Infomotions, Inc.The Long Chance / Kyne, Peter B. (Peter Bernard), 1880-1957



Author: Kyne, Peter B. (Peter Bernard), 1880-1957
Title: The Long Chance
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
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Title: The Long Chance

Author: Peter B. Kyne

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THE LONG CHANCE

[Illustration: IT WAS THE DESERT CALL FOR HELP; THREE FIRES IN A ROW
BY NIGHT. THREE COLUMNS OF SMOKE AGAINST THE HORIZON BY DAY.]





THE LONG CHANCE

BY

PETER B. KYNE



ILLUSTRATED BY
FRANK TENNY JOHNSON

1914





PRINTED AT GARDEN CITY, N. Y., U. S. A.



THE LONG CHANCE




CHAPTER I


It was sunrise on the Colorado desert.

As the advance guard of dawn emerged from behind the serrated peaks to
the east and paused on their snow-encrusted summits before charging
down the slopes into the open desert to rout the lingering shadows of
the night, a coyote came out of his den in the tumbled _malpais_
at the foot of the range, pointed his nose skyward and voiced his
matutinal salute to the Hosts of Light.

Presently, far in the distant waste, seven dark objects detached
themselves from the shadows and crawled toward the mountains. Like
motes swimming in a beam of light, they came out of the Land of
Nowhere, in the dim shimmering vistas over west, where the gray line of
grease-wood met the blue of the horizon. Slowly they assumed definite
shape; and the coyote ceased his orisons to speculate upon the ultimate
possibility of breakfast and this motley trio of "desert rats" with
their burro train, who dared invade his desolate waterless kingdom.

For, with the exception of the four burros, the three men who followed
in their wake did, indeed, offer the rare spectacle of variety in this
land of superlative monotony. One of the men wore a peaked Mexican
straw hat, a dirty white cotton undershirt, faded blue denim overalls
and a pair of shoes much too large for him; this latter item indicating
a desire to get the most for his money, after the invariable custom of
a primitive people. He carried a peeled catclaw gad in his right hand,
and with this gad he continually urged to a shuffling half-trot some
one of the four burros. This man was a Cahuilla Indian.

His two companions were white men. The younger of the pair was a man
under thirty years of age, with kind bright eyes and the drawn but
ruddy face of one whose strength seems to have been acquired more from
athletic sports than by hard work. He was tall, broad-shouldered, slim-
waisted, big-hipped and handsome; he stepped along through the clinging
sand with the lithe careless grace of a mountain lion. An old greasy
wide-brimmed gray felt hat, pinched to a "Montana peak," was shoved
back on his curly black head; his shirt, of light gray wool, had the
sleeves rolled to the elbow, revealing powerful forearms tanned to the
complexion of those of the Indian. He seemed to revel in the airy
freedom of a pair of dirty old white canvas trousers, and despite the
presence of a long-barreled blue gun swinging at his hip he would have
impressed an observer as the embodiment of kindly good nature and
careless indifference to convention, provided his own personal comfort
was assured.

The other white man was plainly an alien in the desert. He was slight,
blonde, pale--a city man--with hard blue eyes set so close together
that one understood instantly something of the nature of the man as
well as the urgent necessity for his thick-lensed, gold-rimmed
spectacles. He wore a new Panama hat, corded riding breeches and
leggings. He was clean-shaven and sinfully neat. He wore no side-arms
and appeared as much out of harmony with his surroundings as might a
South American patriot at a Peace Conference.

"I say," he began presently, "how much further is it to this prospect
hole of yours, if, indeed, you have a prospect as you represented to me
a week ago?" His tone was fretful, peevish, complaining. One would
readily have diagnosed the seat of his trouble. He had come prepared to
ride--and he had been forced to walk.

The young man frowned. He seemed on the point of swearing, but
appearing to think better of it, he replied banteringly, "_Por ahi.
Por ahi._"

"What in blazes does that mean?"

"Oh, I was just talking the language of the country--a language, by
the way, toward which you seem most indifferently inclined. '_Por
ahi_' means 'a considerable way,' 'a right smart piece, I reckon,'
and conveys about the same relative amount of definite information as
_manana._ Never having measured the distance to my prospect, I
have tried for the past two days to give you an approximate idea. But
in this country you must know that distance is a deceptive, 'find X'
sort of proposition--so please refrain from asking me that same
question every two miles. If the water holds out we'll get there; and
when we get there we'll find more water, and then you may shave three
times a day if you feel so inclined, I'm sorry you have a blister on
your off heel, and I sympathize with you because of your prickly-heat.
But it's all in the day's work and you'll survive. In the meantime,
however, I suggest that you compose your restless New England soul in
patience, old man, and enjoy with our uncommunicative Cahuilla friend
and myself the glories of a sunrise on the Colorado desert."

"Damn the sunrise," the other retorted. He would have damned his
tormentor had he dared. "I do not wish to be insulted."

