Murder





"How do you think you'd like to live in Crawling Water?"



Wade looked whimsically at Helen, as she picked her way with the grace

of a kitten through the dust of the main street. Carefully though she

walked, her shoes and the bottom of her skirt were covered with dust,

and gray with it.



"I shouldn't like it," she said, with a little moue. "I don't see why

you stay here. You aren't going to always, are you?"



"I reckon it's likely."



"Not--for always?" She had stopped and was looking up into his face with

delicious dismay. "That would be awful."



"Most of my friends, and all of my business interests are here. Besides,

I have a kind of pride in growing up with this country. Back in the

East, things have been settled for so long that a man's only a cog in a

machine. Out here, a fellow has a sense of ownership, even in the hills.

I think it's because he gets closer to the soil, until he comes to love

it and to be almost a part of it."



"Oh, dear!" exclaimed the girl. "That sounds fine, but the reality isn't

up to my anticipation of it."



Wade laughed in his hearty way.



"That's only because you haven't been here long enough, Helen."



"There are things that are splendid about the West," she generously

admitted. "Its vastness and wholesomeness, and especially its men. I'm

sure that's why I first liked you, Gordon, because you were

different--not like the general run of young men in the East."



"Oh, there are lots of good men East, too."



"Not so very many. At least, I have seen very few who were at all worth

while. There's one, Maxwell Frayne, who has been plaguing me for months;

but I don't care for him--much." She was closely watching him as she

spoke, and she smiled when he started.



"You'd better not."



"But if I really thought you meant to stay here all the time, I'm sure

I'd love him devotedly. Now"--she eyed him mischievously--"I think this

would be a nice place to call home, don't you know, just for fun, and

then spend most of the time in New York and London. See that man staring

at me!"



"How, staring at you?"



Wade turned and looked in the direction she indicated, surprised at the

suggestion that she was being annoyed in Crawling Water, where chivalry

to women ran high.



"Oh, he didn't mean anything, I daresay."



"They're friends of mine, and curious, perhaps." He referred to a group

of cattlemen across the street, who did seem to be staring and talking,

with some indecision in their attitude. "I wonder if anything can have

happened? Oh, I guess not. Well, what would I do in London?"



"I didn't say anything about you being in London, did I?"



"Well, it's safe to say that where you were, I'd want to be, at any

rate. Haven't I made two trips to Chicago for no real reason except to

see you?" he demanded, fast slipping into the thralldom of her

fascination.



She viewed him through half-closed eyes, knowing that the pose has

always allured him.



"Don't you think you'd be kept busy looking after me?" she playfully

asked. "Seriously, I hate an idle man, but I don't know what you'd find

to do there. What a question. You'd have to have investments that would

take you over every year or two."



"Now you're trying to make a city man of me," he said, half in jest.

"Besides,"--a dogged note crept into his voice--"I'd have the right to

expect something of you, wouldn't I?"



"Not the right, but the privilege," she answered softly.



"This is where the Purnells live." He turned her into the pathway to the

door. "This is what I'd like, a neat little home like this, with a

couple of kiddies and some dogs. Then I could spend my out-door time at

the ranch."



Before Helen could reply to this, Mrs. Purnell appeared on the threshold

to welcome them, but to Wade's surprise, she told them that Dorothy was

not there.



"Oh, I'm so sorry," said Helen, with intense relief.



"I don't know where she went either," the mother went on. "She was out

for a few minutes soon after you left, Gordon. Then she came back and

called out something to me, but I didn't catch what she said. Before I

knew what she was doing she had saddled her pony and ridden off. But

come right in. I don't think she'll be gone long."



They entered and Helen, graciously choosing to overlook the fact that

this was evidently Wade's second visit there within a very short time,

sought to impress him with her tactfulness to Mrs. Purnell. She would

have been amazed could she have guessed that she was actually arousing

him to resentment. He felt, somehow, that she was patronizing their

hostess, who was a woman of refinement, even if she lacked the

artificiality of manner that Helen affected. He was sincerely glad when

the visit came to an end.



"You must come again," said Mrs. Purnell, in a spirit of friendliness.



"So glad to have met you," Helen replied. "I hope to have the pleasure

of meeting your daughter, too, before we leave Crawling Water."



"They're splendid women, both of them," Wade remarked, as they walked

back toward the center of the town.



"Oh, yes," Helen agreed, without much spirit. "Nice, comfortable home

people, I suppose."



