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The Senator Gets Busy








From: Hidden Gold

It was daylight when the routed posse, with Race Moran in the lead, his
left arm tied up in a blood-stained handkerchief, rode into Crawling
Water. A bullet had pierced the fleshy part of the agent's wrist, a
trifling wound, but one which gave him more pain than he might have
suffered from a serious injury. None of the members of the posse had
been dangerously wounded; indeed, they had suffered more in the spirit
than in the flesh; but there had been a number of minor casualties
amongst the men, which made a sufficiently bloody display to arouse the
little town to active curiosity.

Under instructions from the leader, however, the fugitives kept
grouchily silent, so that curiosity was able to feed only on
speculations as to Wade's temper, and the fact that he had brought about
Santry's release from jail. The story of that achievement had been
bruited about Crawling Water since midnight, together with the
probability that the Law would be invoked to punish the ranchman for his
defiance of it. Popular sentiment was running high over the likelihood
of such a step being taken, and the members of the posse were the
targets of many hostile glances from the townspeople. At least
two-thirds of the citizens were strongly in favor of Wade, but before
they took active steps in his behalf they waited for the return of a
horseman, who had hurried out to the ranch to learn at first hand
exactly what had happened there.

Meanwhile Moran, in an ugly mood, had awakened the Senator from the
troubled sleep which had come to him after much wakeful tossing.
Rexhill, with tousled hair, wrapped in a bathrobe, from the bottom of
which his bare ankles and slippered feet protruded, sat on the edge of
his bed, impatiently chewing an unlighted cigar while he listened to
Moran's account of the fracas.

"You went too far, Race,--you went too far," he burst out angrily at
last. "You had no orders to jump the ranch. I told you...."

"We've been fooling around long enough, Senator," Moran interrupted
sullenly, nursing his throbbing wrist. "It was high time somebody
started something, and when I saw my chance I seized it. You seem to
think"--his voice trailed into scorn--"that we are playing marbles with
boys, but, I tell you, it's men we're up against. My experience has
shown me that it's the first blow that counts in any fight."

"Well, who got in the hardest lick, eh?" Rexhill snorted sarcastically.
"The first blow's all right, provided the second isn't a knockout from
the other side. Why, confound it, Race, here we had Wade at our mercy.
He'd broken into jail and set free a suspected murderer--a clear case of
criminality. Then you had to spoil it all."

Moran smothered an imprecation.

"You seem to forget, Senator, that we had him at our mercy before, and
you wouldn't hear of it. If you'd taken my advice in the first place,
we'd have had Wade in jail instead of Santry and things might have been
different."

"Your advice was worthless under the circumstances; that's why I didn't
take it." Rexhill deliberately paused and lighted his cigar, from which
he took several soothing puffs. To have been aroused from his bed with
such news had flustered him somewhat; but he had never known anything
worth while to come out of a heated discussion, and he sought now to
calm himself. Finally, he spoke slowly. "What you proposed to me then
was a frame-up, and all frame-ups are dangerous, particularly when they
have little to rest upon. For that reason I refused to fall in with your
ideas, Race. This release of Santry from jail is--or was--an entirely
different thing, an overt criminal act, with Sheriff Thomas on our side
as an unimpeachable witness."

Moran was suffering too keenly from his wound and smarting under his
defeat too much to be altogether reasonable. His manner was fast losing
the appearance of respect which he had previously shown his employer.
His expression was becoming heated and contemptuous.

"You didn't base your refusal on logic at the time, Senator," he said.
"It was sentiment, if I remember right. Wade had broken bread with you,
and all that. I don't see but what that applies just as well now as it
did then."

"It doesn't," the Senator argued smugly, still rankling from Wade's
arraignment of him the day before, "because even hospitality has its
limits of obligation. So long as I knew Wade to be innocent, I did not
care to have him arrested; but I don't admit any sentiment of
hospitality which compels me to save a known criminal from the hand of
justice. Sheriff Thomas came in to see me last night and I agreed with
him that Wade should be brought to account for his contempt of the law.
Wade forced his way into the jail and released his foreman at the point
of a gun. Even so, I feel sorry for Wade and I am a little apprehensive
of the consequences that will probably develop from his foolhardiness."

"Well, by God, if there's any sympathy for him floating around this
room, it all belongs to you, Senator." Moran tenderly fingered his
aching wrist. "I'm not one of these 'turn the other cheek' guys; you can
gamble on that!"

