the rest was mere incoherence, so wildly mouthed and so foul that he
began to wonder if torture had unbalanced the man's mind. The expression
of Moran's eyes, which had become mere slits in his inflamed and puffy
face, showed that for the time he was quite beyond himself. What with
his blued skin and distended veins, his puffed lips and slurred speech,
he seemed on the brink of an apoplectic seizure. Rexhill watched him
anxiously.

"Come, come, man. Brace up," he burst out, at length. "You'll kill
yourself, if you go on that way. Be a man."

The words seemed to have their effect, for the agent made a supreme
effort at the self-control which was seldom lacking in him. He appeared
to seize the reins of self-government and to force himself into a state
of unnatural quiet, as one tames a frantic horse.

"The safe!" he muttered hoarsely, scrambling to his feet.

His stiffened legs still refused to function, however, and Rexhill,
hastening to the safe, threw open the door. One glance at the
disordered interior told him the whole story. Moran watched feverishly
as he dragged the crumpled papers out on the floor and pawed through
them.

"Gone?"

"Gone!"

They looked at each other, a thin tide of crimson brightening the
congestion of Moran's visage, while Rexhill's face went ghastly white.
With shaking fingers, the agent poured himself a third drink and tossed
it down his throat.

"It was Wade who tied you up?"

Moran nodded.

"Him and that--girl--the Purnell girl." Stirred more by the other's
expression of contempt than by the full half pint of whiskey he had
imbibed, he crashed his fist down on the desk. "Mind what you say now,
because, by God, I'm in no mood to take anything from you. He got the
drop on me, you understand. Let it go at that."

"It's gone right enough--all gone." Rexhill groaned. "Why, he only needs
to publish those plots to make this a personal fight between us and
every property owner in the valley. They'll tar and feather us, if they
don't kill us outright. It'll be gold with them--gold. Nothing else will
count from now on."

"I'll get back at him yet!" growled Moran.

"You'll...." The Senator threateningly raised his gorilla-like arms, but
let them drop helplessly again. "How did they get into the safe? Did you
leave it open?"

"Do you think I'm a fool?" Moran fixed his baleful eyes upon his
employer, as he leaned heavily, but significantly, across the flat desk.
"Say, let's look ahead to to-morrow, not back to last night. Do you
hear? I'll do the remembering of last night; you forget it!"

Rexhill tried to subdue him with his own masterful gaze, but somehow the
power was lacking. Moran was in a dangerous frame of mind, and past the
dominance of his employer. He had but one thought, that of vengeance
upon the man who had misused him, to which everything else had for the
time being to play second.

"You talk like I let them truss me up for fun," he went on. "I did it
because I had to, because I was looking into the muzzle of a six-shooter
in the hands of a desperate man; that was why. Do you get me? And I
don't need to be reminded of it. No, by Heaven! My throat's as dry yet
as a fish-bone, and every muscle in me aches like hell! I'll remember it
all right, and he'll pay. Don't you have any worries about that."

Rexhill was sufficiently a captain of men to have had experience of such
moods in the past, and he knew the futility of arguing. He carefully
chose a cigar from his case, seated himself, and began to smoke.

Moran, apparently soothed by this concession to his temper, and a bit
ashamed of himself, watched him for some moments in silence. When at
last he spoke, his tone was more conciliatory.

"Have you heard from Washington?" he asked.

"I got a telegram this morning, saying that the matter is under
advisement."

"Under advisement!" Moran snorted, in disgust. "That means that they'll
get the cavalry here in time to fire a volley over our graves--ashes to
ashes and dust to dust. What are you going to do about it?"

Rexhill blew a huge mouthful of fragrant smoke into the air.

"Frankly, Race, I don't think you're in a proper mood to talk."

"You're right." Something in Moran's voice suggested the explosion of a
fire-arm, and the Senator looked at him curiously. "I'm through talking.
We've both of us talked too damn much, and that's a fact."

"I'll be obliged to you," the Senator remarked, "if you'll remember that
you draw a salary from me and that you owe me a certain amount of
respect."

Moran laughed raucously.

