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Desperate Measures

From: Hidden Gold

If Moran or Helen, early in their conversation, had looked out of the
window of the hotel, during one of those vivid lightning flashes, they
might have seen a woman stealthily approaching the agent's office across
the street. Taking advantage of the deeper shadows and of the darkness
between lightning flashes, she stole to the rear of the building, where
she found an unlatched window, through which she scrambled with the
agility of a boy.

Within, the place was pitch dark, but like one amid familiar
surroundings, she crossed the hall and found the room she sought; the
office room now of Moran, but formerly occupied by Simon Barsdale. She
bent over the big safe, and was twirling the combination knob in her
slim, cold fingers, when she was startled by a noise in the hallway
outside. With a gasp of fright, she stood motionless, listening acutely,
but there was no further sound; reassured, she produced a bit of candle,
which she lighted and placed to one side of the safe, so that the flame
was shaded from the windows. She was in the act of manipulating the
combination again when, her whole body rigid with fear, she stood erect
once more, holding her breath and striving for self-control. There was
no doubt about the noise this time. Some one had entered the adjoining

Hastily snuffing out the candle, she crouched into the darkness of a
corner. She never doubted that the newcomer was Race Moran, or that he
would almost immediately discover her. She tried to summon enough
resolution to bluff things through when the moment of discovery should

But, as the seconds slipped by and the lights were not turned on, she
began to regain her courage. Perhaps Moran was sitting in the dark of
the other room, smoking and thinking, and perhaps she could complete her
task without being caught, if she moved swiftly and silently. She bent
again over the shining knob, at the same time watching in the direction
of the door, which was still closed as she had left it. It was difficult
to work the lock in the dark, and, as she became engrossed with her
purpose, she ceased temporarily to listen acutely. She had just
succeeded in effecting the combination, when something touched her side.

"Don't move!" a voice hissed behind her. "I'll shoot if you do!"

She wanted to cry out, "Please don't shoot!" but her tongue clove to the
roof of her mouth, which had suddenly gone dry. She had fallen forward
against the door of the safe, and was curiously conscious how cold it
felt. She was on the point of fainting, when in a rush of relief it
dawned upon her that she knew the voice; it was not Moran's.

"Gordon!" she cried joyously, finding the use of her tongue as quickly
as she had lost it, and scrambling to her feet. "It's me--Dorothy!"

With an exclamation as joyous as her own and equally surprised, he
seized her by the shoulders, peering through the darkness into her face.

"Dorothy! What the...?" A lightning flash revealed them clearly to each
other. "I told you not to try this."

"But what are you doing in town?" She clutched his arms, overcome by a
fear greater than that for her own safety. "Gordon, Gordon, you must not
stay here. There's a warrant out for you--no, no, not for that--for the
Jensen shooting. You'll be arrested on sight."

"What?" He stared at her, amazed, and she nodded. "So that's their game
now, eh? They've stooped even to that. By God!" He struck a match.

"Be careful," she warned him instantly. "The light--put it out. They'll
see it from the street. But, oh, Gordon, why did you come?"

He thrilled at the anxiety in her voice.

"To find out what Moran is hiding here; and you're after the same thing,
of course."


Impulsively, he squeezed her fingers, until she could have cried out in
pain but for the sweetness of it; there are some agonies which do not
hurt. Her throat swelled with joy, her breast heaved, and her eyelids
fluttered. She was grateful for the darkness, which hid these outward
signs of love from him. She blushed; she could feel the warm tide
pulsing in her temples; and she laughed brokenly from sheer happiness.

"You shouldn't have taken such a risk, Dorothy. I told you not to."

"You're taking that risk, Gordon, and more."

"That's different. It's so dark a night, I thought I'd chance it."

"There's not much risk for me," she declared. "I can reach home in five
minutes. Isn't it odd, though, that we both should have thought of doing
it at exactly the same time. But come, Gordon, we must hurry!"

Now that the safe was open, to remove its contents took only a moment,
and they tossed all the papers they found into a corner. Then, when Wade
had swung the safe around on its casters, they had a snug shelter behind
it, where by shaded candle-light they ran rapidly through their loot.
Most of the documents related to land purchases and development, but at
the bottom of the pile Wade came upon a bundle of papers and
blue-prints, held together by a rubber band, which he stripped off.

"Oh, if we should find nothing, after all," Dorothy whispered, bending
with him over the blue-prints. "What are they, Gordon?"

"Maps of my own range, Dorothy!" His tone was tense with excitement, as
he leaned nearer to the light. "Well, what do you know about that? By
Heaven"--He fairly glared at the sheet before his eyes.--"It's all

"What's all there? What is it?"

"Gold!" He looked at her in the flickering light, like a man gone mad.

"Gold? On your range? Oh, Gordon!"

