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Tangled Threads








From: Hidden Gold

Relieved though Helen was to some extent, by her father's assurances and
by the explanation which he had given, she was far from being in a
tranquil frame of mind.

She knew that whatever might be the outcome of the graver charge against
Gordon, he would probably have to suffer for his release of Santry, and
she found herself wishing more than ever that her lover had never seen
the West. What little it had contributed to his character was not worth
what it had cost already and would cost in the future. Surely, his
manhood was alive enough not to have needed the development of such an
environment, and if his lot had been cast in the East, she could have
had him always with her. A long letter, which she had recently received
from Maxwell Frayne, recounting the gayeties of New York and Washington,
made her homesick. Although she could scarcely think of the two men at
the same moment, still, as she sat in the crude little hotel, she would
have welcomed a little of young Frayne's company for the sake of
contrast. She was yearning for the flesh-pots of her own Egypt.

From the news of the fight at the ranch, which had been brought to town
by the messenger, she gathered that Wade meant to intrench himself on
the ranch and defy the law, which would probably embroil him in other
criminal acts. Crawling Water, too, was rapidly filling up with armed
cattlemen, who, she thought, would do Gordon's cause more harm than
good. Toward afternoon, word came of a bloody skirmish on the Trowbridge
range, between a number of his punchers and some of Moran's hired men,
and that added to the tension among those crowding the main street.

From the parlor windows of the hotel she watched what was going on
outside, not without alarm, so high did feeling seem to run. The threats
of the ranch men, handed about amongst themselves but loud enough for
her to catch a word now and then, made her wonder if the town was really
safe for her father, or for herself. A storm was coming up, and the
rising wind whipped the flimsy lace curtains of the windows and kept
them fluttering like flags. The distant muttering of the thunder and an
occasional sharp flash of lightning wore on her tired nerves until she
could sit still no longer.

For the sake of something to do, she went up to her room, intending to
write some letters there, but her bed had not been made up, so she
returned to the parlor with her fountain pen and writing-pad. To Maxwell
Frayne she wrote a brief note, which was not likely to cheer him much.
She had become so in the habit of taking her moods out on Maxwell that
to do so, even with a pen, was second nature to her. She despised him
for his tolerance of her tyranny, never realizing that he reserved to
himself the privilege of squaring their account, if she should ever
become his wife.

Then to ease her mind of the strain it bore, she wrote at some length to
her mother; not telling the whole truth but enough of it to calm her own
nervousness. She said nothing of the conversation she had overheard, but
went fully into the scene between her father and Gordon Wade. With a
little smile hovering on her lips, she wrote dramatically of the
Senator's threat to crush the ranchman. "That will please mother," she
said to herself, as her pen raced over the paper. "Gordon felt, you see,
that"--she turned a page--"father knew Santry had not killed Jensen,
and...."

The hotel-keeper poked his head in at the doorway.

"Two ladies to see you, Miss," he announced. "Mrs. Purnell and
daughter."

He gave Helen no chance to avoid the visit, for with the obviousness of
the plains, he had brought the visitors upstairs with him, and so,
blotting what she had written and weighing down her letter against the
breeze, she arose to greet them.

"This is good of you, Mrs. Purnell, and I am so glad to meet your
daughter. I've been lonely and blue all day and now you have taken pity
on me."

Mrs. Purnell shot an "I told you so" glance at Dorothy, which made that
young lady smile to herself.

"I was sorry not to have been at home when you called, Miss Rexhill."

The two girls looked at each other, each carefully veiling hostility,
Dorothy beneath a natural sweetness of disposition, and Helen with the
savoir faire of social experience. Each felt and was stung by a
realization of the other's points of advantage. Dorothy saw a perfection
of well-groomed poise, such as she could hardly hope to attain, and
Helen was impressed with her rival's grace and natural beauty.

"Won't you sit down?"

"But aren't we disturbing you?" Mrs. Purnell asked, with a glance toward
the writing materials.

"Indeed, you are not. I was writing some duty letters to kill time. I'm
only too glad to stop because I'm really in no writing mood and I am
most anxious to hear what is going on outside. Isn't it dreadful about
Mr. Wade?"

"You mean his helping Santry?" Dorothy asked, with a little touch of
pride which did not escape her hostess.

"Partly that; but more because he is sure to be arrested himself. I've
been terribly worried."

Dorothy glanced at her keenly and smiled.

"I have an idea that they may find Gordon hard to arrest," she remarked.

"Yes," Mrs. Purnell put in. "He is so popular. Still, I agree with you
that there is every cause for anxiety." The good lady did not have a
chance every day to agree with the daughter of a United States Senator,
and the opportunity was not to be overlooked.

