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   Chapter 14 THREE LETTERS

The Delafield Affair By Florence Finch Kelly Characters: 12195

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"

Hello, Curt! When are you going back to the ranch?"

Pendleton, the invalid from the East, accosted Conrad as he emerged from the physician's office, where he had gone for a last dressing of his wounds before returning to the round-up.

"Right now, Mr. Pendleton. Anything I can do for you?"

"Say, Curt, I've been wondering if I couldn't flirt gravel along with your bunch for a while. I want to take in everything that's going while I'm here. I've never been on a ranch, or seen a round-up, or a steer on the prod; and I'd like to see how things are done. Would a tenderfoot be in your way?"

"Not a bit of it! Come right along, Pendy, if you think you can stand it. You'll have to rough it, you know; sleep on the ground with your saddle for a pillow, ride hard, and eat what comes."

"Oh, I can stand whatever the rest of you do. I don't fork a horse as well as a cowboy or a circus rider, but I can stick on, and I can get there 'most as soon as anybody-I mighty near got there too soon when we went after Melgares, didn't I?"

"All right, Pendleton! If you think you can stand it, come right along with me this morning. I'm going to ride the rest of the day and most of the night; but if that's too much for you you can stop over at the ranch to-night, and catch up with us to-morrow."

"I reckon I'll take it all in along with you, and I'll meet you in half an hour in front of the court-house," and Pendleton bustled off. Conrad went after his mare, dropping into Bancroft's office for a last word.

The president of the First National Bank was reading his morning's mail. He frowned over a note from Rutherford Jenkins reminding him that the first of the month was approaching, and warning him not to forget the remittance due on that day. He looked at the calendar. No; he could not take time before the first to go to Las Vegas and crack the whip he was preparing over Jenkins's head; he would have to make this payment. Next he opened a letter from Dellmey Baxter:

"My dear Bancroft:-I think you'd better correct young Conrad's curious notion that I had anything to do with José Gonzalez's attack upon him, or with José's going down there. If you don't he might turn his suspicions in some other direction. Of course, there's nothing in it but that greaser's bad temper. But he thinks there is, and he's just hot-headed enough to make it uncomfortable for anybody he happens to suspect. I didn't send José to him and so, naturally, I can't do anything about it, even if the fellow does get angry and act like the devil.

"I'm sorry I can't help you in your desire to retire from our Rio Grande valley land business. I'm tied up so that I've got no ready money with which to buy you out. Of course, if you are determined to get out, you might find a purchaser elsewhere. But as a friend I advise you not to sell. There's going to be big money in it, and we can probably launch the enterprise within the next six months. You'll make a great mistake if you quit. If you decide to stay in I'm willing for you to keep on as a silent partner, just as we have done so far."

The banker scowled, swearing softly to himself as he read the first paragraph. "Didn't send him, didn't he," he grumbled. "Then who did? I didn't, that's sure. He recommended the fellow as a good cowboy, and Conrad engaged him. I had nothing to do with it." He was silent again as he studied the second part of the letter. A suspicion rose in his mind that Baxter was purposely making it difficult, almost impossible, for him to get out of the land scheme. What was his purpose in so doing? Did the Congressman wish to keep a hold on him to hamper, perhaps even to control, his movements? "I wonder," Bancroft thought, "if Dell is afraid I'll try to cut him out politically before he's ready to step down. I'd like his place well enough if-but that's something out of my reckoning for a long time yet, even if everything goes right." The surmise that Baxter wished to have such a bridle upon him left him uneasy. Well, he would have to let this thing go on as it was. If he tried to sell to any one else knowledge of his connection with it might leak out and reach Lucy's ears. He winced as he thought of her feeling toward Baxter because of this business. And the investment promised well; rich returns might be expected from it soon. Nobody knew of his part in it except Dell, and if he stayed in and kept quiet it was unlikely that anybody else would find it out. That might be the safer plan, after all.

Conrad came to the door, and after a few minutes' talk Bancroft said to him, remembering Baxter's injunction, "Well, Curt, I hope you won't find that your crazy Mexican has been trying to kill off all your men."

Curtis laughed. "Oh, José will be all right; and he's the best cow-punch I've got on the ranch. Dell Baxter will attend to him."

"That's an absurd notion of yours that Baxter had anything to do with it," replied Bancroft, the Congressman's letter still in his mind. "You're not reasonable about Dell. Why should he want you assassinated?"

"The only reason I can see is that I've been talking pretty plain about him. But if he doesn't like the kind of things I say he'll have to get used to it, or else reform."

"Nonsense, Curt. And even if he does think you're handling the Castleton money against-"

Curtis made a gesture of impatience. "I hope you don't take any stock in that talk, Aleck. The Castletons don't care a hang about this campaign, and Dell knows it. They're not putting up a cent, or, if Ned is doing anything for his wife's sake, he's dealing with Johnny Martinez direct."

Bancroft looked at him narrowly. "Is that right, Curt? Are you sure of it?"

"As sure as I am of anything," the cattleman responded with emphasis. "They've never mentioned the subject to me."

