The Old Trail





For another mile Wade followed the main road and then diverged sharply

to the left into what was known as the old, or upper, trail. This had

formerly been the valley road until made dangerous by a wash-out a year

or two previous. In the following spring the wash-out had been partially

repaired, but the going was still so rough that the new road was

widened, and had been used by preference ever since. The old trail,

however, was nearly four miles the shorter of the two, and was still

traveled in cases of emergency, although to do so at speed and in the

dark was hazardous.



Wade's promise to Dorothy to take good care of himself had been made

with mental reservation, for, obsessed by his anxiety over Santry, the

young ranchman was in no mood to spare either himself or his horse. His

going was marked by a constant shower of stones, sometimes behind him,

as the wiry cayuse climbed like a mountain goat; but as often in front,

as horse and rider coasted perilously down some declivity. The horse

sweated and trembled with nervousness, as a frightened child might, but

never refused to attempt what its master demanded of it. One might

almost say that there existed a human understanding between man and

beast as to the importance of their errand; a common impulse, which

urged them onward.



When Wade reflected that Dorothy, too, had come over that trail by night

in his interest, he thought her more than ever a wonderful girl. Even to

one born and raised in the cattle country, the trip would have been

difficult; but then he realized that Dorothy seemed much like a

ranch-bred girl in her courage and frank womanliness, nor was she any

less charming on that account. After all, he thought, women paid too

highly for little accomplishments, if to gain them they had to sacrifice

the vital points of character. He could not help but contrast Helen's

insistence that she should be escorted back to the hotel with Dorothy's

brave ride alone, and while he was too loyal to Helen Rexhill to blame

her in this respect, the thing made a deep impression upon him.



The way was long, and he had time for many thoughts. It was natural, in

the still night, with Dorothy only a little while gone, that he should

think tenderly of her, for this cost Santry nothing. For Santry, Wade

was reserving not thought but action. He was making up his mind that if

Moran had taken the foreman into custody on a trumped up charge of

murder, the agent should feel the power of a greater tribunal than any

court in the locality--the law of the Strong Arm! Behind him in this,

the ranchman knew, was the whole of the cattle faction, and since war

had been thrust upon them he would not stop until the end came, whatever

it might be. His conscience was clean, for he had exerted himself

manfully in the cause of peace, even to the point where his own

character had suffered, and now the hour of reprisal was at hand.



He rode, at last, over the top of the Divide and into the little draw

that led up to the ranch buildings, in the windows of which lights

gleamed. With an imprecation at sight of them, he tied his horse to a

post, and, revolver in hand, crept toward the house as quietly as a

Sioux.



Except for the light, there was no sign of life about the place, and

Wade craftily advanced into the deeper shadows close to the wall of the

house. Taking off his hat, so that the crown might not betray him, he

peeped through a window. What he saw made him clinch his fingers and

grit his teeth in rage.



Inside were half a dozen men, besides three of his own ranch hands who

lay trussed up like turkeys in one corner of the room; doubtless they

had been surprised by the posse before they had opportunity to run or

put up a fight. Moran was there, stretched comfortably on Wade's own

cot, smoking a cigar. Once, he looked directly toward the window at

which the watcher had placed himself, but the latter did not move.

Instead, he fingered his gun and waited; he was not sure that he really

wanted to avoid detection; if it came, Moran would pay, and the rest, at

the moment, did not seem to matter. He had forgotten Dorothy entirely.



But Santry was not there and this fact puzzled Wade. The Sheriff was not

there either, and presently it occurred to the cattleman that a part of

the posse, with Santry, might have returned to Crawling Water over the

main trail. Probably Moran, with the rest, was waiting for him. The

mere thought of Santry already on his way to jail filled Wade with a

baffling sense of rage, and creeping from the house, he examined the

surrounding turf by the faint rays of the moon. It was badly cut up by

the feet of many horses, and several minutes passed before Wade was

really sure that a number of mounted men had taken the trail back to

town. Satisfied of this at length, he untied his horse and swung into

the saddle.



Before riding away he considered the advisability of driving off the

horses belonging to Moran's party, but there would still be others in

the corral, and besides their absence, when discovered, would give

warning of the impending attack. On second thought, however, he quietly

made his way to the corral and caught a fresh horse of his own. When he

had saddled it he set out over the old trail for the big pine.



When he reached the rendezvous his men were not there; but knowing that

he must meet them if he followed the road from there on he did not stop.

He came upon them in a few minutes, riding toward him at full speed,

with Tim Sullivan in the van, too drunk to stand erect, but able to

balance himself on a horse's back, drunk or sober.



"We come acrost Santry and the Sheriff a while back," explained Big Bob

Lawson, one of Wade's own punchers. "They must be in town by now. We was

aimin' to light into 'em, but Santry wouldn't hear of it. Course, we

took our orders from him same as usual. He said to tell you that you

wanted him to keep quiet, an' that's what he aimed to do."



"He said we wasn't to tell you that he didn't shoot them Swedes," put in

another of the men.



"What?" Wade demanded sharply.



"He said--hic!" broke in Tim Sullivan, with drunken gravity. "He

said--hic!--that if you didn't know that without--hic!--bein' told, you

wasn't no friend of his'n, an'--hic!--you could go to hell."



"Shut up, you drunken fool!" Lawson snapped out.



"Jensen and his herder were shot in the back, they say. That clears

Santry," Wade declared, and sat for some moments in deep thought, while

the men waited as patiently as they could. "Lawson," he said, at last.

"You're in charge for the present. Take the boys to the big pine and

camp there quietly until I come back. I'm going into town."