"Respect! I don't owe you a damn thing, Senator; and what you owe me you
won't be able to pay if you sit here much longer waiting for something
to turn up. You'll be ruined, that's what you'll be--ruined!" He brought
his big hand down on the table with a thump.

"By your own carelessness. Now, look here, Race, I've made allowances
for you, because...."

"You don't need to soft soap me, Senator; save that for your office
seekers." The agent was fast working himself into another passion. "I've
not ruined you, and you know it. A safe's a safe, isn't it? Instead of
ruining you, I'm trying to save you. If you go broke, you'll do it
yourself with your pap and sentiment. But if I am to pull your chestnuts
out of the fire for you, you've got to give me a free hand. I've got to
fight fire with fire."

Rexhill wiped his glasses nervously, for despite his assumption of calm,
his whole future swung upon the outcome of his Crawling Water venture.
If he appeared calm, it was not because he felt so, but because the
schooling of a lifetime had taught him that the man who keeps cool
usually wins.

"There's nothing to do but go on as we are headed now," he declared.
"Wade's discovery of our purpose is most unfortunate"--his voice shook a
trifle--"but it can't be helped. In the legal sense, he has added to the
list of his crimes, and we have more against him than we ever had. He
now has three charges to face--murder, assault, and robbery. It rests
with us whether he shall be punished by the courts for any of the
three."

The Senator spoke emphatically in the effort to convince himself that
his statements were practically true, but he avoided Moran's eyes as he
did so. His show of optimism had little substance behind it, because now
that his motives were likely to be bared to the public, he was too good
a lawyer not to realize how little standing he would have before a jury,
in that section at least; of course, Wade must realize this equally well
and feel fortified in his own position. Rexhill's chief hope had been
that the support of the cavalry from Fort Mackenzie would enable him to
control the situation; but here, too, he was threatened by the
unexpected hesitation of the authorities at Washington.

Moran, however, was frankly contemptuous of the prospect of help from
that source. He had never believed greatly in it, although at the time
it was first mentioned his enthusiasm for any plan of action had
inspired him with some measure of the Senator's confidence. Now that his
lust of revenge made him intolerant of all opposition, he was thoroughly
exasperated by the telegram received from Washington, and had no faith
in aid from such a quarter.

"What if your cavalry doesn't come?" he demanded.

"Then we must rely upon the Sheriff here to maintain the law that he is
sworn to support."

"Bah! He's weakening now. He's not forgetting that he's to spend the
rest of his days in this town, after we've gone back East, or perhaps to
hell. Who's to look after him, then, if he's got himself in bad with the
folks here? Senator"--Moran clumped painfully over to the safe and
leaned upon it as he faced his employer--"it isn't cavalry that'll save
you, or that old turkey buzzard of a sheriff either. I'm the man to do
it, if anybody is, and the only way out is to lay for this man Wade and
kidnap him." Rexhill started violently. "Kidnap him, and take him into
the mountains, and keep him there with a gun at his head, until he signs
a quit-claim. I've located the very spot to hide him in--Coyote Springs.
It's practically inaccessible, a natural hiding-place."

Rexhill turned a shade or two paler as he nervously brushed some cigar
ashes from his vest and sleeve. He had already gone farther along the
road of crime than he felt to be safe, but the way back seemed even more
dangerous than the road ahead. The question was no longer one of ethics,
but purely of expediency.

"We haven't time to wait on cavalry and courts," Moran went on. "I'm
willing to take the risk, if you are. If we don't take it, you know what
the result will be. We may make our get-away to the East, or we may
stop here for good--under ground. You have little choice either way. If
you get out of this country, you'll be down and out. Your name'll be a
byword and you'll be flat broke, a joke and an object of contempt the
nation over. And it's not only yourself you've got to think of; you've
got to consider your wife and daughter, and how they'll stand poverty
and disgrace. Against all that you've got a chance, a fighting chance.
Are you game enough to take it?"

All that Moran said was true enough, for Rexhill knew that if he failed
to secure control of Crawling Water Valley, his back would be broken,
both politically and financially. He would not only be stripped of his
wealth, but of his credit and the power which stood him in lieu of
private honor. He would be disgraced beyond redemption in the eyes of
his associates, and in the bosom of his family he would find no solace
for public sneers. Failure meant the loss forever of his daughter's
respect, which might yet be saved to him through the glamour of success
and the reflection of that tolerance which the world is always ready to
extend toward the successful.