"The people feel so strongly that Santry should never have been arrested
that they are not likely to let Gordon be taken just for freeing him,"
Dorothy explained.

Helen shook her head with every indication of tremulous worry.

"But it isn't that alone," she insisted. "He's to be arrested for the
Jensen shooting. That was why the posse waited at his ranch after Santry
had been caught."

"For the Jensen shooting?" Dorothy showed her amazement very plainly.
"Are you sure?" she demanded, and when Helen nodded, exclaimed: "Why,
how utterly absurd! I understood that you were with him yourself when he
received word of it?"

"I was," Helen admitted. "He is supposed only to have planned the crime,
I believe. He's supposed to have been the principal, isn't that what
they call it?" She appealed to Mrs. Purnell.

"Oh, but do you think he could do such a thing?" Mrs. Purnell asked,
much shocked.

"I don't know. I hope not."

"I do know!" Dorothy burst out emphatically. "I know Gordon Wade too
well to think for one minute that he did it; and every true friend of
his ought to speak out at once and say the same thing."

The challenge in her voice was unmistakable, and Mrs. Purnell moved
uneasily in her chair. She glanced anxiously at Helen and was relieved
to see that the latter had lost none of her poise.

"I hope so as fully as you do," Helen said sweetly, "but things move so
fast here in these mountains that I find it hard to keep up with them."

"Of course," Mrs. Purnell soothed, with a troubled look at her daughter.

"Who swore out the warrant, I wonder?" Dorothy asked, in a more tranquil
tone, a bit ashamed of her outburst. "Was it Mr. Moran?"

"I'm sure I don't know," Helen answered. "I supposed it was the Sheriff.
Why should Mr. Moran have anything to do with it?"

"Because he seems to have been concerned in all the trouble we have
had," Dorothy replied calmly. "This was a peaceful little community
until Mr. Moran moved into it."

Helen made no direct reply to this, and for awhile Dorothy allowed her
mother to sustain the conversation. She had no doubt but that Moran was
back of it all, and she was thinking of what Lem Trowbridge had said;
that if they could only "get something on" Moran and the Senator, a
solution of the whole problem would be at hand. She thought that she had
detected a defensive note in Helen's voice, and she was wondering why it
should have been there.

"But you haven't answered my question yet about Mr. Moran," Helen
presently challenged her. "You seemed to have something more in mind
than what you said. Would you mind telling me?"

Dorothy looked steadily but not offensively at her.

"Oh, it's nothing, Miss Rexhill. I was only thinking that he has gone
rather far: been very zealous in your father's interests. Probably...."

"Why, Dorothy--!" her mother interposed, in a shocked tone.

"Miss Rexhill asked me, mother, and you know that I always speak
frankly."

"Yes, do go on," Helen urged, with even an added touch of sweetness in
her manner. "I really want to know. I am so out of touch with things
here, so ill informed."

"Well, you can sit here at the windows and learn all you wish to know.
There isn't a man in this town that would see Gordon arrested and not
fight to free him. Feeling is running high here now. You know, it's
something like a violin string. You can stretch it just so far and then
it snaps. That's all."

"Dorothy, I'm really mortified that you...."

"Oh, you've no occasion to be, Mrs. Purnell," Helen interrupted,
smiling. "I asked for the plain truth, you know."

Mrs. Purnell laughed feebly.

"Dorothy has known Mr. Wade so long and we both like him so well that
she can't bear to hear a word against him," she explained. Her sense of
lese majeste was running away with her judgment, and Dorothy shot an
irritated glance at her. "Not that I think he did it at all, you
understand; but...."

"Oh, perfectly," declared Helen, with rising color and an equal feeling
of annoyance. "Oh, dear me, do look at my poor letters!"

A gust of wind, stronger than any that had come before, had swept the
weight to the floor and scattered letter paper, envelopes, and blotter
about the room. Helen was just able to catch the writing-pad as it slid
to the floor, while Dorothy and her mother laughingly salvaged the
rest. The incident happily relieved the awkward drift of their
conversation, and they all felt relieved.

"Well, now, did you ever?" Mrs. Purnell ejaculated, looking at the
lithographed blotter, which she held in her hand. "I declare this
picture of a little girl reminds me of Dorothy when she was that age."

"Oh, mother!"

"Really?" Helen broke in. "How interesting. I hadn't noticed the
picture. Do let me see."

To be courteous, she agreed with Mrs. Purnell that there was a strong
likeness, which Dorothy laughingly denied.