"But now where are we?" Rexhill ignored the other's remarks entirely.
"We are but little better off than Wade is. He pulled Santry out of
jail, and we tried to steal his ranch. The only difference is that so
far he has succeeded, and we have failed. He has as much law on his side
now as we have on ours."

Moran's head drooped a little before the force of this argument,
although he was chiefly impressed by the fact that he had failed. His
failures had been few, because Fortune had smiled upon him in the past;
and doubtless for this reason he was the less able to treat failure
philosophically. His plans at the ranch house had gone awry. He had
counted on meeting Wade there in the daytime, in the open, and upon
provoking him, before witnesses, into some hot-headed act which would
justify a battle. The surprise attack had left the agent without this
excuse for the hostilities which had occurred.

Rexhill arose and walked up and down the room in thought, his slippered
feet shuffling over the floor, showing now and then a glimpse of his
fat, hairy legs as the skirt of his bathrobe fluttered about. A cloud of
fragrant smoke from his cigar trailed him as he walked, and from the way
he chewed on the tobacco his confreres in the Senate could have
guessed that he was leading up to one of his Czar-like pronouncements.
Presently he stopped moving and twisted the cigar in his mouth so that
its fumes would be out of his eyes, as his glance focused on Moran.

"There's just one way out of this mess, Race," he began. "Now heed what
I say to you. I'm going to send a telegram to the Department of the
Interior which will bring a troop of cavalry down here from Fort
Mackenzie. You must go slow from now on, and let the authorities settle
the whole matter."

The agent sat up alertly, as his employer, wagging a ponderous
forefinger impressively, proceeded.

"You were not on the ranch for the purpose of jumping it at all. Mind
that now! You and I stand for the majesty of the law in this lawless
community." Moran's eyes began to twinkle at this, but he said nothing.
"When you and Sheriff Thomas went out to the ranch, you carried two
warrants with you, one for Santry, as the accessory, and one for Wade,
as the principal, in the Jensen shooting. Yes, yes, I know what you are
going to say; but I must save my own bacon now. Since Wade has proved
himself to be a lawbreaker, I'm not going to protect him."

"Now, you're talking!" exclaimed Moran, delighted at the prospect of
what such a course would start going.

"I'll have the matter of the warrants fixed up with Thomas," the Senator
continued. "Now, follow me carefully. Thomas arrested Santry at the
ranch, and then left you, as his deputy, to serve the other warrant on
Wade when he came home. It was because of his knowledge of what was in
store for him that Wade, after getting Santry out of jail, attacked you
and your men, and it was in defense of the law that you returned their
fire. It will all work out very smoothly, I think, and any further
hostilities will come from the other side and be to our great
advantage."

Moran looked at his employer in admiration, as the latter concluded and
turned toward his writing table.

"Senator," the agent declared, as Rexhill took up his fountain pen and
began to write on a telegraph form, "you never should have started in
Denver. If you'd been born in little old New York, you'd be in the White
House now. From this minute on you and I are going to carry this whole
valley in our vest-pockets."

"You take this over and put it on the wire right away, Race. It's to the
Secretary of the Interior and my signature on it should get immediate
attention." Senator Rexhill handed over the telegraph form he had
filled out.

"But what about State rights in this business?" Moran asked, anxiously.
"Will they send Government troops in here on your say so?"

The Senator waved his hand in dismissal of the objection.

"I'll have Thomas wire the Governor that the situation is beyond
control. This town is miles from nowhere, and there's no militia within
easy reach. The State will be glad enough to be saved the expense,
especially with the soldiers close by at Fort Mackenzie. Besides, you
know, although Wade's ranch is inside the State, a good deal of his land
is Government land, or was until he filed on it."

When Moran had left the room in a much easier frame of mind than he came
into it, the Senator sat down heavily on the bed. He was puffing at his
cigar and thinking intently, when he caught sight of the white, startled
face of his daughter in the mirror of the bureau across the room.
Whirling about, he found her standing in the doorway looking at him.
Rexhill had never before been physically conscious of the fact that he
had a spine, but in that moment of discovery a chill crept up and down
his back, for her expression told him that she had heard a good deal of
his conversation with Moran. The most precious thing to him in life was
the respect of his child; more precious even, he knew, than the
financial security for which he fought; and in her eyes now he saw that
he was face to face with a greater battle than any he had ever waged.

"Father!"

"What, are you awake, my dear?"

