Into The Depths





"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withdrawn the gag, he saw his agent in a state bordering on collapse,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.





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