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Treachery








From: Hidden Gold

Overjoyed at the prospect of a peaceful solution of the problem which
confronted him, Wade walked rapidly toward the hotel, happy, too, in the
thought of meeting Helen Rexhill.

Whether he loved her with the single-hearted devotion which a man should
feel toward his future wife, he was not sure; but he was confident that
he did not love any one else. The idea of love in connection with
Dorothy had never occurred to him; she was his good friend, nothing
more. To Helen, belonged the romance of his life, fostered in other
years by the distinct preference she had shown for him. At one time,
they had been reported engaged, and although the word had never actually
passed between them, many things more significant than speech had
contributed to the warm regard which they felt for each other. Beneath
Helen's reputed coldness of heart lay intense feeling, and on numerous
occasions she had verged on unwomanliness in baring her moods to Wade,
in a way that many other men would have been quicker to fathom, and
perhaps to take advantage of, than he had been.

Now, the knowledge that she was close at hand, and that he might see her
at any moment, caused his heart to beat rapidly. If to others she had
been cool, to him she had been ardent, and this warmth had been the one
thing needful to make her physically captivating. Only when some vital
cause impends is a young man likely to distinguish between the impulses
of his body and the cravings of his soul, and no such vital exigency had
as yet appeared in Wade's life. He wondered if she was as beautiful as
ever, and began to reproach himself for lack of ardor in his recent
letters to her, lest he should now be repaid in kind. He wanted to be
received upon the old, delicious footing, with her in his arms, and her
lips trembling beneath his.

There were dozens of men in Washington and New York who would almost
have bartered their souls for such privilege, and Gordon Wade need not
be decried for his moment of passionate yearning. He was enough of a man
to put the thought aside, pending his interview with the Senator, which
was his first purpose. He felt sure that if Senator Rexhill could be
moved to interest in Crawling Water affairs, his influence would be
potent enough to secure redress for the cattlemen, and Wade meant to
pull every string that could bear upon so happy a result. He was glad
that Mrs. Rexhill had not made the journey, for he was conscious of her
hostility to him, and he felt that his chances of moving her husband
were better without her.

When he inquired at the hotel, he was told that the Rexhills were in,
and he presently found himself shaking hands with the Senator, who
greeted him with effusive warmth.

"Helen is changing her gown and will be in shortly," the big man
explained. "I'm mighty glad to see you, Gordon. Only this morning we
were talking of looking you up. How are you? Sit down, my boy, sit
down!"

"Senator," Wade began, after they had exchanged commonplaces for a few
moments. "Glad as I am to see you, on my own account, I am more than
glad in behalf of my friends, who have not yet had the pleasure of
meeting you. Your arrival in Crawling Water could not possibly have been
more opportune. You have come just in time to save us, most likely, from
an internecine strife which might have ruined us all. I was more glad
than I can tell you to learn that you were here."

"Indeed, Gordon? I--I am much interested. Perhaps, you will...."

While Wade succinctly sketched the situation, the Senator nervously
toyed with his eyeglasses, now and then lifting his double chin from the
confinement of his collar, only to let the mass of flesh settle again
into inertness. He thought rapidly. Evidently, Moran had not divulged
the fact that he, the Senator, was concerned in the Crawling Water
enterprise. Certainly, Moran had done very well in that, and Rexhill
almost wished now that he had been less precipitate in coming to
Crawling Water. If he had stayed in the East, his complicity in the
affair might possibly have been concealed to the very end. He hastily
considered the advisability of remaining under cover; but now that he
was on the ground he decided that he had better be open and above
board, in so far at least as he could be so. It would prove awkward in
the event of subsequent investigation, if he should be made to appear in
the guise of a deliberate conspirator.

So, presently, as Wade neared the end of his resume of the situation,
Rexhill permitted an oleaginous smile to overspread his countenance. At
the last, he even chuckled.