"Listen to that coyote," replied the careless one, ignoring his
companion's rising anger. "Listen to him yip-yapping over there on the
ridge. There sits a shining example of bucolic joy and indifference to
local annoyances. Consider the humble coyote, Boston, and learn wisdom.
Of course, a coyote doesn't know a whole lot, but he does recognize a
good thing when he sees it. His appreciation of a sunrise is always
exuberant. Ever since that coyote's been big enough to rustle his own
jack-rabbits he's howled at a lovely full moon, and if he's ever missed
his sun-up cheer it's because something he ate the night before didn't
agree with him."

"Sir," snapped the irascible one, "you're a trifler. You're--you're
--a--"

"Say it," soothed the student of nature.

"Oh, damn it," rasped his victim, "talk business. This is a business
trip, not a rehearsal for a comic opera. Talk sense."

"Well, all right--since you insist," drawled the other, smiling
brightly. "In the first place, after this morning you will permit your
whiskers to grow. Out here water is too precious to waste it shaving
every morning. I suggested that point last night, but you ignored my
polite hint. I hate to appear boorish, but I must remind you that these
jacks are mine, that the four little kegs of water that they're
carrying are mine, that this _mozo_--I beg your pardon--that this
Indian is mine, and lastly--forgive me if I ascend once more into the
realm of romance and improbability--this country is mine, and I love
it, and I won't have it profaned by any growling, dyspeptic little
squirt from a land where they have pie for breakfast. I positively
forbid you to touch that water without my permission. I forbid you to
cuss my mozo without my permission, and I forbid you to damn this
country in my hearing. Just at this particular moment, Boston, the only
things which you have and which you can call your own, and do what you
please with, are your soul, your prickly-heat and your blistered heel.
I'm fully convinced that you're quite a little man back in Boston for
the reason that you're one hell of a small man out here, even if you do
wear a string of letters after your name like the tail on a comet.

"You were swelling around in San Berdoo, talking big and hollering for
an investment. I showed you samples of ore from my desert prospect and
you got excited. You wanted to examine my claim, you said, and if you
liked it you would engage to bring it to the attention of 'your
associates' and pay me my price. I offered to bring you in here as my
guest, and ever since you got off the train at Salton you've snarled
and snapped and beefed and imposed on my hospitality, and it's got
to stop. I don't need you; I don't care for you; I think you're a
renegade four-flusher, bluffing on no pair, and if I had known what a
nasty little old woman you are I'd never have opened negotiations with
you. Now, you chirk up, Boston, and smile and try to be a good sport,
or I'll work you over and make a man out of you. Savvy?"

Thoroughly squelched, the malingerer flushed, mumbled an apology and
held out his hand. The Desert Rat took it, a little sorry that he had
not been more temperate in his language.

"All right, we'll bury the hatchet" he said generously. "Maybe I'm a
little too exacting and hard to get along with. I've got more on my
brain than this prospect hole, and I'm worried. When I left the wife at
San Berdoo we were expecting an arrival in camp, and--well, we were
right down to bed-rock, and as it was a case of go now or never with
you, I had to bring you in here or perhaps lose the opportunity for a
fortune. She wanted me to go. She's a mighty brave little woman. You
don't happen to be a married man, do you? With kids? I've got--"

The Indian had paused and was pointing with his gad to the south. Miles
and miles away a great yellow cloud was gathering on the horizon,
shutting out the sunlight and advancing with incredible speed.

"Sandstorm" warned the Desert Rat, and spoke quickly to the mozo in
Spanish. The latter at once turned the cavalcade of burros toward the
hills, less than a mile distant; shouting and beating the heavily laden
little beasts into a trot, the party scurried for the shelter of a
rocky draw before the sandstorm should be upon them.

They won. Throughout that day and night they camped up the draw, safe
from the sand blast. Early next morning the wind had subsided and with
the exception of some slight changes in topography due to the
sandstorm, the desert was the same old silent pulseless mystery.

The party resumed its journey. While the Easterner remained with the
Indian, the Desert Rat circled out into the open, heading for a little
backbone of quartz which rose out of the sand. He had not noticed this
exposed ledge during their flight into the draw, and it was evident
that the sandstorm had exposed it.

Suddenly the mozo uttered a low "Whoa," and the burros halted. Off in
the sage and sand the Desert Rat was standing with upraised arm, as a
signal for them to halt and wait for him. For nearly half an hour he
circled around, stepping off distances and building monuments.
Presently, apparently having completed his investigations, he beckoned
the rest of his party to approach.

"What's up?" demanded the Boston man the moment he and the Indian
arrived.

"I've just found Jake Revenner's lost claim. It's one of these
marvelously rich ledges that have been discovered and located and lost
and found and lost again, and cost scores of human lives. The
sandstorms expose them and cover them up again, and after a storm--as
now--the contour of the desert is so changed that a man, having staked
his claim and gone out for grub, can't find the claim when he comes
back. It was that way with the Nigger Ben placer. It's been found and
lost half a dozen times. There was a claim discovered out here by a man
named Jake Revenner, but he lost it and blew out his brains in sheer
disgust. I have just stumbled across one of his monuments with his old
location notices buried in a can. The late sandstorm uncovered the
ledge, and it looks 'fat' enough for yours truly. _Mira?_"

He tossed a sample to the Indian, and another of about the same size to
the white man. The latter lifted it, examined it closely and sat down.
He was quite excited.

