Baffled But Still Dangerous





When Trowbridge left Dorothy Purnell, promising to find his friend for

her sake, he had assumed a confidence that he was far from feeling. No

man knew the country thereabout any better than he did, and he realized

that there was, at best, only a meager chance of trailing the miscreant

who had succeeded in trapping his victim somewhere in the mountains. A

weaker man would have paused in dismay at the hopelessness of the task

he had undertaken, but Lem Trowbridge was neither weak nor capable of

feeling dismay, or of acknowledging hopelessness. Time enough for all

that after he should have failed. In the meantime it was up to him to

follow Moran. He had learned from Santry of the place where Wade was

stricken down, but how far from there, or in what direction he had been

taken, was a matter of conjecture only, and the only way to learn was to

trail the party that had undoubtedly carried the helpless man away

perhaps to his death, but possibly, and more probably, to hold him

captive.



Desperate as he knew Moran to be, he did not believe that the immediate

murder of Gordon Wade was planned. That would be poor strategy and Moran

was too shrewd to strike in that fashion.



It seemed clear enough that parley of some sort was intended but knowing

both Wade and Moran as he did, Trowbridge realized that in order to be

of any assistance, he must be on the spot without delay. He had planned

rapidly and he now acted rapidly.



One of his men was stationed at the big pine, as he had told Dorothy,

but all the others in his employ rode with him as swiftly as the best

horses on his ranch could carry them, to the spot Santry had told him

of. There they found unmistakable traces of half a dozen or more horses,

besides the footprints of Wade's mount, and a brief examination was

enough to show which way the party had gone. Undoubtedly they had taken

Wade with them, so the pursuing party followed.



It was one thing to follow, however, and another thing to overtake.

Moran was better versed in the intricacies of big cities than in those

of the wilderness, but he was shrewd enough to realize that Wade's

friends would start an instant search, as soon as they should miss the

ranchman, and it was no part of his plans to be taken by surprise.



Therefore, as soon as he had had his victim thrown into the prison from

which escape seemed impossible, Moran selected a camp site nearby, from

which he had a view of the surrounding country for miles around in every

direction, and scanning the horizon carefully after his vain attempt to

intimidate Wade, he saw Trowbridge's party approaching, while they were

still half a dozen miles away.



His first thought was to stay where he was and give battle. In this he

would have had a good chance of victory, for, by opening fire on

Trowbridge and his followers as they came up, he could undoubtedly have

picked off three or four of them before they reached him, and so secured

odds in his own favor, if it should come to an immediate encounter.



Second thought, however, showed him the folly of such a course. There

was too much remaining for him to do, and the temporary advantage he

might gain would not compensate him for the havoc it would make in his

ultimate designs. He therefore called Goat Neale aside and said:

"There's a party of Wade's friends coming up from the East, looking for

him, and I've got to lead them away. You stay here, but keep in hiding

and take care that nobody learns where Wade is. He'll live for a few

days without grub and I'll come back and tend to his case after I've got

this party going round in circles.



"You stay, and the rest of us will all ride off to the north, and

they'll think we have Wade with us, so they'll follow us, but we'll lose

them somewhere on the way. Sabe?"



Neale demurred at first to the plan, but consented willingly enough when

Moran promised him extra pay; so he stayed, and we already know the

result. Moran, however, followed out his plans successfully enough, and

before night he reached Crawling Water in safety, while Trowbridge,

getting word through one of his scouts of Wade's rescue, abandoned the

pursuit. He had been prepared to shoot Moran down at sight, but he was

ready enough to leave that work to the man who had a better claim to

the privilege than he had.



Accordingly Moran had ridden into town, exhausted by the exertions of

his trip, and had slept for twelve hours before thinking of anything

else. When he learned on awakening of all that had happened during his

absence, he was furious with rage. Tug Bailey had been arrested and was

on his way to Crawling Water in custody. Senator Rexhill and Helen had

taken an Eastward-bound train without leaving any word for him, and to

crown it all, he presently learned that Neale had been shot and Wade had

been found, and that the whole countryside was aflame with indignation.



It was characteristic of the man that even in this emergency he had no

thought of following his cowardly accomplice in flight. It might be

hopeless to stay and fight, but he was a fighting man, and he really

exulted in the thought of the inevitable struggle that was coming.



Sitting alone in his office studying the situation, he felt the need of

liquor even more strongly than usual, though the habit had grown on him

of late, and accordingly he drank again and again, increasing his rage

thereby, but getting little help towards a solution of his difficulties.



He was enraged most of all at Wade's escape from Coyote Springs and was

still puzzled to think how this had happened, for Senator Rexhill in

leaving had kept his own counsel on that point, and Moran did not dream

of his having betrayed the secret.