"Yes; on my range. It's inconceivable, almost; but it seems to be true.
See! Look here!" Their heads were almost touching, so that her soft hair
caressed his face. "This is a map of the upper valley, and the
description says these red crosses indicate the location of gold. One is
near the head of Piah Creek, not half a mile from my buildings."

"Oh, Gordon, I am so glad!" Dorothy exclaimed. "How wonderful it all
is. You'll be rich, won't you?" She was not too excited to remember that
his wealth would probably be shared by another woman, but she was too
generous to be any the less glad on that account.

"That remains to be seen," he replied. "It may not prove to amount to
much, you know. At any rate, Moran won't get any of it. That's worth a
whole lot."

She nodded vehemently.

"I thought it must be something like that, Gordon. They would never have
done the things they have without some powerful reason."

"Yes, you were right, Dorothy. You're usually right." He caught her hand
and squeezed it again, and in this moment of their triumph together she
could not help returning the pressure. "You're a jewel, a brick, a
trump--all those things and then some. The sweet...."

"Now, we haven't time for that sort of thing, Mr. Man. We...."

"Must get away while we can, yes," he finished for her. "But just the
same I...."

Her cold fingers on his lips stopped him.


She put out the candle and they crouched down beside the safe. Some one
was coming up the stairs, not stealthily this time but boldly, as one
who had a right there, whistling softly. Wade could feel the girl's
shoulder tremble against his side, as he slipped his revolver out of its

"Don't, Gordon! You--you mustn't shoot, no matter what happens." Her
teeth were chattering, for she was far more frightened now than she had
been for herself alone. "That's Moran. He mustn't see you here. Remember
that warrant. Hide behind the safe. Please!"

"Never!" he muttered grimly. "He'd find us anyhow."

"Yes, yes. Please!" She was almost hysterical in her excitement. "I can
bluff him till you can get away. He won't hurt me. If he does you can
show yourself. Do it for me, for your friends. Please! Remember, he
mustn't know that you've learned his secret."

It was Moran, for they heard him now in conversation with some passer-by
in the hallway. Dorothy was grateful for the respite, for it gave them
time to throw the loose papers back into the safe and close it. Wade
then pushed the safe to its original position, the casters making little
noise as they rolled. Then he crouched behind it.

"I don't like this stunt!" he protested; but yielded to her beseeching
"Please." She was right, too, he knew. It would be far better if Moran
could be kept in ignorance of his visit there.

The office now bore little sign of their invasion of it, and, drawing a
deep breath, Dorothy schooled herself to calmness as she awaited Moran,
who was walking down the hall toward the entrance to the room. A plan
had flashed into her mind by means of which she might save both Wade and
herself, if he and her heart would only be quiet. The unruly heart was
beating so violently that it shook her thin dress, and that her voice
must tremble, she knew.

Moran was almost at the threshold, when Dorothy opened the door for him.

"Good evening, Mr. Moran. Did I startle you?"

"Well, not exactly," he said, striking a match, after an instant's
pause. "What are you doing here?"

Passing her, he lighted the large oil lamp, and swept the room with a
quick, keen glance. Finding nothing apparently wrong, he turned again to
his visitor with a puzzled expression in his face.


"I wanted to see you and I thought you'd be here. The door was unlocked
so I just walked in. I've been here only a minute or two." Fortified by
another deep breath, drawn while his back was turned, Dorothy found her
voice steadier than she expected.

The agent looked at her keenly.

"That's strange," he commented. "I don't know what the door was doing
unlocked. I always lock it when I leave."

"You must have forgotten to do so to-night."

"I surely must have, if you found it open."

Half convinced that she was telling the truth, Moran could see but one
reason for her evident fright: she was afraid of him. The suggestion of
that strengthened the impulse which her beauty stirred in him. If she
thought so, why not?

"Say, you're a good-looking kid, all right," he leered. "What did you
want to see me for?"

A slight sound from behind the safe, or perhaps she imagined it, caused
Dorothy's heart to flutter wildly. She had not anticipated this attitude
in Moran, and she instantly realized that it brought a fresh danger into
the situation. She knew that Wade would not remain in concealment if the
agent insulted her. She must avoid the chance of that, if possible; must
get him out of the office so that Gordon might escape.

"This is no place to talk that way," she said bravely. "It isn't a good
place for me to be anyway. If people knew I was here, there would be a
terrible scandal. I've something important to tell you. Won't you come
for a walk?"

"In this rain? Not much," he chuckled. "Come here!" She shook her head
and tried to smile. "Well, if you won't, I'll have to go to you." She
shrank back from him, as he approached her, with an evil smile. "Say,
little one," he went on, "this is a damned funny game of yours, coming
here at night. What's the idea, eh?"