"Best kind in the world."



"Gordon!" Helen laughed good-naturedly, facing him as she walked. "What

in the world has been the matter with you to-day? We usually get on so

well together, and to-day, if I do say it, only my unwillingness to

quarrel has kept us from it."



"Oh, no!" He smiled, too. "Maybe that New York and London business

rubbed me the wrong way; that's all. I have plenty of faults, but I'm

loyal to my friends. I don't like even hints that they aren't the best

friends a man could have."



"Surely, I haven't...."



"Maybe not. Maybe I imagined it. But Crawling Water is a lot more real

than London, to my way of thinking."



"You haven't been to London."



"I'm not likely to go, either," he retorted.



Her red lips curled in a way that seemed to indicate that she thought he

would go. Already, she was planning to get him out of Crawling Water and

beyond the influence of Dorothy Purnell.



As they turned into the main street again, a man leaving a group near

the livery stable, and mounting a horse, rode toward them.



"I wonder what's up now?" Wade muttered, recognizing the horseman as one

of the Trowbridge outfit.



"Mr. Wade. Just a minute." With the grace of a Centaur, the rider swung

his mount in beside them and doffed his hat. "Two of Jensen's herders

have been shot. I thought you ought to know about it."



"What?" The ranch owner's jaw dropped at the news.



"It's true, sir. Word just came in."



"Thanks, Barker." Wade pulled himself together, as the restless pony

raced back to the barn. "I must go, Helen," he went on, turning to the

girl at his side. "There's been fighting--murder, perhaps--out near the

ranch. Santry will need me." He was uneasy lest the old plainsman should

have been concerned in the shooting.



"You'll take me to the hotel?"



"Of course, yes! Would you mind walking a little faster?" They quickened

their pace. "I'm sorry, Helen; but I must hurry to the ranch." Even at

that moment he could not but reflect that there would have been no need

to take Dorothy home. Somehow, the ways of the East seemed to fit less

and less aptly into the life of Crawling Water.



On his way to the livery stable after his horse, Wade did some rapid

thinking. Santry might have been concerned in the shooting, but his

employer thought not. The old fellow had promised to stay at home, and

his word was as good as another man's bond. It was too bad, certainly,

that the thing should have happened just when Senator Rexhill's promised

aid had seemed in a fair way to settle the controversy. Now, the whole

thing was more upset than ever, for Moran and Rexhill could hardly be

blamed if they backed up their own men, especially if the herders had

been blameless, as was probably the case. Yet if the Senator did this,

Wade knew that a bloody little war would be the outcome.



"Where's Trowbridge, Barker?" he asked of the cowpuncher, whom he found

waiting at the stable.



"At the ranch, I think."



Wade nodded. Ten minutes later he was in the saddle and headed for the

mountains, just as dusk began to fall. The cool night air, blowing

against his face as he reached the higher levels, was delightfully

refreshing after the heat of the day. He took off his hat and opened the

neck of his shirt to the breeze, which revived his energies like wine.

He knew that as he felt, so his horse felt, and he was glad, for the

animal would have to make a fast, hard trip. At the crest of the first

hills, before dipping into the valley, he turned for an instant in his

saddle to look backward over his trail toward the twinkling lights of

Crawling Water in the distance below.



He had covered some five miles of his journey, to no other sound than

the occasional note of some bird, when his quick ears caught the thud of

a horse's feet on the trail ahead, with now and then a sharp clatter as

the animal slipped on the stones. Wade slowed his own horse down to a

walk, and eased his Colt in its holster. He expected to meet some

harmless wayfarer, but, under the circumstances, it was just as well to

be prepared for trouble. Soon, however, he smiled to himself, for

whoever rode toward him made too much noise for any but a peaceful

mission. The other horse, too, had been slowed down and the two riders

approached each other with such caution that the rancher finally became

impatient and pressed forward recklessly.



Out of the night the stranger came on, still slowly, until a turn in the

trail brought them face to face.



"Don't shoot!" said a woman's contralto. "I'm a friend."



"Dorothy!" Wade ejaculated, at once recognizing the voice, although he

could not see the girl distinctly in the darkness. "In Heaven's name,

what are you doing out here?"



"Is it you, Gordon?" In her relief, she laughed softly as she pulled her

pony up side of him. "I was a little scared for a second or two. I've

awfully bad news, I'm afraid," she added, immediately serious. "I've

been trying to find you. I went to the hotel and they told me you'd gone

somewhere."