"I guess I know what you looked like when you were five better than you
do," Mrs. Purnell declared. "It's the image of you as you were then, and
as Miss Rexhill says, there is a facial resemblance even yet."

"Perhaps you would like to take it with you, then," Helen suggested, to
Mrs. Purnell's delight, who explained that the only picture she had of
Dorothy at that age had been lost.

"If it wouldn't deprive you?"

"No, indeed. You must take it. I have a large blotter in my writing-pad,
so I really don't need that one at all. So many such things are sent to
father that we always have more than we can use up."

When Dorothy and her mother left the hotel, urged homeward by the first
big drops of the coming rain, Mrs. Purnell tucked the blotter in the
bosom of her dress, happy to have the suggestion of the picture to
recall the days when her husband's presence cheered them all. Her world
had been a small one, and little things like this helped to make it
bright.

Soon afterward the supper bell rang, and during the meal Helen told the
Senator, who seemed somewhat morose and preoccupied, of the visit she
had had.

"Sure tiresome people. Goodness! I was glad to see them at first because
I thought they would help me to pass the afternoon, but instead I was
bored to death. That little minx is crazy about Gordon, though. I could
see that."

"Um!"

"And the worst of it is that she just fits into the scenery here, and I
don't. You know, father, I never could wax enthusiastic over shooing the
cows to roost and things like that."

"Um!"

"I feel like a deaf person at a concert, here in this town."

This remark brought a wry laugh from her father, and Helen smiled.

"Well, I've made you laugh, anyway," she said. "You're frightfully
grouchy this evening."

"My dear, I'm busy, very busy, and I haven't time to think of trifles.
I'll be at it most of the night."

"Oh, shall you? Goodness, that's cheerful. I wish I had never come to
this awful little place. I suppose I must go back to my letters for
something to do. And, father," she added, as he lingered with her for a
moment in the hallway, "the Purnells seem to think that you and Mr.
Moran had better not go too far. The people here are very much wrought
up."

He patted her shoulder affectionately.

"You leave all that to me and go write to your mother."

There was nothing else for her to do, so she returned to the parlor.
When she had finished her letters, she idly picked up a week-old copy of
a Denver newspaper which lay on the table and glanced through the
headlines. She was yawningly thinking of bed, when Moran came into the
room.

"Oh, are you and father through at last?"

"Yes," he answered, smiling. "That is, we're through upstairs. I'm on my
way over to the office to straighten up a few loose ends before I turn
in. There's no rest for the weary, you know."

"Don't let me keep you, then," she said dryly, as he lingered. "I'm
going to bed."

"You're not keeping me. I'm keeping myself." He quite understood her
motive, but he was not thin-skinned, and he had learned that he had to
make his opportunities with her. "Your father told me you were getting
anxious."

"Not anxious, tired."

"Things are getting a little warm here, but before there's any real
danger we expect to have the soldiers here to take charge."

He rather ostentatiously displayed his bandaged wrist, hoping to win her
sympathy, but she professed none. Instead, she yawned and tapped her
lips with her fingers, and her indifference piqued him.

"I was talking with Dorothy Purnell this afternoon," Helen finally
remarked, eyeing him lazily, "and she seems to be of the opinion that
you'll have hard work arresting Gordon Wade. I rather hope that you do."

"Well--" He teetered a little on his feet and stroked his mustache. "We
may have, at that. Miss Purnell is popular and she can make a lot of
trouble for us if she wants to. Being very fond of Wade, she's likely to
do all that she can."

"Would she really have so much influence?" Helen asked, carefully
guarding her tongue.

He laughed softly as though amused at the thought.

"Influence? Evidently you don't realize what a good looking girl means
in a frontier town like this. She's part sister, part mother, sweetheart
and a breath from Heaven to every man in Crawling Water. On that
account, with one exception, I've had to import every last one of my
men. The exception is Tug Bailey, who's beyond hope where women are
concerned. To all the rest, Dorothy Purnell is 'Wade's girl,' and they
wouldn't fight against her, or him, for all the money in Wyoming."

He was watching her keenly as he spoke, and was gratified to see spots
of color spring to her cheeks.

"How interesting!" Helen could make her tone indifferent to the point of
languor, but she could not keep the gleam of jealousy out of her eyes.
"Gordon is a fortunate man to have such an able ally, isn't he?"

"The finish will decide that, I should say," Moran replied sneeringly.
"She may stir up more trouble than all her friends can take care of."