He tried hard to make his tone cheery and natural, as he stood up and
wrapped the bathrobe more closely around him.

"I heard what you said to Race Moran."

Helen came into the room, with only a dressing wrapper thrown over her
thin night-dress, and dropped into a chair. She seemed to feel that her
statement of the fact was accusation enough in itself, and waited for
him to answer.

"You shouldn't have listened, Helen. Moran and I were discussing private
business matters, and I thought that you were asleep. It was not
proper...."

Her lips, which usually framed a smile for him, curled disdainfully and
he winced in spite of himself. He avoided the keen appraisement of her
gaze, which seemed now to size him up, as though to probe his most
secret thoughts, whereas before she had always accepted him lovingly on
faith.

"Certainly, they were not matters that you would want an outsider to
hear," she said, in a hard voice, "but I am very glad that I listened,
father. Glad"--her voice broke a little--"even though I shall never be
able to think of you again as I...."

He went to her and put his heavy hands on her shoulders, which shrank
under his touch.

"Now, don't say things that you'll regret, Helen. You're the only girl
I have, and I'm the only father you have, so we ought to make the best
of each other, oughtn't we, eh? You're prone to hasty judgments. Don't
let them run away with you now."

"Don't touch me!" He made way for her as she got to her feet.
"Father,"--she tremblingly faced him, leaning for support against a
corner of the bureau,--"I heard all that you said to Mr. Moran. I
don't want you to tell me what we've been to each other. Don't I know
that? Haven't I felt it?"

The Senator swallowed hard, touched to the quick at the sight of her
suffering.

"You want me to explain it--more fully?"

"If you can. Can you?" Her lips twitched spasmodically. "I want you to
tell me something that will let me continue to believe that you
are--that you are--Oh, you know what I want to say." Rexhill blushed a
deep purple, despite his efforts at self-control. "But what can you say,
father; what can you say, after what I've heard?"

"You mean as regards young Wade? You know, I told you last night about
his attack on the Sheriff. You know, too"--the blush faded as the
Senator caught his stride again--"that I said I meant to crush him. You
even agreed with me that he should be taught a lesson."

"But you should fight fairly," Helen retorted, with a quick breath of
aggression. "Do you believe that he killed Jensen? Of course you don't.
The mere idea of such a thing is absurd."

"Perhaps he planned it."

"Father!" The scorn in her tone stung him like a whip-lash. "Did he plan
the warrants, too? The warrant that hasn't been issued yet, although you
are going to swear that it was issued yesterday. Did he plan that?"

Once in his political career, the Senator had faced an apparent
impasse and had wormed out of it through tolerant laughter. He had
laughed so long and so genially that the very naturalness of his
artifice had won the day for him. Men thought that if he had had a
guilty conscience, he could not have seemed so carefree. He tried the
same trick now with his daughter; but it was a frightful attempt and he
gave it up when he saw its ill-success.

"See here, Helen," he burst out, "it is ridiculous that you should
arraign me in this way. It is true that no warrant was out yesterday for
Wade, but it is also true that the Sheriff intended to issue one, and it
was only through my influence that the warrant was not issued. Since
then Wade, besides insulting me, has proved himself a lawbreaker. I have
nothing to do with the consequences of his actions, which rest entirely
with him. You have overheard something that you were not intended to
hear, and as is usually the case, have drawn wrong conclusions. The best
thing you can do now is to try to forget what you have heard and leave
the matter in my hands, where it belongs."

He had spoken dominantly and expected her to yield to his will. He was
totally unprepared, well as he knew her spirit, for what followed.

She faced him with glowing eyes and her trembling lips straightened into
a thin, firm line of determination. He was her father, and she had
always loved him for what she had felt to be his worth; she had given
him the chance to explain, and he had not availed himself of it; he was
content to remain convicted in her eyes, or else, which was more likely,
he could not clear himself. She realized now that, despite what she had
said in pique, only the night before, she really loved Wade, and he, at
least, had done nothing, except free a friend, who, like himself, was
unjustly accused. She could not condemn him for that, any more than she
could forget her father's duplicity.

"I won't forget it!" she cried. "If necessary, I will go to Gordon and
tell him what you've done. I'll tell it to every one in Crawling Water,
if you force me to. I don't want to because, just think what that would
mean to you! But you shall not sacrifice Gordon. Yes, I mean it--I'll
sacrifice you first!"

"Don't talk so loud," the Senator warned her anxiously, going a little
white. "Don't be a fool, Helen. Why, it was only a few hours ago that
you said Wade should be punished."