"By thunder!" he managed to say. "We're in luck."

A slight smile flickered across the face of the Desert Rat, but his
voice was as calm and grave as usual.

"Yes, it's rich--very rich. There's a comfortable fortune lying
exposed on the surface. By the way, I think I shall pay you a liberal
fee for your lost time and abandon that prospect I was taking you in to
see. Compared with this, it's not worth considering."

"I should say you should abandon it" the other exulted. "You'd have a
fine time trying to get me away from this ledge now. Why, there's
millions in it, and I suggest we stake it out at once. Let's get busy."

He jumped up eagerly--from force of habit dusting the seat of his
riding breeches--and turned peremptorily to the mozo.

"Get those packs off, Joe, or Jim or whatever your name is, and be
quick--"

"You forget, old man," interjected the Desert Rat gently. "He doesn't
speak English, and if he did he wouldn't obey you. You see," he added
naively, "I've told him not to."

"Oh, well, I didn't mean anything. Don't be so touchy. Let's get busy,
for heaven's sake, and stake this claim."

The Desert Rat stretched himself with feline grace. "I'm sorry" he
replied with his tantalizing good-natured smile, "to be forced to
object to your use of the plural pronoun in conjunction with that
certain tract, piece and parcel of land known and described as the Baby
Mine claim. The fact of the matter is, I have already staked it. You
see, I was thinking of the little one that will be waiting for me in
San Berdoo when I get back. See the point? My baby--Baby Mine--rather a
neat play on words, don't you think?"

"Do you mean to say that I'm not in on this find?" demanded the man
from Boston.

"Your penetration is remarkable. I do."

"But such a course is outrageous. It's opposed--"

"Please do not argue with me. I found it. Naturally I claim it. I could
quote you verbatim the section of the mining law under which I am
entitled to maintain this high-handed--er--outrage; but why indulge in
such a dry subject? I found this claim, and since I don't feel
generously disposed this morning, I'm going to keep it."

"But I'm in the party with you. It seems to me that common justice--"

"For goodness' sake, Boston, don't throw up to me the sins of my past.
Of course you're in my party. That's my misfortune, not my fault. I
observed this little backbone of quartz and asked you to walk over here
with me for a look at it. You wouldn't come. You said your foot hurt
you. So I came alone. If you had been with me at the time, now, of
course that would have been different. But--"

"But I--well, in a measure--why, we're out here together, sort of
partners as it were, and--"

"The Lord forgive you, Boston. My partner! You never were and never
could be. I'm particular in the matter of partners. All Desert Rats in
good standing are. You're the last man on earth I'd have for my
partner. A partner shares the expenses of a trip and bears the
hardships without letting out a roar every half mile. A partner
_sticks,_ Boston. He shares his grub and his money and his last
drop of water, and when that's gone he'll die with you like a
gentleman. That's what a partner does, but you wouldn't do it."

"Well, I'm entitled to a half interest and I'll see that I get it,"
shrilled the other furiously. "I'll sue you--"

"How about the Indian?"

"Why, he--he's--"

"Only an Indian, eh? Well, you're entitled to your point of view. Only
that mozo and I have slept under the same blanket so often--"

"You can't stop me from staking this claim, too" shouted the Boston
man, and shook his skinny little fist under the Desert Rat's nose. The
latter slapped him across the wrist.

"Pesky fly" he said.

"You can't stop me, I tell you."

"I can. But I won't. I'm not a bully."

"You think you can beat me out of my rights, do you? I'll show you.
I'll beat you out of your half before I'm through with you."

"On whose water!"

The bantering smile broadened to a grin--the graceless young desert
wanderer threw back his head and laughed.

"You're such a card, Boston" he chortled. "Such exquisite notions of
social usage I have never observed outside the peerage. Really, you
shouldn't be allowed to go visiting. You're unmannerly enough to ask
for a third helping to cake."

"I insist that I am entitled to a half interest in this claim. As you
decline to recognize my rights, I must take the matter in my own hands.
I, too, shall stake the claim and endeavor to get my location notice
filed in the land office before yours. If you haven't any sense of
justice and decency, I have."

"Oh, all right, fire away. I'll take you back to civilization and see
that you don't starve or die of thirst on the way. I'm not entirely
heartless, Boston. In the meantime, however, while you're staking the
claim, it occurs to me that I can gather together a very snug fortune
in the next day or two. There appears to be more gold than quartz in
this rock--some indeed, is the pure quill. All hands, including the
jacks, will go on a short ration of water from now on. Of course we're
taking chances with our lives, but what's life if a fellow can't take a
chance for a fortune like this? I'd sooner die and be done with, it
than live my life without a thrill. That's why I've degenerated from a
perfectly matriculated mining engineer into a wandering desert rat.
Would you believe it, Boston, I lived in your town once. Graduated from
the Tech. Why, I once made love to a Boston girl in a conservatory. I
remember her very well. She spilled pink lemonade over my dress shirt.
I took a long chance that time; but out here, even if the chances are
longer, when you win--"

He kissed his grimy paw airily and flung it into space.