For all of her social schooling, Helen was not proof against the sneer
in his words, even though she fully saw through his purpose to wound
her. She felt her temper rising, and with it came curiosity to learn how
far the relationship between Wade and Dorothy Purnell had really gone.
That Moran would exaggerate it, she felt sure, for he had his own ends
to gain, but possibly from out of his exaggeration she could glean some
truth. Yet she did not want to go so far in her anger as to gratify his
malice, and this placed her in something of a dilemma.

"I don't believe that she is 'Wade's girl,' as you call her, at all,"
she said coldly. "They may be good friends, and if so, I'm glad; but
they are nothing more than that. There is no 'understanding' between
them."

Moran carelessly waved his hand in the direction of the rain-swept
street, illuminated now and then by the lightning.

"Ask any one in Crawling Water."

"That sounds well, but it's impracticable, even if I wanted to do it. I
prefer to draw my own conclusions."

The agent drew up a chair with his well hand, and sat down with that
easy familiarity that came so natural to him. Helen watched him, lazily
impertinent.

"I've been wanting to have a talk with you, Helen," he began, "and this
looks like a good chance to me. You've been foolish about Wade. Yes, I
know that you're thinking that I've got my own ends to further, which is
true enough. I have. I admit it. But what I am going to tell you is
true, also. Fortune's been playing into my hand here lately. Now, if
you'll be reasonable, you'll probably be happier. Shall I go on?"

"Wild horses couldn't stop you," she answered, amused that he seemed
flattered. "But if we were in Washington, I fancy I'd have you shown
out."

"We're not in Washington, my dear girl." He wagged his finger at her, in
the way her father had, to give emphasis to his words. "That's where
you've made your mistake with Wade. We're all just plain men and women
out here in the cattle country, and I'm talking its language, not the
language of drawing-rooms." He was himself a little surprised at the
swift dilation of her pupils, but his words had probed deeper than he
knew, reminding her as they did of the truth which she had so fully
realized that afternoon. "Wade liked you--loved you, maybe, in Chicago,
but this ain't the East. He cares nothing for you here, and he'd never
be happy away from here. You know that picture of yourself that you sent
to him?" She nodded. "Well, we found it on the floor of his room,
covered with dust. He hadn't even troubled to pick it up from where it
must have fallen weeks ago."

She looked at him dumbly, unable to keep her lips from twitching. He
knew that she believed him, and he was glad; that she had to believe
him, because his story bore the impress of truth. It was not something
that he could have made up.

"And while your picture was lying there, Wade and this Purnell girl were
making goo-goo eyes at each other. Why, it was she that rode out to warn
him that we were after Santry." Helen's lips curled. "I can't swear to
that, but I heard it and I believe it myself. They must've met on the
trail somewhere in the dark, and you can bet he was grateful. I don't
imagine that they stopped at a hand-shake. I imagine they kissed, don't
you?"

"Oh, I'm tired, worn out," Helen declared, forcing a smile so artificial
that it could not deceive him. "Do go, please. I am going upstairs to
bed."

"Wait one minute." He put out his injured arm, and, thinking that he
reached for her hand, she brushed it aside, accidentally striking his
wound.

"I'm sorry if I hurt you," she said coldly, as he winced.

"Maybe I've hurt you worse," he persisted, with a tenderness that was
intolerable to her, "but, if I have, your wound'll heal just as mine
will." He gently pushed her back into her chair as she started to get
up.

"Are you making love to me, Race?" Under the ridicule of her tone his
face darkened. "If you are, it's insufferable in you."

"Go easy, now," he warned her. "I'll not be made a fool of."

She did not heed his warning. Glad to have him on the rack, where she
had been, she laughed at him.

"Haven't you sense enough to know that, for that very reason, I'd refuse
to believe anything you might say against Gordon Wade? I know how you
hate him. Listen to me. Oh, this is absurd!" She laughed again at the
picture he made. "You've pursued me for months with your attentions,
although I've done everything but encourage you. Now I want you to know
that I shall never again even listen to you. What Gordon is to Dorothy
Purnell is for him, and her, and perhaps for me to be interested in, but
not for you. Now I'm going to bed. Good night!"

He caught her by the arm as she stood up, but immediately released her,
and stepped in front of her instead.

"Hold on," he begged, with a smile that meant wonderful mastery of
himself. "I've got feelings, you know. You needn't walk on them. I love
you, and I want you. What I want, I usually get. I mean to get you." She
looked up at him with heavy-lidded insolence. "I may fail, but if I do,
it'll be one more notch in my account against Wade. I know now where to
strike him--to hurt."

"You be reasonable, and you'll be happier," she retorted. "May I go?"

"Certainly." He stepped out of her way. "Good night."





Next: Desperate Measures

Previous: The Senator Gets Busy



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