Tangled Threads





Relieved though Helen was to some extent, by her father's assurances and

by the explanation which he had given, she was far from being in a

tranquil frame of mind.



She knew that whatever might be the outcome of the graver charge against

Gordon, he would probably have to suffer for his release of Santry, and

she found herself wishing more than ever that her lover had never seen

the West. What little it had contributed to his character was not worth

what it had cost already and would cost in the future. Surely, his

manhood was alive enough not to have needed the development of such an

environment, and if his lot had been cast in the East, she could have

had him always with her. A long letter, which she had recently received

from Maxwell Frayne, recounting the gayeties of New York and Washington,

made her homesick. Although she could scarcely think of the two men at

the same moment, still, as she sat in the crude little hotel, she would

have welcomed a little of young Frayne's company for the sake of

contrast. She was yearning for the flesh-pots of her own Egypt.



From the news of the fight at the ranch, which had been brought to town

by the messenger, she gathered that Wade meant to intrench himself on

the ranch and defy the law, which would probably embroil him in other

criminal acts. Crawling Water, too, was rapidly filling up with armed

cattlemen, who, she thought, would do Gordon's cause more harm than

good. Toward afternoon, word came of a bloody skirmish on the Trowbridge

range, between a number of his punchers and some of Moran's hired men,

and that added to the tension among those crowding the main street.



From the parlor windows of the hotel she watched what was going on

outside, not without alarm, so high did feeling seem to run. The threats

of the ranch men, handed about amongst themselves but loud enough for

her to catch a word now and then, made her wonder if the town was really

safe for her father, or for herself. A storm was coming up, and the

rising wind whipped the flimsy lace curtains of the windows and kept

them fluttering like flags. The distant muttering of the thunder and an

occasional sharp flash of lightning wore on her tired nerves until she

could sit still no longer.



For the sake of something to do, she went up to her room, intending to

write some letters there, but her bed had not been made up, so she

returned to the parlor with her fountain pen and writing-pad. To Maxwell

Frayne she wrote a brief note, which was not likely to cheer him much.

She had become so in the habit of taking her moods out on Maxwell that

to do so, even with a pen, was second nature to her. She despised him

for his tolerance of her tyranny, never realizing that he reserved to

himself the privilege of squaring their account, if she should ever

become his wife.



Then to ease her mind of the strain it bore, she wrote at some length to

her mother; not telling the whole truth but enough of it to calm her own

nervousness. She said nothing of the conversation she had overheard, but

went fully into the scene between her father and Gordon Wade. With a

little smile hovering on her lips, she wrote dramatically of the

Senator's threat to crush the ranchman. "That will please mother," she

said to herself, as her pen raced over the paper. "Gordon felt, you see,

that"--she turned a page--"father knew Santry had not killed Jensen,

and...."



The hotel-keeper poked his head in at the doorway.



"Two ladies to see you, Miss," he announced. "Mrs. Purnell and

daughter."



He gave Helen no chance to avoid the visit, for with the obviousness of

the plains, he had brought the visitors upstairs with him, and so,

blotting what she had written and weighing down her letter against the

breeze, she arose to greet them.



"This is good of you, Mrs. Purnell, and I am so glad to meet your

daughter. I've been lonely and blue all day and now you have taken pity

on me."



Mrs. Purnell shot an "I told you so" glance at Dorothy, which made that

young lady smile to herself.



"I was sorry not to have been at home when you called, Miss Rexhill."



The two girls looked at each other, each carefully veiling hostility,

Dorothy beneath a natural sweetness of disposition, and Helen with the

savoir faire of social experience. Each felt and was stung by a

realization of the other's points of advantage. Dorothy saw a perfection

of well-groomed poise, such as she could hardly hope to attain, and

Helen was impressed with her rival's grace and natural beauty.



"Won't you sit down?"



"But aren't we disturbing you?" Mrs. Purnell asked, with a glance toward

the writing materials.



"Indeed, you are not. I was writing some duty letters to kill time. I'm

only too glad to stop because I'm really in no writing mood and I am

most anxious to hear what is going on outside. Isn't it dreadful about

Mr. Wade?"



"You mean his helping Santry?" Dorothy asked, with a little touch of

pride which did not escape her hostess.



"Partly that; but more because he is sure to be arrested himself. I've

been terribly worried."



Dorothy glanced at her keenly and smiled.



"I have an idea that they may find Gordon hard to arrest," she remarked.



"Yes," Mrs. Purnell put in. "He is so popular. Still, I agree with you

that there is every cause for anxiety." The good lady did not have a

chance every day to agree with the daughter of a United States Senator,

and the opportunity was not to be overlooked.