"It's really a bit amusing. No, no, not what you have said, my boy; but
what I am about to say to you. You invoke my influence to stop
these--er--depredations, as you call them, and up to a certain point,
you shall have my aid, because I seem to see that matters have gone a
bit beyond bounds. But when you ask me to go to extremes myself, why,
I'm bound to tell you that I, too, have interests at stake. Why do you
suppose I came to Crawling Water?"

"I'll admit that puzzled me."

Rexhill looked keenly at Wade, wondering if he were foolish enough to
believe the trip a sentimental journey, purely. He concluded that the
young ranchman had too much sense to jump at such a conclusion.

"Well, the reason is...." The Senator leaned ponderously forward,
twiddling his glasses upon his thumb. "The reason is that I, if you
please, am the moving spirit behind the company which Race Moran is
representing here. You see...." He chuckled plethorically again at
Wade's start of surprise. "It really is a bit amusing."

"Then Moran is your agent?"

"In a sense, yes."

"Well, I'll be damned!" The cattleman's tone was rich in disgust, but
even more keen was his intense disappointment at this failure of his
hopes. "Would you mind telling me, Senator, just what the purpose of
your company is?"

"Certainly not. It's no secret," Rexhill replied briskly. "Certain
parties back East, myself included, as I've told you, have reason to
believe that a railroad will be put through this valley in the near
future. This is an extremely rich and productive section, with natural
resources which will make it heard from some day, so we are anxious to
obtain a portion of the valley for speculative purposes. If the railroad
comes through we'll probably build a town somewhere nearby and open up
an irrigation project we have in mind. If not, we'll use our holdings to
raise wheat and livestock. The proposition is a sound investment either
way you look at it."

"A few years ago," said Wade, "I and several others leased upwards of
twenty thousand acres of grass land here in the valley for stock grazing
purposes. I, personally, filed a claim on the land I now call my home
ranch. Our lease, which is direct from the Government, gives us entire
control of the land so long as we pay for it.

"Besides ourselves, there are a number of ranches in the valley, all of
them cattle and horse outfits. There has always been a tacit agreement
that sheep should not be grazed here because sheep and cattle can't live
on the same range in large numbers. Until Moran came here, we had no
trouble whatever--the sheep ranchers kept to their own side of the
mountains and we cattlemen kept to ours. Since Moran has arrived,
however, the sheep have crossed the Divide in thousands, until the
entire valley is being overrun with them.

"Only this morning, Moran admitted to me that the sheep men are acting
with his authority and backing. Senator Rexhill, this is wrong, and your
agent, or manager, is making a big mistake. Since you are the prime
mover in this matter, your arrival is even more opportune than I at
first thought, because you have the power to immediately correct your
hired man's mistake. So far as we cattle ranchers can learn, Moran is
bringing sheep in here with the deliberate intention of starving us out
of our homes. He seems to want our range and he--I'll not say
you--thinks that such a course is the cheapest way to gain possession.
He'll find it the dearest in the end. Unless the sheep are moved mighty
soon, we shall be mixed up in one of the bloodiest little wars in the
history of the range country. Mark you, I'm no firebrand,--some call me
too conservative; but we have about reached the limit, and something is
bound to happen before many days."

Senator Rexhill drummed with his fingers on the table.

"Um! Does Moran know of this attitude in you and your friends, Gordon?"

"Yes. I have just finished telling him of it. But he merely laughs at
us. We are a long way from the courts here, Senator, and we can't easily
appeal to the authorities. We are obliged to settle our differences
among ourselves. Moran knows this as well as I do; but he forgets that
the thing can work two ways. Each day that the sheep are here in the
valley they spoil more grass than all our cattle could eat in a week; in
two months, if the sheep stay, the range will be as bare as a ball-room
floor. Can you wonder that we ranchers are becoming desperate?"