"You are right," he admitted, "in saying that I have my wife and
daughter to consider, and that reminds me. I haven't told you that Helen
overheard our conversation about Wade, in my room, the other day." He
rapidly explained her indignation and threat of exposure. "I don't mean
to say that your suggestion hasn't something to recommend it," he summed
up, "but if Wade were to disappear, and she felt that he had been
injured, I probably could not restrain her."

The agent leaned across the desk, leeringly.

"Tell her the truth, that I found Wade here in this room with Dorothy
Purnell, at night; that they came here for an assignation, because it
was the one place in Crawling Water...."

Rexhill got to his feet with an exclamation of disgust.

"Well, say, then, that they came here to rifle the place, but that when
I caught them they were spooning. Say anything you like, but make her
believe that it was a lovers' meeting. See if she'll care then to save
him."

The Senator dropped heavily back into his chair without voicing the
protest that had been upon his tongue's end. He was quick to see that,
contemptible though the suggestion was, it yet offered him a means
whereby to save himself his daughter's respect and affection. The whole
danger in that regard lay in her devotion to Wade, which was responsible
for her interest in him. If she could be brought to feel that Wade was
unworthy, that he had indeed wronged her, her own pride could be trusted
to do the rest.

"If I thought that Wade were the man to make her happy," Rexhill puffed
heavily, in restraint of his excitement.

"Happy? Him?" Moran's eyes gleamed.

"Or if there was a shred of truth--but to make up such a story out of
whole cloth...."

"What's the matter with you, Senator? Why, I thought you were a master
of men, a general on the field of battle!" The agent leaned forward
again until his hot, whiskey-laden breath fanned the other man's face.

"I'm a father, Race, before I'm anything else in God's world."

"But it's true, Senator. True as I'm speaking. Ask any one in Crawling
Water. Everybody knows that Wade and this Purnell girl are mad in love
with each other."

"Is that true, Race?"

Rexhill looked searchingly into the inflamed slits which marked the
location of the agent's eyes.

"As God is my witness. It's the truth now, whatever he may have thought
of Helen before. He's been making a fool of her, Senator. I've tried to
make her see it, but she won't. You'll not only be protecting yourself,
but you'll do her a service." He paused as Rexhill consulted his watch.

"Helen will be over here in a few minutes. I promised to take a walk
with her this morning."

"Are you game?"

"I'll do it, Race." Rexhill spoke solemnly. "We might as well fry for
one thing as another." Grimacing, he shook the hand which the other
offered him. "When will you start?"

"Now," Moran answered promptly. "I'll take three or four men with me,
and we'll hang around Wade's ranch until we get him. He'll probably be
nosing around the range trying to locate the gold, and we shouldn't have
much trouble. When we've got him safe...." His teeth ground audibly upon
each other as he paused abruptly, and the sound seemed to cause the
Senator uneasiness.

"By the way, since I've turned near-assassin, you might as well tell me
who shot Jensen." Rexhill spoke with a curious effort. "If Wade gets
you, instead of you getting Wade, it may be necessary for me to know all
the facts."

Moran answered from the window, whither he had stepped to get his hat,
which lay on the broad sill.

"It was Tug Bailey, Senator. Here comes Helen now. You needn't tell her
that I was tied up all night." He laid Wade's quirt on the desk. "He
left that behind him."

Rexhill grunted.

"Yes, I will tell her," he declared sulkily, "and about the Jensen
affair, if I've got to be a rascal, you'll be the goat. Give Bailey some
money and get him out of town before he tanks up and tells all he
knows."

Helen came in, looking very sweet and fresh in a linen suit, and was at
first inclined to be sympathetic when she heard of Moran's plight,
without knowing the source of it. Before she did know, the odor of
liquor on his breath repelled her. He finally departed, not at the
bidding of her cool nod, but urged by his lust of revenge, which, even
more than the whiskey, had fired his blood.

"Intoxicated, isn't he? How utterly disgusting!"