"The people feel so strongly that Santry should never have been arrested

that they are not likely to let Gordon be taken just for freeing him,"

Dorothy explained.



Helen shook her head with every indication of tremulous worry.



"But it isn't that alone," she insisted. "He's to be arrested for the

Jensen shooting. That was why the posse waited at his ranch after Santry

had been caught."



"For the Jensen shooting?" Dorothy showed her amazement very plainly.

"Are you sure?" she demanded, and when Helen nodded, exclaimed: "Why,

how utterly absurd! I understood that you were with him yourself when he

received word of it?"



"I was," Helen admitted. "He is supposed only to have planned the crime,

I believe. He's supposed to have been the principal, isn't that what

they call it?" She appealed to Mrs. Purnell.



"Oh, but do you think he could do such a thing?" Mrs. Purnell asked,

much shocked.



"I don't know. I hope not."



"I do know!" Dorothy burst out emphatically. "I know Gordon Wade too

well to think for one minute that he did it; and every true friend of

his ought to speak out at once and say the same thing."



The challenge in her voice was unmistakable, and Mrs. Purnell moved

uneasily in her chair. She glanced anxiously at Helen and was relieved

to see that the latter had lost none of her poise.



"I hope so as fully as you do," Helen said sweetly, "but things move so

fast here in these mountains that I find it hard to keep up with them."



"Of course," Mrs. Purnell soothed, with a troubled look at her daughter.



"Who swore out the warrant, I wonder?" Dorothy asked, in a more tranquil

tone, a bit ashamed of her outburst. "Was it Mr. Moran?"



"I'm sure I don't know," Helen answered. "I supposed it was the Sheriff.

Why should Mr. Moran have anything to do with it?"



"Because he seems to have been concerned in all the trouble we have

had," Dorothy replied calmly. "This was a peaceful little community

until Mr. Moran moved into it."



Helen made no direct reply to this, and for awhile Dorothy allowed her

mother to sustain the conversation. She had no doubt but that Moran was

back of it all, and she was thinking of what Lem Trowbridge had said;

that if they could only "get something on" Moran and the Senator, a

solution of the whole problem would be at hand. She thought that she had

detected a defensive note in Helen's voice, and she was wondering why it

should have been there.



"But you haven't answered my question yet about Mr. Moran," Helen

presently challenged her. "You seemed to have something more in mind

than what you said. Would you mind telling me?"



Dorothy looked steadily but not offensively at her.



"Oh, it's nothing, Miss Rexhill. I was only thinking that he has gone

rather far: been very zealous in your father's interests. Probably...."



"Why, Dorothy--!" her mother interposed, in a shocked tone.



"Miss Rexhill asked me, mother, and you know that I always speak

frankly."



"Yes, do go on," Helen urged, with even an added touch of sweetness in

her manner. "I really want to know. I am so out of touch with things

here, so ill informed."



"Well, you can sit here at the windows and learn all you wish to know.

There isn't a man in this town that would see Gordon arrested and not

fight to free him. Feeling is running high here now. You know, it's

something like a violin string. You can stretch it just so far and then

it snaps. That's all."



"Dorothy, I'm really mortified that you...."



"Oh, you've no occasion to be, Mrs. Purnell," Helen interrupted,

smiling. "I asked for the plain truth, you know."



Mrs. Purnell laughed feebly.



"Dorothy has known Mr. Wade so long and we both like him so well that

she can't bear to hear a word against him," she explained. Her sense of

lese majeste was running away with her judgment, and Dorothy shot an

irritated glance at her. "Not that I think he did it at all, you

understand; but...."



"Oh, perfectly," declared Helen, with rising color and an equal feeling

of annoyance. "Oh, dear me, do look at my poor letters!"



A gust of wind, stronger than any that had come before, had swept the

weight to the floor and scattered letter paper, envelopes, and blotter

about the room. Helen was just able to catch the writing-pad as it slid

to the floor, while Dorothy and her mother laughingly salvaged the

rest. The incident happily relieved the awkward drift of their

conversation, and they all felt relieved.



"Well, now, did you ever?" Mrs. Purnell ejaculated, looking at the

lithographed blotter, which she held in her hand. "I declare this

picture of a little girl reminds me of Dorothy when she was that age."



"Oh, mother!"



"Really?" Helen broke in. "How interesting. I hadn't noticed the

picture. Do let me see."



To be courteous, she agreed with Mrs. Purnell that there was a strong

likeness, which Dorothy laughingly denied.