"'The Lord is my shepherd,' he quoted, 'I shall not want.' This morning
He left the door opened and I wandered into His Treasure House, so I
guess I'll get busy and grab what I can before the Night Watchman comes
around. Ever see the Night Watchman, Boston? I have. He's a grave old
party with a long beard, and he carries a scythe. You see him when
you're thirsty, and--well, in the pursuit of my inborn hobby for taking
chances, I'll introduce you to him this trip. Permit me to remind you
once more of the consequences if you help yourself to the water without
consulting me. It'll militate against your chances of getting to the
land office first."

The Desert Rat helped the mozo unpack the burros, while the man from
Boston tore some pages from his notebook and proceeded to write out his
location notices and cache them in monuments which he built beside
those of his predecessors. He even copied the exact wording on the
Desert Rat's notices. He forgot his blistered heel and worked with
prodigious energy and interest, receiving with dogged silent disdain
the humorous sallies of the Desert Rat, to whom the other's sudden
industry was a source of infinite amusement. The Desert Rat and the
Indian were busy with pans and prospector's picks gouging out
"stringers" and crevices and picking up scattered pieces of "jewelry"
rock. When all the "color" in sight had been cleaned up, the Desert
Rat produced a drill and a stick of dynamite from the pack, put in a
"shot" and uncovered a pocket of such richness that even the stolid
Cahuilla could not forbear indulgence in one of his infrequent Spanish
expletives. It was a deposit of rotten honeycombed rock that was nine-
tenths pure gold--what is known in the parlance of the prospector as a
"kidney."

The disgruntled claimant to a half interest in the Baby Mine reached
into the hole and seized a nugget worth fully a thousand dollars. The
Desert Rat tapped him smartly across the knuckles with the handle of
his prospector's pick and made him drop it.

"If you please, Boston" he said gently. "You're welcome to share my
grub, and I'll whack up even with you on the water, and I'll cook for
you and wait on you, but I'll be doggoned if it isn't up to you to
furnish your own dynamite. There was ten thousand in loose stuff lying,
on the surface, and you might have been pardoned for helping yourself
to as much of it as you could carry personally, but you elected to
restake the claim and now all that easy picking belongs to the Indian
and me. He's a good Indian and I'm going to let him have some of it. He
won't take much because he's fond of me. I saved him from being lynched
for killing a white man who deserved it. But for years he's just
hungered for a top-buggy, with side bars and piano box and the whole
blamed rig painted bright red, so he can take his squaw out in style;
and I'm going to see that he gets it. However, that's neither here nor
there. You keep your fingers out of the sugar bowl, old sport. It's a
lovely sight and hard to resist, I know, but do be careful."

All that day the Desert Rat and his Indian retainer worked through the
stringers and pockets of the Baby Mine, while the man from Boston sat
looking at them, or, when the spirit moved him, casting about in the
adjacent sand for stray "specimens" of which he managed to secure quite
a number. The next morning, as soon as it was light enough to see, the
work was commenced again, and by noon the last piece of rotten
honeycombed rock with its streaks and wens of dull virgin gold had been
cleaned up. The Desert Rat used the last of his dynamite in a vain
endeavor to unearth another "kidney," and finally decided to call it
quits.

"They took eighty-two thousand dollars out of one little carload of ore
in the Delhi mine in Nevada county" he announced, "but the Baby Mine
makes that record look amateurish. It's the richest strike I have ever
heard of, with the exception, possibly, of the big strike at Antelope
Peak. They took out nearly three hundred thousand there in less than
three days, just scratching it out of stringers and crevices with their
jack-knives. Boston, my dear man, I have more than three hundred pounds
of gold with, as I said before, some quartz, but not enough to bother.
At twelve ounces to the pound, twenty dollars to the ounce, I'm going
back to San Bernardino and buy a bath, a new suit of store clothes and
a fifty-dollar baby carriage for my expected heir. With my dear little
wife and the baby and all this _oro,_ I'll manage to be quite
happy.

"However, just to show you that there isn't a mean bone in my body, I'm
going to withdraw my claim to the Baby Mine. My mozo and I are about to
load this magnificent bunch of untainted wealth into the kyacks, and
hit for civilization, and while we're getting ready to break camp you
run out and destroy my location notices. I leave the whole works to
you. I do this for a number of reasons--the first being that you will
thus be induced to return to this section of California. Not knowing
the country, you will doubtless perish, and thus from the placid bosom
of society a thorn will be removed. Secondly, if you should survive
long enough to get in, you could never find your way out without me for
a guide--and it wouldn't be safe to hire this Indian. He dislikes you.
The third reason is that I believe this is just a phenomenally rich
pocket and that I have about cleaned it out. The fourth reason is that
another sandstorm will probably cover the Baby Mine before long, and
the fifth reason is: 'What's the use going desert-ratting until your
money's all gone!'"