Not only had the ranchman been able to turn another trick in the game

by escaping, but he had also evaded Moran's intended vengeance, for the

latter had had no thought of letting his prisoner go alive. He had meant

first to secure Wade's signature, and then to make away with him so

cleverly as to escape conviction for the act.



He realized now, when it was too late, that he had acted too

deliberately in that matter, and he was sorry for it. He considered the

departure of the Rexhills a cowardly defection. He was furious to think

that Helen had refused to listen to him while she stayed, or to say

good-by to him before leaving. The sting of these various reflections

led him to take further pull at a silver flask which he kept in his

pocket, and which bore the inscription, "To Race Moran from his friends

of the Murray Hill Club."



"So," he muttered, chewing his mustache, "that's what I get for sticking

to Rexhill." Leaning back in his swivel chair, he put his feet up on the

desk and hooked his fingers in the arm-holes of his vest. "Well, I ain't

ready to run yet, not by a jugful."



In his decision to remain, however, he was actuated by a desire to close

with Wade, and not by any enthusiasm for the cause of the hired rascals

who were so loudly singing his praise. They were not cowards, nor was

he, but he had had too much experience with such people to be deluded

into believing that, when the showdown came, they would think of

anything but their own precious skins. He had heard rumors of the

activity of the cattlemen but he discounted such rumors because of many

false alarms in the past. He would not be frightened off; he determined

to remain until there was an actual clash of arms, in the hope that

events would so work out as to allow him a chance to get back, and

severely, at Wade.



He got to his feet and rolled about the room, like a boozy sailor,

puffing out volumes of smoke and muttering beneath his breath. When he

had worked off some of his agitation, the big fellow seated himself

again, shrugged his massive shoulders, and lapsed into an alcoholic

reverie. He was applying his inflamed brain to the problem of vengeance,

when hurried footsteps on the stairs aroused him. Going to the door, he

flung it open and peered out into the dimly lighted hallway.



"Hello, Jed!" he exclaimed, upon finding that the newcomer was one of

his "heelers." "What d'you want? Hic!" He straightened up with a

ludicrous assumption of gravity.



"The night riders! They've...." The man was breathless and visibly

panic-stricken.



"Riders? Hic! What riders?" Moran growled. "Out with it, you

jelly-fish!"



"The ranchers--the cattlemen--they've entered the town: they're on the

warpath. Already a lot of our fellows have been shot up."



"The hell they have! How long ago? Where?"



"Other end of town. Must be two hundred or more. I hustled down here to

put you wise to the play."



"Thanks!" said Moran laconically. "You're headed in the right direction,

keep going!"



But the man lingered, while Moran, as lightly as a cat, despite his

great bulk and the liquor he carried, sprang to the nearest window. Far

up the street, he could distinguish a huddled mass, pierced by flashes

of fire, which he took to be horsemen; as he watched, he heard scattered

shots and a faint sound of yelling. The one hasty glance told him all

that he needed to know; he had not thought this move would come so soon,

but luck seemed to be against him all around. Something of a fatalist,

in the final analysis, he no longer wasted time in anger or regrets. He

was not particularly alarmed, and would not have been so could he have

known the truth, that the yelling he had heard marked the passing of Tug

Bailey, who had confessed but had made his confession too late to please

the crowd, which had him in its power. Nevertheless, Moran realized that

there was no time now to form his men into anything like organized

resistance. The enemy had caught him napping, and the jig was up. He had

seen the vigilantes work before, and he knew that if he intended to save

his own skin he must act quickly. When he turned from the window, short

though the interval had been, he had formed a plan of escape.



"They've brought every man they could rake up," Jed added. "I reckon

they've combed every ranch in the county to start this thing."



Moran looked up quickly, struck by the significance of the remark. If it

were true, and it probably was, then Wade's ranch also would be

deserted. He half opened his mouth, as though to confide in his

companion, when he evidently concluded to keep his own counsel.



"All right," he said simply. "I guess there's still plenty of time. I've

got a good horse at the lower end of the street. Take care of yourself.

So long!"



The man clattered down the stairs, and Moran turned to his desk, from

which he took some papers and a roll of money, which he stuffed into his

pockets. In the hallway he paused for a moment to examine a wicked

looking revolver, which he took from his hip pocket; for, contrary to

the custom of the country, he did not wear his gun openly in a holster.

Convinced that the weapon was in good working order, he walked calmly

down to the street, sobered completely by this sudden call on his

reserve powers.



His horse, a large, rawboned gray, was where he had left it, and shaking

his fist in the direction of the vigilantes, he mounted and rode off. He

meant to make a wide detour and then work back again to the Double Arrow

range. If the ranch were really deserted, he meant to fire the

buildings, before attempting his escape. Such a revenge would be a

trifle compared to that which he had planned, but it would be better

than nothing, while one more offense would not lengthen his term in jail

any, if he were caught afterward. He felt in his pocket for the whiskey

flask, and swore when he found it missing. He wanted the liquor, but he

wanted the flask more, for its associations; he drew rein and thought of

returning to search for it, but realizing the folly of this, he pressed

on again.