"There isn't any, really." She snatched her hands away from him. "I've
already tried to explain that I have important news for you; but I won't
tell you what it is here."

"Why not? We're dry and cozy here. Go ahead."


"Oh, come on!" He had driven her to the wall, and now he slipped an arm
about her waist and pulled her toward him. "Say, kiss me once, won't

"Hands up, you low-lived hound!"

With an oath, Moran whirled around to find himself staring into the
muzzle of Wade's revolver. The ranchman moved his weapon significantly.


As the agent's hands went above his head, Dorothy leaned against the
wall for support. She had not made a sound, but she was the color of
chalk, and her heart seemed to be trying to jump out of her mouth. She
was no whiter than Wade, whose fury had driven every vestige of color
from his face and fired his eyes with a murderous light.

"Shall I kill him?" he asked Dorothy, and at the frightful tone of his
voice she found the power to shake her head, although her mouth was too
dry for speech.

"Take his gun," said Wade sharply and the girl stepped forward.

She reeled toward Moran, who, to do him justice, showed little fear,
and pulled his revolver from his hip pocket. She held it out to Wade,
who broke it with his free hand by pressing the butt against the top of
the safe, and spilled the cartridges on the floor.

"Now you can leave us, Dorothy," he said quietly.

"No. I'll stay, Gordon," she answered.

"Moran," Wade continued evenly, without paying any more attention to
her, "the only reason why I shall not kill you is because Miss Purnell
does not want your worthless life upon her conscience. A man like you
ought to die. You're not fit to live."

"Can I put my hands down?"

"No; keep 'em where they are!" Wade gestured again with the gun. "I wish
I had a string on each of your thumbs so I could hoist them higher. I've
just been through this safe of yours." The agent started. "I've got
those maps of my range in my pocket."

"Much good they'll do you."

"They'll do me more good alive than they will you dead, and you're going
to die. So help me God, you are! We'll come together again some day."

"I hope so," Moran declared venomously, and even Dorothy was struck by
the courage he showed.

"And then there won't be anybody to be held responsible but me." Wade
grinned in a slow, horrible fashion. "It'll rest light on me, I promise
you. And another thing. I'm going to leave you trussed up here in this
office, like I left your friend the Sheriff a few days ago, and along
about morning somebody'll find you and turn you loose. When you get
loose, you want to forget that you saw Miss Purnell here to-night. I've
meant to have her and her mother leave town for a bit until this mess
blows over, but things aren't fixed right for that just now. Instead,
I'm going to leave her in the personal care--the personal care, you
understand me, of every decent man in Crawling Water. If anything
happens to her, you'll toast over a slow fire before you die. Do you get

"She's a good kid," said Moran, with a grin. Nor did he flinch when the
weapon in Wade's hand seemed actually to stiffen under the tension of
his grasp.

"I guess it's a good thing you stayed, Dorothy," the latter remarked
grimly. "This fellow must be tied up. I wonder what we can find to do it

"My cloak?" Dorothy suggested. "It's an old one."

He shook his head.

"It's hard to tear that rain-proof stuff, and besides you'd get wet
going home. There's no sense in that. Isn't there something else?"

She blushed a little and turned away for a moment, during which she
slipped off her underskirt. Then, as Moran watched her cynically, she
tore it into strips. When she had thus made several stout bands, Wade
spoke again.

"You take the first throw or two about him," he directed, "and when you
have him partly tied you can take my gun and I'll finish the job. Start
with his feet, that's right. Now draw it as tight as you can. Put your
arms down back of you! Tie them now, Dorothy. That's fine! Here, you
take the gun. You know how to use it, if he struggles."

Wade tightened up the linen bands, and kicked forward a straight-backed
chair, into which he forced Moran and lashed him fast there, to all of
which the agent made no great protest, knowing that to do so would be
useless. He grunted and swore a bit under his breath, but that was all.
When he was well trussed up, the ranchman made a gag out of what was
left of the linen and his own handkerchief and strapped it into his
prisoner's mouth with his belt.

When the job was done, and it was a good one, he grinned again in that
slow, terrible way. A grin that bore no semblance to human mirth, but
was a grimace of combined anger and hatred. Once before, during the
fight at the ranch, Bill Santry had seen this expression on his
employer's face, but not to the degree that Dorothy now saw it. It
frightened her.

"Oh, Gordon, don't, please!" She closed her eyes to shut out the sight.
"Come, we must hurry away."

"Good night," Wade said ironically, with a last look at Moran.

He let Dorothy draw him away then, and by the time they reached the
street he was his old boyish self again. Aping Moran, he slipped his arm
around her waist, but she did not shrink from his embrace, unexpected
though it was.

"Say, kid," he laughed mockingly. "Kiss me once, won't you?"

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