"Well, I'll see that I get my share of that plunder" snapped the
unhappy tenderfoot. "Of course, right now, it may seem perfectly proper
from your point of view to take advantage of certain adventitious
circumstances, but--"

"Yes, the humble little jackass is really an adventitious circumstance.
By jingo, that hadn't occurred to me at all. I guess you're right,
Boston. I'll have to give you half the plunder. Now that we've settled
that point, let's divide the adventitious circumstances. I have four of
them and I'll sell you two for your half of the gold. No? Price too
high? All right! I'll agree to freight your share in for you, only I'm
afraid transportation rates are so high in the desert that the freight
will about eat up all the profit. I'm afraid that the best I can do for
you is to give you your half and let you carry it yourself. If you want
to tote it out on your back, Boston, help yourself. No! Well, well!"

"We'll not discuss the matter further, if you please. At another time
and place, perhaps--"

"Perhaps? Perhaps! Well, I'm stripping down our food supply to the bare
necessities in order to make room for this gold, and the water is
pretty low. If we don't strike water at Chuckwalla Tanks there'll be
real eloquence to that word 'perhaps.' However, that discussion can
wait. Everything appears to be propitious for an immediate start, so
let's defer the argument and _vamoose._ Giddap, you hairy little
desert birds. Crack along out o' this."

But following the dictates of his nature, when Fortune smiled and bade
him "take a chance," the Desert Rat had already delayed too long his
departure from the Baby Mine. The supply of water still left in the
kegs was so meager that with any other man the situation would have
given rise to grave concern. As it was, however, all that troubled the
Desert Rat was what he was going to do with the man from Boston when
that inconsistent and avaricious individual should "peter out." More
than once, in his pursuit of the rainbow, the Desert Rat had known what
it was to travel until he couldn't travel another yard; then to jump up
and travel ten miles more--to water! He did not know the extent of his
own strength, but whatever might be its limitations he knew that the
Cahuilla was good for an equal demonstration of endurance. But the man
from Boston! He was quickly read. The Desert Rat gave him until
midnight that night, but he wilted at ten o'clock.

"A sore heel, a mean soul and no spunk have killed more men than
whisky" the Desert Rat commented whimsically, as he pulled the weak
brother out of a cluster of catclaw. "Boston, you're an awful nuisance
--you are, for a fact. You've had water three times to our once, and yet
you go to work and peter out with Chuckwalla Tanks only five miles
away. Why, I've often covered that distance on my hands and knees.
Come, now, buck up. Hang on to the rear cross of one of the pack
saddles and let the jack snake you along."

"I can't, I'm exhausted. I'll die if I don't have a drink."

"No, you'll not die. No such luck. And there isn't any more water.
However, you've been spoiled in the raising, so I suppose we'll have to
defer to you--particularly since it's my fault that we're short of
water. What can't be cured must be endured, and I can't let you die."

He spoke to the Indian, who took two canteens and departed into the
night.

"He's going to hike on ahead to Chuckwalla Tanks and bring back some
water for you, Boston" the Desert Rat explained. "He'll return about
daylight, and we'll wait here until he arrives. It's dangerous, but the
jacks aren't in a bad way yet. They can make it to the Tanks, even
after sunrise."

"Thanks" murmured the sufferer.

The Desert Rat grinned. "You're getting on" he commented.

"Where is Chuckwalla Tanks?" The tenderfoot sat up and stared after the
figure of the departing Indian, still visible in the dim moonlight.

"In a little gorge between those low hills. You can just make out their
outlines."

"Yes, I see them. And after that the closest water is where?"

"The Colorado river--forty miles due south. But we're headed northwest
and must depend on tanks and desert water-holes. It's hard to tell how
close one is to water on that course. But it doesn't matter. We'll
refill the kegs at Chuckwalla Tanks. There's most always water there."

"And you say the Colorado river is forty miles due south."

"Well, between forty and fifty."

"Much obliged for the information, I'm sure."

He straightened suddenly and drew back his arm. The Desert Rat saw that
he was about to hurl a large smooth stone, and simultaneously he dodged
and reached for his gun. But he was a fifth of a second too slow. The
stone struck him on the side of the head, rather high up, and he
collapsed into a bloody heap.

On the instant the footsore man from Boston developed an alacrity and
definiteness of purpose that would have surprised the Desert Rat, had
he been in condition to observe it. He seized the gad which the mozo
had dropped, climbed upon the lightest laden burro and, driving the
others before him, set off for Chuckwalla Tanks. The Indian had
disappeared by this time, and there was little danger of overtaking
him; so with the two low hills as his objective point, the Easterner
circled a mile out of the direct course which he knew the Indian would
take, and when the dawn commenced to show in the east he herded the
pack-animals down into a swale between two sand-dunes. With remarkable
cunning he decided to scout the territory before proceeding further;
hence, as soon as there was light enough to permit of a good view, he
climbed to the crest of a high dune and looked out over the desert. As
far as he could see no living thing moved; so he drove the pack train
out of the swale and headed for the gorge between the hills. The
thirsty burros broke into a run, hee-hawing with joy as they sniffed
the water, and within a few minutes man and beasts were drinking in
common at Chuckwalla Tanks.