"It's strange," Rexhill commented, apparently much perturbed. "Moran is
not the sort to take useless risks. He's dominant, but he's no fool.
Well, my boy, I'll talk this over with him; in fact, I really came out
here to see how things were shaping up. If things can be peacefully
arranged, that's the way we want them. We're not looking for trouble.
Certainly, you are quite right to object to sheep being run on your
leased pasture. I'll look into it right away and see what can be done."

"Thank you." Wade was much relieved and he showed it. "I felt sure that
an appeal to your sense of fair play would not be fruitless. I'm mighty
glad you are in town."

"Gordon!" a girl's voice exclaimed softly behind him.

"Helen!" He sprang to his feet and turned to seize her hands.

Those who admired Helen Rexhill at Washington social functions never saw
her look more lovely than she did at this moment of meeting with Wade,
for the reason that all the skill of the costumer could not beautify her
so much as the radiance of love now in her face. The dress she wore was
far from inexpensive, but it was cut with the art which conceals art,
and to Wade it appeared simple.

Yet his first sensation was one of acute disappointment, which he strove
rather ineffectually, to conceal. Doubtless, this was because his
recollection of her had soared beyond the bounds of human perfection.
But the gown, which she had chosen with so keen a wish to impress him,
reminded him of the simple frocks which Dorothy Purnell wore, and in
Helen Rexhill's face there was not the same sweet simplicity of
expression which distinguished her rival. Flaming love was there, to
transform her from the suggestion of a lily to that of a pomegranate;
but it was the love that demands and devours, rather than the constant
affection which, in giving all, seeks nothing but the privilege of
loving in return. Without actually analyzing the impression which Helen
made upon him, Wade felt something of the truth of this, and was
disappointed in the realization of his dream of her. Materially she was
too perfect, too exotic, for the setting of Crawling Water.

"Why, you look just the same," she happily exclaimed. "And I? Have I
changed? Now, be careful what you say! You're not a bit of a courtier."

"Everything changes, doesn't it?" he said, slowly feeling his way.
"Except the heart?" His answer pleased her.

"Will you listen to that, Father? In the cattle country, too."

"Very pretty," the Senator observed judicially. "Inspired, perhaps."

"How long are you going to stay?" asked Wade.

Helen laughed happily.

"Perhaps that will depend upon how glad I think you are to have us."

She gave him an ardent glance, which he was not proof against, nor would
any other man have been so.

"No doubt of that." He laughed with her, his disappointment passing
before the old love spell, which she knew so well how to cast about him.
"You couldn't have come at a better time, either, for now there is some
one here who can be company for you. That is," he added lamely, "when
you're tired of having me around."

"Really?" Helen was a bit chilled by this obvious faux pas. Truly,
despite his worth as a man, Gordon Wade was no courtier. "Who is it?"

"Of course, you haven't heard of her, but you'll like her. She's Miss
Dorothy Purnell. Everybody does like her."

Helen affected a gayety which she could scarcely have been expected to
feel. Although she was not socially adept in concealing her real
feeling, Wade saw nothing wrong. Only the Senator twisted his mouth in a
grim smile.

"Oh, but I have heard of her; indeed, I have. Mr. Moran sent me a little
photograph of you both on horseback. Just see how her fame has crossed
the continent. I shall be charmed to meet her."

A great light dawned upon Wade.

"Then that was what he wanted with the picture," he exclaimed. "We
wondered at the time. I thought it pretty impudent of him, but, of
course, if he wanted it just to send to you, that was all right."

Miss Rexhill winced inwardly. In spite of herself, her face expressed a
certain amount of pique, for the implication was manifestly that if Race
Moran had wanted the picture for himself, the idea would have been
intolerable to Wade.

"Oh, yes, quite all right. You seem...." She checked herself, with the
reproach upon her tongue, reflecting that, after all, she was most fond
of Wade because of his naturalness. Maxwell Frayne, for instance, was
without a peer in spinning graceful phrases; but he spun little else.