"Miss Rexhill and I went to call on you."



"You did? If I'd only known. I've been clear out to the ranch."



"Is Santry there?" In his anxiety he forgot momentarily the loneliness

of her long ride. "They say some of Jensen's men have been shot up; and

I'm anxious to find out what Bill knows."



"That's just what I want to tell you. I heard of the shooting before I

left town. Whoa, Gypsy!" She reined up her pony, nervously, for it would

not stand still. Wade seized the animal's bridle and quieted it. "I

don't know if he's there or not," the girl went on. "I couldn't see. The

ranch house is full of men."



"Men? What men?" Wade demanded sharply.



"Race Moran's crowd. They went out to arrest Santry. The Sheriff is with

them. I heard part of it in town, and that's why I tried to find you."

Wade groaned. "I peeped in at a window, and when I could see neither

you nor Santry I slipped away without being seen and took the old trail

back because it was shorter."



"Lord, what a mess!" Wade ground his teeth savagely. "Poor old Bill was

all alone there and they must have surprised him. But I don't see why

Barker didn't mention the posse when he told me of the shooting?"



"He didn't know of it, probably. They left town very quietly. I happened

to be out back of the house and I heard one of them talking as they rode

by."



"Good Lord!" Wade's head drooped. "I told Bill to stay at the ranch, and

he promised me...."



"I don't believe he shot Jensen at all," Dorothy declared, with spirit.

"Yes, it was Jensen himself and one of his herders. Both in the

back--killed."



"Bill Santry never shot any man in the back," Wade declared, in a

relieved tone. "If you're sure of the facts, Santry will come clear all

right."



"It's just a devilish scheme of Moran's, that's all, to put it on you

and Santry. I'm sure it is. He hates you both. Whoa, Gypsy!" She reined

the little mare in again. "No, it's all right, Gordon. I can manage

her," she remonstrated, as he reached for the bridle once more.



"So that's their game, eh? By Heaven, I more than half believe you're

right." His face grew ugly with rage. "Dorothy," he continued grimly,

"thanks are useless. You're a brick, that's all. Do one thing more for

us, will you?"



"Anything," she replied simply, her eyes shining with devotion to him,

but he was too overwrought to read them in the darkness.



"When you get back to town get word to some of the men for me. You may

meet them on the way out, if not they'll be around the barn. Tell them

to meet me at the big pine, on the old trail."



His horse had grown restless and now he allowed it to have its head; he

was moving past her when she clutched his arm.



"Gordon!"



She loved him dearly, too dearly to let him know how well until he

should speak, if he ever did speak; but above them was the starlit sky

and over them hovered the wondrous spirit of the Western night. Her

pulse was beating, too, to the call of danger, and despite the control

which she had over her nerves, she was just a bit hysterical beneath the

surface. She knew that ahead of him was a little army of hostile men,

and already that day two men had been killed. So, tremulously, she held

on to his sleeve, until she stopped him.



"What are you going to do? You can't do anything alone against so many.

They may kill you."



Her sympathy was very sweet to him and he warmly squeezed the little

hand which had held him back.



"Don't you be afraid, little girl," he said tenderly. "I shall not get

hurt if I can help it."



"Wait until the others come, won't you?"



"Surely," he answered readily, touched by the anxiety in her voice. "I'm

going to look around--just as you did--on the quiet. You wouldn't hold

me back, where you went in, now would you?"



"No--!" She smiled a little into his face.



"That's the stuff! Then I'm coming back to the big pine, and you'll send

the boys there. They'll not put Santry in jail if we can prevent them.

They've played their last card to-night. It's war from now on."



"All right, Gordon, I'll go." Her voice was full of courage again; the

moment of weakness had passed. "Remember now, take good care of

yourself."



"You bet," he retorted cheerily, and as her mare moved ahead, he caught

her arm as she had caught his. She went quite limp in her saddle and

swayed toward him, but he merely added: "You're a wonder, Dorothy."



He released her then, and with a wave of her hand she disappeared into

the night. Not until she was beyond recall did he realize that he might

have kissed her; that she had wanted him to kiss her, for the first time

since they had known each other. He sat in abstraction for several

moments before he shook the reins in his hand and his horse sprang

forward.



"I've kissed one girl to-day," he muttered aloud, "and I reckon that's

enough."





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