"I guess I know what you looked like when you were five better than you

do," Mrs. Purnell declared. "It's the image of you as you were then, and

as Miss Rexhill says, there is a facial resemblance even yet."



"Perhaps you would like to take it with you, then," Helen suggested, to

Mrs. Purnell's delight, who explained that the only picture she had of

Dorothy at that age had been lost.



"If it wouldn't deprive you?"



"No, indeed. You must take it. I have a large blotter in my writing-pad,

so I really don't need that one at all. So many such things are sent to

father that we always have more than we can use up."



When Dorothy and her mother left the hotel, urged homeward by the first

big drops of the coming rain, Mrs. Purnell tucked the blotter in the

bosom of her dress, happy to have the suggestion of the picture to

recall the days when her husband's presence cheered them all. Her world

had been a small one, and little things like this helped to make it

bright.



Soon afterward the supper bell rang, and during the meal Helen told the

Senator, who seemed somewhat morose and preoccupied, of the visit she

had had.



"Sure tiresome people. Goodness! I was glad to see them at first because

I thought they would help me to pass the afternoon, but instead I was

bored to death. That little minx is crazy about Gordon, though. I could

see that."



"Um!"



"And the worst of it is that she just fits into the scenery here, and I

don't. You know, father, I never could wax enthusiastic over shooing the

cows to roost and things like that."



"Um!"



"I feel like a deaf person at a concert, here in this town."



This remark brought a wry laugh from her father, and Helen smiled.



"Well, I've made you laugh, anyway," she said. "You're frightfully

grouchy this evening."



"My dear, I'm busy, very busy, and I haven't time to think of trifles.

I'll be at it most of the night."



"Oh, shall you? Goodness, that's cheerful. I wish I had never come to

this awful little place. I suppose I must go back to my letters for

something to do. And, father," she added, as he lingered with her for a

moment in the hallway, "the Purnells seem to think that you and Mr.

Moran had better not go too far. The people here are very much wrought

up."



He patted her shoulder affectionately.



"You leave all that to me and go write to your mother."



There was nothing else for her to do, so she returned to the parlor.

When she had finished her letters, she idly picked up a week-old copy of

a Denver newspaper which lay on the table and glanced through the

headlines. She was yawningly thinking of bed, when Moran came into the

room.



"Oh, are you and father through at last?"



"Yes," he answered, smiling. "That is, we're through upstairs. I'm on my

way over to the office to straighten up a few loose ends before I turn

in. There's no rest for the weary, you know."



"Don't let me keep you, then," she said dryly, as he lingered. "I'm

going to bed."



"You're not keeping me. I'm keeping myself." He quite understood her

motive, but he was not thin-skinned, and he had learned that he had to

make his opportunities with her. "Your father told me you were getting

anxious."



"Not anxious, tired."



"Things are getting a little warm here, but before there's any real

danger we expect to have the soldiers here to take charge."



He rather ostentatiously displayed his bandaged wrist, hoping to win her

sympathy, but she professed none. Instead, she yawned and tapped her

lips with her fingers, and her indifference piqued him.



"I was talking with Dorothy Purnell this afternoon," Helen finally

remarked, eyeing him lazily, "and she seems to be of the opinion that

you'll have hard work arresting Gordon Wade. I rather hope that you do."



"Well--" He teetered a little on his feet and stroked his mustache. "We

may have, at that. Miss Purnell is popular and she can make a lot of

trouble for us if she wants to. Being very fond of Wade, she's likely to

do all that she can."



"Would she really have so much influence?" Helen asked, carefully

guarding her tongue.



He laughed softly as though amused at the thought.



"Influence? Evidently you don't realize what a good looking girl means

in a frontier town like this. She's part sister, part mother, sweetheart

and a breath from Heaven to every man in Crawling Water. On that

account, with one exception, I've had to import every last one of my

men. The exception is Tug Bailey, who's beyond hope where women are

concerned. To all the rest, Dorothy Purnell is 'Wade's girl,' and they

wouldn't fight against her, or him, for all the money in Wyoming."



He was watching her keenly as he spoke, and was gratified to see spots

of color spring to her cheeks.



"How interesting!" Helen could make her tone indifferent to the point of

languor, but she could not keep the gleam of jealousy out of her eyes.

"Gordon is a fortunate man to have such an able ally, isn't he?"



"The finish will decide that, I should say," Moran replied sneeringly.

"She may stir up more trouble than all her friends can take care of."



For all of her social schooling, Helen was not proof against the sneer

in his words, even though she fully saw through his purpose to wound

her. She felt her temper rising, and with it came curiosity to learn how

far the relationship between Wade and Dorothy Purnell had really gone.