The man permitted them to drink their fill, after which they fell to
grazing on the short grass which grew in the draw. While he realized
the necessity for haste if he was to succeed in levanting with the
gold, the tenderfoot had been too long a slave to his creature comforts
to face another day without breakfast. He abstracted some grub from one
of the packs and stayed the pangs of hunger. Then he bathed his
blistered feet, filled the water kegs, rounded up his pack train and
departed up the draw. After traveling a mile the draw broadened out
into the desert, and the man from Boston turned south and headed for
the Rio Colorado. He was walking now and appeared to have forgotten
about his blistered heel, for at times he broke into a run, beating the
burros, screaming curses at them with all the venom of his wolfish
soul, for he was pursued now by the fragments of his conscience. His
attack upon the Desert Rat had been the outgrowth of a sudden murderous
impulse, actuated fully as much by his hatred and fear of the man as by
his desire to possess the gold. One moment he would shudder at the
thought that he had committed murder; the next he was appalled at the
thought that after all he had only stunned the man--that even now the
Desert Rat and his Indian retainer were tracking him through the waste,
bent on wreaking summary vengeance.

He need not have worried so prematurely. A low range of black malpais
buttes stretched between him and the man he had despoiled, and as yet
the direction of his flight could not be observed. He drifted rapidly
south and presently disappeared into one of those long swales which
slope gradually to the river.

Here, weaving his way among the ironwood that grow thickly in this
section of the desert, for the first time since the commission of his
crime he felt safe.




CHAPTER II


It was still dark when the Desert Rat regained consciousness. He lay
for quite a while thereafter, turning things over in his befuddled
brain, striving to gather together the tangled thread of the events of
the night. Eventually he succeeded in driving his faculties into line.
He rolled over, got to his hands and knees and paused a minute to get a
fresh grip on himself. His aching head hung low, like that of a dying
horse; in the silence of the night he could hear the drip, drip of his
blood into the sand.

Presently he began to move. Round and round in the sage he crawled,
like some weary wounded animal, breaking off the rotten dead limbs
which, lie close to the base of the shrub. Three piles of sage he
gathered, placing the piles in a row twenty feet apart. Then he set
fire to them and watched them burst into flame.

It was the desert call for help: three fires in a row by night, three
columns of smoke against the horizon by day--and the Cahuilla Indian,
coming down the draw from Chuckwalla Tanks five miles away, saw flaming
against the dawn this appeal of the white man he loved, for whom he
lived and labored. Straight across the desert he ran, with the long
tireless stride that was the heritage of his people. His large heavy
shoes retarded him; he removed them, tucked them under his arm and with
a lofty disdain of tarantulas and side-winders fled barefooted. Three-
quarters of an hour from the time he had first seen the signal-fires,
the mozo was kneeling beside the stricken Desert Rat, who lay
unconscious close to one of the fires. The water from the mozo's
canteen revived him, however, and presently he sat up, while the
Cahuilla washed the gash in his head and bound it up with his master's
bandanna handkerchief.

As the Indian worked, the white man related what had occurred and how.
He recalled his conversation with his assailant, and shrewdly surmised
that he would head for the Colorado river, after having first secured a
supply of water at Chuckwalla Tanks. The Desert Rat's plan of action
was quickly outlined.

"You will help me to get to the Tanks, where I'll have water and a
chance to rest for a day or two until I'm able to travel; then I'll
head for the Rio Colorado and wait for you in Ehrenburg. I'll keep one
canteen and you can take the other; I have matches and my six-shooter,
and I can live on quail and chuckwallas until I get to the river. You
have your knife. Track that man, if you have to follow him into hell,
and when you find him--no, don't kill him; he isn't worth it, and
besides, that's my work. It's your job to run him down. Bring him to me
in Ehrenburg."

It was past noon when they arrived at the Tanks, and the Indian was
carrying the Desert Rat on his back. While the man was quite conscious,
he was still too weak from the effect of the blow and loss of blood to
travel in the heat.

At the Tanks the Indian picked up the trail of four burros and a man.
He refilled his canteen, took a long drink from the Tank, grunted an
"_Adios, senor,_" and departed up the draw at the swift dog-trot
which is typical of the natural long-distance runner.

The Desert Rat gazed after him. "God bless your crude untutored soul,
you best of mozos" he murmured. "You have one virtue that most white
men lack--you'll stay put and be faithful to your salt. And now, just
to be on the safe side, I'll make my will and write out a detailed
account of this entire affair--in case."

For half an hour he scribbled haltingly in an old russet-covered note-
book. This business attended to, he crawled into the meager shade of a
_palo verde_ tree and fell asleep. When he awoke an hour or two
later and looked down the draw to the open desert, he saw that another
sandstorm was raging.