Her father looked at her admiringly, keenly regretting that he must
dispel her love dream. But he took some comfort from the fact that Wade
was apparently in love with another woman. The thought of this had been
enough to make him seize upon the chance of keeping all her affection
for himself.

"He's had a drink or two," he admitted, "but he needed them. He had a
hard night. Poor fellow, he was nearly dead when I arrived. Wade handled
him very roughly."

Helen looked up in amazement.

"Did Gordon do it? What was he doing here?" The Senator hesitated, and
while she waited for his answer she was struck by a sense of humor in
what had happened. She laughed softly. "Good for him!"

"We think that he came here to--to see what he could find, partly,"
Rexhill explained. "That probably was not his only reason. He wasn't
alone."

"Oh!" Her tone expressed disappointment that his triumph had not been a
single-handed one. "Did they tie him with these?" she asked, picking up
one of the crumpled strips of linen, which lay on the floor. Suddenly
her face showed surprise. "Why--this is part of a woman's skirt?"

Her father glanced at the strip of linen over his glasses.

"Yes," he nodded. "I believe it is."

"Somebody was here with Race?" Her voice was a blend of attempted
confidence and distressing doubt.

"My dear, I have painful news for you...."

"With Gordon?" The question was almost a sob. "Who, father? Dorothy
Purnell?"

Helen dropped into a chair, and going to her, the Senator placed his
hands on her shoulders. She looked shrunken, years older, with the bloom
of youth blighted as frost strikes a flower, but even in the first and
worst moments of her grief there was dignity in it. In a measure Race
Moran had prepared her for the blow; he, and what she herself had seen
of the partisanship between Dorothy and Gordon.

"You must be brave, my dear," her father soothed, "because it is
necessary that you should know. Race came upon them here last night, in
each other's embrace, I believe, and with the girl's help, Wade got the
upper hand."

"Are you sure it was Gordon?" Her cold fingers held to his warm ones as
in her childhood days, when she had run to him for protection.

"His quirt is there on the desk."

"But why should they have come here, father--here of all places? Doesn't
that seem very improbable to you? That is what I can't understand. Why
didn't he go to her house?"

"For fear of arrest, I suppose. Their reason for coming here, you have
half expressed, Helen, because it offered them the safest refuge, at
that time of night, in Crawling Water. The office has not been used at
night since we rented it, and besides Moran has been doubly busy with
me at the hotel. But I don't say that was their sole reason for coming
here. The safe had been opened, and doubtless their chief motive was
robbery."

She sprang to her feet and stood facing him with flaming cheeks, grieved
still but aroused to passionate indignation.

"Father, do you stand there and tell me that Gordon Wade has not only
been untrue to me, but that he came here at night to steal from you;
broke in here like a common thief?" Her breast heaved violently, and in
her eyes shone a veritable fury of scorn.

The Senator met her outburst gravely as became a man in his position. He
spoke with judicial gravity, which could leave no doubt of his own
convictions, while conveying a sense of dignified restraint, tempered
with regret.

"He not only did so, my dear, but he succeeded in escaping with
documents of the greatest value to us, which, if prematurely published,
may work us incalculable harm and subject our motives to the most
grievous misconception."

She lifted her head with so fine a gesture of pride that the Senator was
thrilled by his own paternity. Before him, in his child, he seemed to
see the best of himself, purified and exalted.

"Then, if that is true, you may do with him what you will. I am
through."

He knew her too well to doubt that her renunciation of Wade had been
torn from the very roots of her nature, but for all that, when she had
spoken, she was not above her moment of deep grief.

"My little girl, I know--I know!" Putting his arms around her, he held
her while she wept on his shoulder. "But isn't it better to find out
these things now, in time, before they have had a chance to really wreck
your happiness?"

"Yes, of course." She dried her eyes and managed to smile a little.
"I--I'll write to Maxwell to-day and tell him that I'll marry him. That
will please mother."

It pleased the Senator, too, for it meant that no matter what happened
to him, the women of his family would be provided for. He knew that
young Frayne was too much in love to be turned from his purpose by any
misfortune that might occur to Helen's father.





Next: A Dastard's Blow

Previous: Desperate Measures



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