After Conrad had gone the banker walked the floor in anxious thought. What, then, did that five-hundred-dollar check mean that Curtis had given to Jenkins? Perhaps he was holding the young man off, saying he was not yet sure of Delafield's identity and needed mone

y to carry on his investigation, intending to give up his secret if he should find that he could bleed Bancroft no longer. That would be like Jenkins, he decided. As soon as he could get away he would go to Las Vegas and see if the fellow could be cowed by the knowledge that had come to him so opportunely. As for Conrad, it would be better to wait until he could learn whether those checks would produce the effect desired.

In front of the court-house the ranchman met Tillinghurst and Little Jack Wilder. The Sheriff had a subp?na commanding him to appear as a witness for the State in the Melgares trial, set for June. Curtis remarked, as they talked of the case: "I reckon you'll have Pendleton as a witness; he'll want to take in the whole thing. Have you seen anything of him? He promised to meet me here. He's going back with me; says he wants to take in a round-up and see a steer on the prod. I sure reckon I'll have my hands full if I keep the boys from taking him in."

"Let 'em run him, Curt, let 'em run him," said the Sheriff. "He's good-natured, and he'll soon strike their gait. He was never outside of New England before, and he's tryin' mighty hard to be tougher than anybody else on the border. He's been in town three weeks, and he calls everybody by their first names, from Judge Banks down to my Mexican stable-boy. He writes down all the slang he hears every day, sits up nights to study it, and the next day slings it around as free and easy as an old-timer. Is that him comin' yonder? Say, Curt, he'll stampede every cow-brute you've got on the range!"

Pendleton, short, stout, and large of girth, had dressed himself for roughing it according to his own idea of custom and comfort. He wore a Mexican straw sombrero tied down over his ears with a red bandanna, a red flannel shirt, a long linen coat, huge spurs, and sheepskin chaparejos.

"Oh, where did you get that coat?" the three men sang out as he came within hearing distance. Pendleton caught the tails in his finger tips and danced some sidewise steps.

"Ain't she a beaut?" he shouted. "I found it in a store down in Dobytown."

"Say, Pendy," called the Sheriff, "if you go pervadin' and pesterin' around among Curt's steers in those duds I'll have to send Jack down there to arrest you for breach of the peace."

"All right, Tilly! I'm here for my health, but I'm takin' in on the side everything that comes my way!"

Conrad found a letter at the ranch addressed to José Gonzalez, in his care, and grinned with satisfaction as he recognized Baxter's handwriting. "He's buffaloed all right and is calling off his man," he thought as he opened with eager curiosity a missive from Baxter for himself:

"My dear young friend:-I assure you that you are barking up the wrong tree when you try to connect me with any attack the Mexican, José Gonzalez, may have made upon you. In fact, it is so much up the wrong tree that I feel pretty sure there isn't any tree there at all! His assault was probably the result of sudden anger. The man has worked for me a good deal, and I know that such is his character. I have some influence with him, and I shall write him at once and give him a lecture on the necessity of controlling his temper. I have had occasion to do this several times in the past, not without effect. I shall tell him that you are a man of your word, and a crack shot, and that if he doesn't keep cool he's likely to die with his boots on. Nobody could blame you, my dear Mr. Conrad, if you should shoot him under such a necessity of self-defence. I take it ill, however, that you should connect me with this greaser's outrageous temper and crazy actions. I assure you again that you are entirely mistaken in your assumption, which, permit me to say, is what might very well be called gratuitous.

"I congratulate Johnny Martinez upon having the support of a gentleman so energetic, influential, and enthusiastic as yourself, and I remain,

"Yours very cordially,

"Dellmey Baxter."

Conrad laughed aloud over the letter, exclaiming as he finished it, "He's a slick one, he is!"

Another letter bore the imprint of Tremper & Townsend, and contained a check for five hundred dollars and a brief note saying that their client, Sumner L. Delafield, wished them to send him this money as a second instalment of the amount due his father's estate, and to add that like sums would follow in rapid succession. Conrad scowled and gnawed his moustache as he read the letter the second time. He was considering whether he had any right to accept the money and continue his quest of vengeance. Delafield evidently meant to buy him off with it and, if he accepted, did he not tacitly accept that condition?

"I'll send it back to him," was his first thought, as he reached for a pen. But another idea stayed his hand. The former check he had divided between his brother and sisters, and, as they knew nothing of his scheme of revenge, this also ought to go to them. But Delafield must know upon what terms he accepted the money. With a grim look on his face he wrote to the Boston attorneys:

"I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of a second check for five hundred dollars from your client, Sumner L. Delafield. I am reasonably grateful that an unexpected sense of remorse has led him to loose his purse-strings, even at this late day, and on behalf of my brother and sisters will ask you to send him their thanks. As for myself, you may tell him that I hope the sending of the money has eased his conscience, for it will procure him no other benefit. Every cent of money he sees fit to send me I shall turn over to my father's other children, while I shall find entire satisfaction in following out my revenge. What that is he doubtless knows, for the sending of these checks convinces me that he is moved, not by the honest wish to do what he can toward righting a dastardly wrong, but by the desire to save his own skin. Please tell him, from me, that he cannot buy immunity from my purpose, even though he should send me the whole of the debt three times over."

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