"But I don't understand why he should send it to you," Wade said, in a
low tone, as the Senator turned to bend over an open traveling bag on a
nearby chair. "Is he--do you--?" A slight rigor of jealousy seemed to
seize upon him, under the witchery of her slow smile.

"Oh, he's been writing to me, and I suppose he thought I'd be
interested. Of course, I was." She leaned toward him a trifle, a mere
swaying of her body, like a lily in a breeze, and impulsively he placed
his big hand over hers.

"He'd better not--he'd better mind his own business!" he said grimly.

She laughed softly, tantalizingly, and being human, Wade kissed her;
the Senator being still busy with the contents of the bag.

Thus engaged, none of them heard a knock at the door, which finally
opened before Moran, who, even if he did not actually see the kiss,
could hardly have failed to suspect it from their embarrassed manner.
Helen felt sure from his annoyed expression that he had witnessed the
caress, and she was rather glad of it.

He exchanged a slightly stiff greeting with the rancher, and then while
Wade and Helen continued their talk, the agent spoke in a carefully
guarded undertone with his employer. The news he brought, whatever it
was, seemed significant, for the Senator appeared worried and presently
turned to Wade.

"You'll not mind if I go over to the office with Moran, Gordon?"

"Certainly not, Senator. Don't let me interrupt you. But what's the use
of us staying indoors, Helen? The sun has turned now and it's cooler
out. I'll show you something of our little metropolis. Or, I tell you
what we'll do! Why not let me take you over and introduce you to the
only woman you're likely to find congenial in this neighborhood? She'll
be glad to meet you, I know."

In any other company, Miss Rexhill would probably have resented an
invitation to call upon a rival, even apart from the ethics of social
calls, but not before Race Moran. Before him, she would not humble Wade
in the least degree, if only because to do so would reflect upon her
own preference between the men. She could only pretend to welcome the
prospect of going to see Miss Purnell, and she played her part well.

"We may as well stay here now," Rexhill said, when the two young people
had left the room. "When did all this happen?"

"I just got word of it," Moran answered, a bit excitedly. "Don't you see
how it plays right into our hands? It's the greatest thing that could
have happened for us. It might have been made to order."

"Are you sure it wasn't? Are you sure you didn't have the man shot,
Race?" Senator Rexhill's tone was very dry and he watched his companion
keenly as he asked the question.

Moran assumed an attitude of indignation.

"Why, Senator...!"

"Tush! I want to know where we stand. By God, Race, you mustn't go too
far! We're traveling mighty close to the wind as it is."

"But these brawls are likely to happen at any time. This one in
particular has been brewing for weeks. Why connect me with it,
unnecessarily?"

"All right. I see your point, of course. The assassin is unknown;
suspicion naturally falls upon Wade, who is at the head of the cattle
faction and who, as you say, threatened Jensen only this morning. If we
can jail him for awhile his party is likely to fall down."

"Exactly!" Moran cried eagerly. "Fortune has placed him right in our
hands."

"Well, I'm not going to have him arrested," Rexhill announced doggedly,
"at least, not on any trumped up charge. He's broken my bread, Helen
likes him. We call him a friend, in fact. I always play square with my
friends--as far as possible. Strategy is strategy, nobody can quarrel
with that; but this thing you propose is something more."

Moran, while listening, had restrained his impatience with difficulty.
He not only had reason on his side, but personal hate as well. His sense
of triumph in bringing the news to Rexhill had not been for their mutual
cause alone; it had seemed to Moran to point toward the end of his
rivalry with Wade for the love of Helen. To have the fruits of victory
snatched from him, because of a sentiment of friendship, was almost more
than the agent could stand for.