That Moran would exaggerate it, she felt sure, for he had his own ends

to gain, but possibly from out of his exaggeration she could glean some

truth. Yet she did not want to go so far in her anger as to gratify his

malice, and this placed her in something of a dilemma.



"I don't believe that she is 'Wade's girl,' as you call her, at all,"

she said coldly. "They may be good friends, and if so, I'm glad; but

they are nothing more than that. There is no 'understanding' between

them."



Moran carelessly waved his hand in the direction of the rain-swept

street, illuminated now and then by the lightning.



"Ask any one in Crawling Water."



"That sounds well, but it's impracticable, even if I wanted to do it. I

prefer to draw my own conclusions."



The agent drew up a chair with his well hand, and sat down with that

easy familiarity that came so natural to him. Helen watched him, lazily

impertinent.



"I've been wanting to have a talk with you, Helen," he began, "and this

looks like a good chance to me. You've been foolish about Wade. Yes, I

know that you're thinking that I've got my own ends to further, which is

true enough. I have. I admit it. But what I am going to tell you is

true, also. Fortune's been playing into my hand here lately. Now, if

you'll be reasonable, you'll probably be happier. Shall I go on?"



"Wild horses couldn't stop you," she answered, amused that he seemed

flattered. "But if we were in Washington, I fancy I'd have you shown

out."



"We're not in Washington, my dear girl." He wagged his finger at her, in

the way her father had, to give emphasis to his words. "That's where

you've made your mistake with Wade. We're all just plain men and women

out here in the cattle country, and I'm talking its language, not the

language of drawing-rooms." He was himself a little surprised at the

swift dilation of her pupils, but his words had probed deeper than he

knew, reminding her as they did of the truth which she had so fully

realized that afternoon. "Wade liked you--loved you, maybe, in Chicago,

but this ain't the East. He cares nothing for you here, and he'd never

be happy away from here. You know that picture of yourself that you sent

to him?" She nodded. "Well, we found it on the floor of his room,

covered with dust. He hadn't even troubled to pick it up from where it

must have fallen weeks ago."



She looked at him dumbly, unable to keep her lips from twitching. He

knew that she believed him, and he was glad; that she had to believe

him, because his story bore the impress of truth. It was not something

that he could have made up.



"And while your picture was lying there, Wade and this Purnell girl were

making goo-goo eyes at each other. Why, it was she that rode out to warn

him that we were after Santry." Helen's lips curled. "I can't swear to

that, but I heard it and I believe it myself. They must've met on the

trail somewhere in the dark, and you can bet he was grateful. I don't

imagine that they stopped at a hand-shake. I imagine they kissed, don't

you?"



"Oh, I'm tired, worn out," Helen declared, forcing a smile so artificial

that it could not deceive him. "Do go, please. I am going upstairs to

bed."



"Wait one minute." He put out his injured arm, and, thinking that he

reached for her hand, she brushed it aside, accidentally striking his

wound.



"I'm sorry if I hurt you," she said coldly, as he winced.



"Maybe I've hurt you worse," he persisted, with a tenderness that was

intolerable to her, "but, if I have, your wound'll heal just as mine

will." He gently pushed her back into her chair as she started to get

up.



"Are you making love to me, Race?" Under the ridicule of her tone his

face darkened. "If you are, it's insufferable in you."



"Go easy, now," he warned her. "I'll not be made a fool of."



She did not heed his warning. Glad to have him on the rack, where she

had been, she laughed at him.



"Haven't you sense enough to know that, for that very reason, I'd refuse

to believe anything you might say against Gordon Wade? I know how you

hate him. Listen to me. Oh, this is absurd!" She laughed again at the

picture he made. "You've pursued me for months with your attentions,

although I've done everything but encourage you. Now I want you to know

that I shall never again even listen to you. What Gordon is to Dorothy

Purnell is for him, and her, and perhaps for me to be interested in, but

not for you. Now I'm going to bed. Good night!"



He caught her by the arm as she stood up, but immediately released her,

and stepped in front of her instead.



"Hold on," he begged, with a smile that meant wonderful mastery of

himself. "I've got feelings, you know. You needn't walk on them. I love

you, and I want you. What I want, I usually get. I mean to get you." She

looked up at him with heavy-lidded insolence. "I may fail, but if I do,

it'll be one more notch in my account against Wade. I know now where to

strike him--to hurt."



"You be reasonable, and you'll be happier," she retorted. "May I go?"



"Certainly." He stepped out of her way. "Good night."





Taken Into The Mountains Taxation Without Representation facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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