"Hadn't you better take us with you, boss? We'll stick. We're for you

an' Bill Santry an' ag'in' these--sheepherders, whenever you say the

word."



"That's--hic--what we are!" Sullivan hiccoughed.



Wade shook his head.



"No. You wait for me at the pine. You'll have to rustle your grub the

best way you can. I may not get back until to-morrow--until this

evening--it's morning now. But wait until I come. There will be plenty

for you to do later on and there is no use of you going back to town

with me. It might get you into worse trouble than you're headed for

already, and what I've got to do, I can do alone."



Wheeling his horse, he rode off toward Crawling Water.



That he could take his men with him, storm the jail and release Santry,

Wade did not doubt, but to do so would be to bring each of the men into

open conflict with the law, a responsibility which he was resolved to

bear alone. Then, too, because his long ride had cooled him somewhat, he

intended to make one more appeal to the Senator. Possibly, Moran had

exceeded his instructions, and if this were so, it was no more than just

that Rexhill, who had seemed to evince a willingness to be helpful,

should have the opportunity to disown the act of his agent. Besides, if

Santry could be peaceably released, he would be freed of the charge

hanging over him, which would not be the case if he were taken from the

jail by strategy or violence.



* * * * *



With haggard countenance and inflamed eyes, Wade bore little resemblance

to his normal self when he again appeared before the Senator, who

received him in his dressing-gown, being just out of bed. Rexhill

listened with a show of sympathy to the cattleman's story, but evidently

he was in a different mood from the day before.



"My boy, your friendship for your foreman is leading you astray. Your

faith in him, which is natural and does you credit, is blinding you to

an impartial view of the case. Why not let the law take its course? If

Santry is innocent his trial will prove it. At any rate, what can I do?"



"Senator--" Wade spoke with intense weariness. "Only yesterday you

offered to help us. The situation, as I explained it then, is unchanged

now, except for the worse. Bill Santry is free of any complicity in

Jensen's death. I am positive of it. He sent me word that he had not

left the ranch, and he would not lie to save himself from hanging.

Besides, the men were shot in the back, and that is absolute proof that

Santry didn't do it."



"Mere sentiment, Gordon; mere sentiment. Proof? Pooh!"



Rexhill's slightly contemptuous tone worked upon Wade in his exhausted,

overwrought condition, and stung him. A strange look of cunning appeared

in his eyes, as he leaned across the table which separated them.



"Senator, Moran made me an offer the other day for my land. If--I accept

that offer, will you exert your influence in Santry's behalf?"



Coming so swiftly upon his planning, the prospect of such signal success

was so gratifying to Rexhill that only in halting speech could he

maintain a show of decorous restraint. His countenance expressed

exultant relief, as well it might, since he seemed to see himself

snatched out of the jaws of ruin.



"Why, Gordon, I--Of course, my boy, if you were to show such a generous

spirit as that, I--er--should feel bound...." The sense of his remarks

was lost in the crash of Wade's fist upon the table.



"Damn you!" The cattleman was beyond himself with fatigue, rage, and a

rankling sense of injustice. "They told me that was your game. I

believed it of Moran, but I thought you were square. So you're that

sort, too, eh? Well, may you rot in hell before you get my land, you

robber! Now listen to me." He waved his hand in the direction of the

street. "Out there's a hundred men--real men--who're waiting the word to

run you out of this country, you and Moran, too, and by God we'll do

it--we'll do it--and we'll begin right away!" Again his heavy fist

crashed down on the table "Never mind Bill Santry"--the instinct of

discretion was gaining in Wade.--"He can stay where he is for the

present. First, we'll attend to you pirates--then we'll see."



He stopped suddenly at sight of Helen, who attracted by the noise, had

entered the room, and stood before him in a filmy negligee.



"What is the matter, Gordon?" she demanded anxiously.



"I beg your pardon." Wade spoke awkwardly, unashamed of himself, except

for her. "I'm worn out and I--I lost my temper."



"Will you--er--leave this room!" The Senator was beginning to pull

himself together. It was the first time he had ever been ragged in such

a way, and his composure had suffered; he spoke now with more than his

usual pomposity.



"I will," Wade answered curtly, as he turned on his heel and departed.



The Senator, puffing slightly, fiddled with his glasses.



"Your young friend has seen fit to accuse me of--of--" For the life of

him, he could not at once say of just what he had been accused, unless

he allowed self-accusation to prompt his words. "Some sheepherders have

been murdered, I believe," he went on, "and Wade seems to think that

Moran and I are implicated."



"You!" his daughter exclaimed; evidently her amazement did not extend to

Moran.



"Preposterous nonsense!"



"Yes, of course." Helen walked to the window and stood looking down into

the street. "I'm afraid Gordon hasn't improved since we saw him last,"

she added, finally. "He seems quite a different person from the man I

used to know. What are you going to do about it?"



"Crush him!" The Senator's lips set in a thin, white line, as his hand

descended on the table on the spot where Wade's fist had fallen. "This,

apparently, is his gratitude to me for my interest in him. Now I intend

to show him the other side of me."



"Certainly, no one could blame you for punishing him. Oh, everything

between him and me is quite over," said the girl, with a peculiar smile.

"He's a perfect bear."



"I'm glad you feel that way about it, Helen." Her father's set lips

relaxed into a responsive smile. "You couldn't be my daughter and not

have some sense."



"Have I any?" Helen naively asked.



She was gazing out of the window again, and to her mind's eye the dusty,

squalid street became a broad highway, with jewelers' shops on either

side, and modistes, and other such charming things, just as they are

found in New York, or--Paris!





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