The round-about way he took was necessarily a long one and the ride

entirely sobered him, except for a crawling sensation in his brain, as

though ants were swarming there, which always harassed him after a

debauch. At such times he was more dangerous than when under the first

influence of whiskey. It was close upon noon, and the silvery sagebrush

was shimmering beneath the direct rays of the sun, when he rode his

lathered horse out of a cottonwood grove to gaze, from the edge of a

deep draw, at Wade's ranch buildings. That very morning a gaunt, gray

timber-wolf had peered forth at almost the same point; and despite

Moran's bulk, there was a hint of a weird likeness between man and beast

in the furtive suspicious survey they made of the premises. The wolf had

finally turned back toward the mountains, but Moran advanced. Although

he was reasonably certain that the place was deserted, a degree of

caution, acquired overnight, led him first to assure himself of the

fact. He tied his horse to a fence post and stealthily approached the

house to enter by the back door.



Dorothy was alone in the building, for her mother had gone with the

overly confident Barker to pick blackberries, and the Chinese cook was

temporarily absent. The girl was making a bed, when the door swung open,

and she turned with a bright greeting, thinking that her mother had

returned. When she saw Moran leering at her, the color fled from her

cheeks, in a panic of fright which left her unable to speak or move. She

was looking very pretty and dainty in a cool, fresh gown, which fitted

her neatly, and her sleeves were rolled up over her shapely forearms,

for the task of housekeeping which she had assumed. In her innocent way,

she would have stirred the sentiment in any man, and to the inflamed

brute before her she seemed all the more delectable because helpless.

Here was a revenge beyond Moran's wildest dreams. To her he appeared the

incarnation of evil, disheveled, mud-splashed and sweaty, as his puffed

and blood-shot eyes feasted on her attractiveness.



"Good morning!" He came into the room and closed the door. "I didn't

expect to find you, but since you're here, I'll stop long enough to

return your visit of the other night. That's courteous, ain't it?"



Dorothy gulped down the lump in her throat, but made no reply. Realizing

the importance of a show of bravery, she was fighting to conquer her

panic.



"You're sure a good-looking kid," he went on, trying to approach her;

but she put the width of the bed between him and herself. "Each time I

see you, you're better looking than you were the last time. Say, that

last time, we were talking some about a kiss, weren't we, when we were

interrupted?"



"Mr. Wade may come in at any moment," Dorothy lied desperately, having

found her tongue at last. "You'd better not let him find you here."



"I shouldn't mind," Moran said nonchalantly. "Fact is, on my way out of

the country, I thought I'd pay a farewell call on my good friend, Wade.

I'm real sorry he ain't here--and then again I'm not. I'll--I'll leave

my visiting card for him, anyhow." He chuckled, a nasty, throaty,

mirthless chuckle that sent chills up and down the girl's spine. "Say,

what's the matter with giving me that kiss now? There's nobody around to

interrupt us this time."



Dorothy shuddered, for already she had divined what was in his mind. The

avid gleam in his eyes had warned her that he would not restrain himself

for long, and summoning all her strength and courage, she prepared to

meet the fearful crisis she must face.



"Will you please go?"



"No!" Moran chuckled again, and stepped toward her. "Will you come to me

now, or shall I go after you?"



"You brute! You coward!" she cried, when she found herself, after a

desperate struggle, held firmly in his grasp.



She screamed, then, at the top of her lung power until his hand fell

firmly across her mouth, and she could only struggle with the mad

strength of desperation. Her muscles could offer him no effective

resistance, although for a moment the sudden fury of her attack drove

him back, big though he was; but it was only for a moment. It gave her a

chance to scream once more; then, closing in upon her, he seized her

again in his ape-like embrace. She fought like a cornered wild-cat, but

slowly and surely he was bending her to his will. Her nails were leaving

raw marks upon him, until the blood ran down his face, and presently

catching between her teeth one of the fingers of the hand which gagged

her, she bit it so fiercely that he cried out in pain.



"Curse you, you little she-devil," he grunted savagely. "I'll make you

pay twice for that!"



"Gordon! Oh, come to me! Quick! Quick!"



Quivering all over, she sank on her knees before the brute who

confronted her, a figure of distress that must have appealed to the

heart of any man above the level of a beast. But in the heat of passion

and rage, Moran had lost kinship with even the beasts themselves. Lust

burned in his eyes and twisted his features horribly as he seized her

again, exhausted by the brave struggle she had made, and all but

helpless in his grasp.



"Gordon! Mother! Barker! Save me! Oh, my God!"





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