"That settles it" he soliloquized contentedly. "The trail is wiped out
and the best Indian on earth can't follow a trail that doesn't exist,
But that wretched little bandit is out in this sandstorm, and the jacks
will stampede on him and he'll pay _his_ bill to society--with
interest. When the wind dies down the pack outfit will drift back to
this water-hole, and when Old Reliable finds out that the trail is
lost, _he'll_ drift back too. Anyhow, if the burros don't show
we'll trail _them_ by the buzzards and find the packs. Ah, you
great mysterious wonderful desert, how good you've been to me! I can
sleep now--in peace."

He slept. When he awoke again, he discovered to his surprise that he
had been walking in his sleep. He had an empty canteen over his
shoulder and he was bareheaded. His head ached and throbbed, his tongue
and throat felt dry and cottony; he seemed to have been wandering in a
weary land for a long time, for no definite reason, and he was thirsty.

He glanced around him for the water-hole beside which he had lain down
to sleep and await the mozo and the burros. On all sides the vast
undulating sea of sand and sage stretched to the horizon, and then the
Desert Rat understood. He had been delirious. With the fever from his
wound and the thought of the fortune of which he had been despoiled,
uppermost even in his subconscious brain, he had left Chuckwalla Tanks
and started in pursuit. How far or in what direction he had wandered he
knew not. He only knew that he was lost, that he was weak and thirsty,
that the pain and fever had gone out of his head, and that the Night
Watchman walked beside him in the silent waste.

It came into his brain to light three fires--to flash the S. O. S. call
of the desert in letters of smoke against the sky--and he fumbled in
his pocket for matches. There were none; and with a sigh, that was
almost a sob the dauntless Argonaut turned his faltering footsteps to
the south and lurched away toward the Rio Colorado.

Throughout the long cruel day he staggered on. Night found him close to
the mouth of a long black canyon between two ranges of black hills,
whose crests marked them as a line of ancient extinct volcanoes.

"I'll camp here to-night," he decided, "and early tomorrow morning I'll
go up that canyon and hunt for water. I might find a 'tank.'"

He lay down in the sand, pillowed his sore head on his arm, and, God
being merciful and the Desert Rat's luck still holding, he slept.

At daylight he was on his way, stiff and cramped with the chill of the
desert night. Slowly he approached the mouth of the canyon, crossing a
bare burnt space that looked like an old "wash."

Suddenly he paused, staring. There, before him in the old wash, was the
fresh trail of two burros and a man. The trail of the man was not well
defined; rather scuffed in fact, as if he had been half dragged along.

"Hanging to the pack-saddle and letting the jack drag him" muttered the
lost Desert Rat. "I'll bet it's little Boston, after all, and I'm not
yet too late to square accounts with that _hombre._"

In the prospect of twining his two hands around the rascal's throat
there was a certain primitive pleasure that added impetus to the
passage of the Desert Rat up the lonely canyon. The thought lent new
strength to the man. Dying though he knew himself to be, yet would he
square accounts with the man who had murdered him. He would--

He paused. He had found the man with the two burros. There could be no
mistake about that, for the canyon ended in a sheer cliff that towered
two hundred feet above him, and in this horrible _cul de sac_ lay
the bleached bones of two burros and a man.

Here was a conundrum. The Desert Rat had followed a fresh trail and
found stale bones. Despite his youth, the desert had put something of
its own grim haunting mystery into this man who loved it; to him had it
been given to understand much that to the layman savored of the occult;
at birth, God had been very good to him, in that He had ordained that
during all his life the Desert Rat should be engaged in learning how to
die, and meet the issue unafraid. For the Desert Rat was a philosopher,
and even at this ghastly spectacle his sense of humor did not desert
him. He sat down on the skull of one of the burros and laughed--a dry
cackling gobble.

"What a great wonderful genius of a desert it is!" he mumbled. "It's
worth dying in after all--a fitting mausoleum for a Desert Rat. Here I
come staggering in, with murder in my heart, stultifying my manhood
with the excuse that it would be justice in the abstract, and the Lord
shows me an example of the vanity and littleness of life. All right,
Boston, old man. You win, I guess, but I've got an ace coppered, and
even if you do get through, some day you'll pay the price."

He sat there on the bleached skull, his head in his hands, trembling,
pondering, yet unafraid in the face of the knowledge that here his
wanderings must end. He was right. It was a spot eminently befitting
the finish of such a man. It was at least exclusive, for the vulgar and
the common would never perish here. In all the centuries since its
formation no human feet, save his own and those of the man whose
skeleton lay before him, had ever awakened the echoes in its silent
halls. Pioneers, dreamers both, men of the Great Outdoors, each had
heard the call of the silent places--each had essayed to fight his way
into the treasure vaults of the desert; and as they had begun, so had
they finished--in the arms of Nature, who had claimed the utmost of
their love.

The Desert Rat was a true son of the desert. To him the scowl of the
sun-baked land at midday had always turned to a smile of promise at
dawn; to him the darkest night was but the forerunner of another day of
glorious battle, when he could rise out of the sage, stretch his young
legs and watch the sun rise over his empire. He knew the desert--he saw
the issue now, but still he did not falter.