She laughed hysterically.

"That was only because I wanted to get him away from this awful little
town. I thought that if he were--punished--a little, if he was made a
laughing stock, he might be ashamed, and not want to stay here. Now, I
see that I was wrong. I don't blame him for fighting with every weapon
he can find. I hope he wins!"

Rexhill, who had been really frightened at her hysterical threat of
exposure, and assailed by it in his pride as well, felt his fear begin
to leave him and his confidence in himself return. In the next minute or
two, he thought rapidly and to considerable purpose. In the past he had
resolutely refused to use his child in any way to further his own ends,
but the present occasion was an emergency, and major surgery is often
demanded in a crisis. If she were willing, as she said, to sacrifice
him, he felt that he might properly make use of her and her moods to
save himself and her as well. He realized that if she were to shout
abroad through Crawling Water the conversation that had passed between
him and Moran, the likelihood of either of the two men getting out of
the county alive would be extremely remote.

"So that was it, eh? And I complimented you upon your good sense!" His
laugh was less of an effort now. "Well, doesn't it hold good now as well
as it did then? Come, my dear, sit down and we'll thresh this out
quietly."

She shook her head stubbornly, but the woman in her responded to the new
note of confidence in his voice, and she waited eagerly for what he had
to say, hopeful that he might still clear himself.

"You tell me that I must fight fair. Well, I usually do fight that way.
I'm doing so now. When I spoke yesterday of crushing Wade, I meant it
and I still mean it. But there are limits to what I want to see happen
to him; for one thing, I don't want to see him hung for this Jensen
murder, even if he's guilty."

"You know he isn't guilty."

"I think he isn't." Her eyes lighted up at this admission. "But he must
be tried for the crime, there's no dodging that. The jury will decide
the point; we can't. But even if he should be convicted, I shouldn't
want to see him hung. Why, we've been good friends, all of us. I--I like
him, even though he did jump on to me yesterday. That was why"--he
leaned forward, impelled to the falsehood that hung upon his tongue by
the desperate necessity of saving himself his daughter's love and
respect--"I arranged with Moran to have the boy arrested on such a
warrant. He is bound to be arrested"--Rexhill struck the table with his
fist--"and if he should need a basis for an appeal after conviction, he
could hardly have a better one than the evidence of conspiracy, which a
crooked warrant would afford. I wanted to give him that chance because I
realized that he had enemies here and that his trial might not be a fair
one. When the right moment came I was going to have that warrant looked
into."

"Father!"

Helen dropped on her knees before him, her eyelashes moist with tears
and her voice vibrant with happiness.

"Why didn't you explain all that before, Father? I knew that there must
be some explanation. I felt that I couldn't have loved you all my
life for nothing. But do you really believe that any jury would convict
Gordon of such a thing?"

"I hope not."

Never had Senator Rexhill felt himself more hopelessly a scoundrel than
now as he smoothed her hair from her forehead; but he told himself that
the pain of this must be less than to be engulfed in bankruptcy, or
exposure, which would submerge them all. Moreover, he promised himself
that if future events bore too heavily against Wade, he should be saved
at the eleventh hour. The thought of this made the Senator's position
less hard.

"I hope not, Helen," he repeated. "Of course, the serving of the warrant
at this time will help my own interests, but since a warrant must be
served, anyway, I feel justified, under the circumstances, in availing
myself of this advantage."

"Y-e-s, of course," Helen agreed doubtfully. "Oh, it is all too bad. I
wish none of us had ever heard of Crawling Water."

"Well, maybe the Grand Jury will not indict him, feeling runs so strong
here," her father continued, and she took fresh hope at this prospect.
"But, anyway, he will feel the pressure before all is done with, and
very likely he'll be only too glad to dispose of his ranch and say
good-by to Wyoming when he is free to do as he pleases. Then you and he
can make a fresh start, eh? All will be sunshine and roses then, maybe,
forever and aye."

"That's what I want to do--get away from here; and that was all I meant
when I said to punish Gordon."

The Senator patted her cheek tenderly and drew a deep breath of relief.

"By the way, father," Helen said casually, when she started back to her
room, a little later, "I saw Miss Purnell on the street yesterday. You
know, she was out when Gordon took me to see her."

"Well, is she dangerous?"

Helen looked at him in amusement, and shrugged her shoulders.





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Previous: The Battle At The Ranch



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