"Good God, Senator," he burst out, "don't throw this chance away! Think
what it means to us! We are running close to the wind, and until this
moment, it's been a toss up whether we'd get out of here with our lives;
whether I would, at any rate. I've run a mighty big bluff on these
cattle people, but I did it because it was the only way. I've held my
own so far, but when they find out that it's not farm land we're after,
but ore--why, Senator, there'll be no holding them at all! With Wade at
their head and forty miles between us and the cars, where would we get
off? We'd be lucky if we didn't swing from the limb of a tree. Do you
suppose Wade would remember then that he'd broken your bread? I'll bet
dollars to doughnuts he wouldn't.

"But"--his voice sank to a significant whisper--"if we land him in
jail...."

"His friends here would get him out," interposed the Senator, nervously
wiping his glasses.

"Then Uncle Sam would put him in again, with a troop of cavalry to keep
order here, and that would be another advantage gained for our side.
No, sir, once we get him in jail, we've got the law with us and against
him, don't forget that. Then the cattle party would lay mighty low. Wade
has been their leader right along. I tell you, it's the only way, and
you know what it means to us--to you."

"You don't have to tell me that," rasped Rexhill. "If we fail to put
this through, I'm a ruined man."

Moran's eyes gleamed.

"Well, then, it's the only way, unless--unless...."

"Unless what?"

"Unless your daughter marries him, and it all comes into the family."
Upon that point, Moran wished to know just where he stood.

"I've never made a dollar through my daughter yet, and I never will,"
said the Senator grimly. "I'm not selling my own flesh and blood. I'll
rot in the poor-house first."

Moran gently breathed his relief. He would have fought to the fullest
extent of his power to have aborted such a marriage, but if the Senator
had favored it, he knew that it would have been difficult to prevent.

"Wade has a foreman he's mighty fond of, an old man named Santry," the
agent remarked, trying another tack.

"That's a horse of another color." Rexhill appeared aroused, at last. "I
remember the old fellow. He must be nearly ready for the bone yard by
this time anyhow. Saddle it on him, if you can. Wade's devoted to him.
He'd do as much for Santry as for himself, maybe more."

"I've heard about that kind of devotion," the agent sneered, "but I've
yet to see a sample of it."

"Well, you may before long. Your first proposition's no good anyway. It
would simply further antagonize Wade's friends. It's quite possible,
though, that Santry might have been mixed up in such a brawl. Get him
arrested, and then we'll let Wade know, gradually, that our influence is
at his command, for a price. I've no objection to that--none at all. By
Heaven, we've got to do something."

"We'll do it all right. I'll have a warrant sworn out."

"Meanwhile, Race, go easy with those sheep. Wade was telling me about
them, and as a matter of strategy, I had to pretend that I would help
him. Move them across the Divide until we see what comes of this Santry
affair. I can't go too heavy with the boy right at the start."

"All right." Moran arose. "The sheep don't count much now anyway."

"I don't mind saying, Race," Senator Rexhill observed, a trifle
pompously, "that you've done pretty well so far. If you stick to it,
you'll not find me ungrateful when the battle is over. You'll be
entitled to your reward."

Moran hesitated, seeming to summon courage to say something.

"Maybe you've guessed the reward I'll ask, Senator," he said slowly.
"There are some things that mean more to a man than mere money. I'm
thinking of Miss Helen."

Rexhill found some difficulty in placing his gaze so that it would
appear to naturally fall elsewhere than on Moran. He was mortified by a
sense of shame that he could not deal squarely with this aspirant for
his daughter's hand. He had been sincere in saying that he would never
barter her to further his own interests, but so much hung in the balance
here that until the issue really arose he feared to pass upon it. He
felt himself stultified by this truth.

"I haven't spoken to her, Senator, because the time has not come, and
just now she's too much occupied elsewhere, perhaps. But all my hopes
are fixed on her, sir, and when the time does come, I trust you'll not
oppose them."

Rexhill coughed to hide what his face might otherwise have shown.

"Well, Race," he said, with a choking sensation that was new to him,
"you know what I think of you. As for the rest, well, that will depend
entirely upon Helen."





Next: Murder

Previous: The Gathering Storm



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