"Poor little wife," he mumbled; "poor little unborn baby! You'll hope,
through the long years, waiting for me to come back--and you'll never
know!"

His faltering gaze wandered down the canyon where his own tracks and
those of the dead shone gray against the brown of the sun-swept wash.
He had followed a trail that might have been ten years old; perhaps, in
the years to come, some other wanderer would see _his_ tracks,
halting, staggering, uncertain, blazing the ancient call of the desert:
"Come to me or I perish." And following the trail, even as the Desert
Rat had followed this other, he, too, in his own time, would come at
length to the finish--and wonder.

The Desert Rat sighed, but if in that supreme moment he wept it was not
for himself. He had many things to think of, he had much of happiness
to renounce, but he was of that breed that dares to approach the end.

    Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch.
    About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

For him the trail had ended here, as it had for this other remnant
of vanished life that lay before him now with arms outstretched.
The Desert Rat stared at the relic. A cross! The body formed a
cross! Here again was The Promise--

A thought came to the perishing wanderer. "I'll leave a message" he
gobbled. He could not forbear a joke. "To be delivered when called for"
he added. "This other man might have done the same, but perhaps he
didn't care--perhaps there wasn't anybody waiting at home for him."

From his shirt pocket he drew the stub of a lead pencil and the note-
book in which he had written his will and the record of his betrayal.
He added the story of his wanderings since leaving Chuckwalla Tanks,
and the postscript:

    The company in which I will be found was not of my own seeking.
    He was here before me by several years and I found nothing
    whereby he might be identified.

He tore the leaves out of the note-book, stuffed them inside his empty
canteen and screwed the cap on tight; after which he cast about for a
prominent place where he might leave his last message to the world.

At the head of the canyon stood an extinct volcano, its precipitous
sides forming the barrier at the western end of the canyon. Away back
in the years when the world was young, a stream of thin soupy lava,
spewed from this ancient crater, had flowed down the canyon out onto
the desert. It was this which the Desert Rat had at first taken for an
old "wash." Owing to the pitch of the canyon floor, most of the lava
had run out, but a thin crust, averaging in thickness from a quarter to
three quarters of an inch, still remained. Originally, this thin lava
had been a creamy white, but with the passage of centuries the sun had
baked it to a dirty brown and the lava had become disintegrated and
rotten. As the hot lava had hardened and dried it had cracked, after
the fashion of a lake bed when the water has evaporated, but into
millions and millions of smaller cracks than in the case where water
has evaporated from mud. As a result of this peculiar condition, the
entire lava capping in the canyon was split into small fragments, each
fragment fitting exactly into its appointed place, the whole forming a
marvelous piece of natural mosaic that could only have been designed by
the Master Artist.

With the point of his pocket knife the Desert Rat pried loose one of
these sections of lava. Where it had been exposed to the sun on top it
was brown, but the under side was the original creamy white.

The mystery of the phantom trail was solved at last. In fact, not to
state a paradox, there had been no mystery at first--at least to the
Desert Rat. The moment he saw the bones he guessed the answer to that
weird puzzle.

The tracks were easily explained. When one walked on the surface of
this thin lava crust it broke beneath him and crumbled into dust. The
brown dust on top mingled with the underlying white, the blend of
colors on the whole forming a slate-colored patch with creamy edges,
marking the boundaries of the footprints; and here, in this horrible
canyon, where rains would never erode nor winds obliterate, the tracks
would show for years until the magic of the desert had again wrought
its spell on the landscape and the ghostly white tracks had faded and
blended again into the all-prevailing brown.

The Desert Rat was something of a geologist, and had he not been dying,
an extended examination of this weird formation would have interested
him greatly. But he had his message to leave to his loved ones, and
time pressed. In the joy and pride of his strength and youth he had
dared the desert. He had dreamed of a fortune, and this--this was to be
the awakening...

He crawled out into a smooth undisturbed space and fell to work with
the point of his knife. Carefully he raised piece after piece of the
natural mosaic, inverted it and laid it back in its appointed place. At
the end of two hours he finished. There, in inlaid letters of creamy
white against the desert brown, his message flared almost imperishable:

    Friend, look in my canteen and see that I get justice.

A century must pass before that message faded; as for the coming of the
messenger, he would leave that to the Almighty.

The Desert Rat was going fast now. He moved back a few feet, fearful
that at the end he might obliterate his message. With his fading gaze
fixed on the mouth of the canyon he lay waiting, hoping, praying, brave
to the last ... and presently help came.

It was the Night Watchman!




CHAPTER III


Serenely indifferent to the fact that but a few hours' average running
time intervenes between it and San Francisco on the north, and Los
Angeles on the south, the little desert station of San Pasqual has
always insisted upon remaining a frontier town.

One can pardon San Pasqual readily for this apparent apathy. Not to do
so would savor strongly of an application of the doctrine of personal
responsibility in the matter of a child with a club-foot. San Pasqual
isn't responsible. It has nothing to be proud of, nothing to incite
even a sporadic outburst of civic pride. It never had.

Here, in this story, occurs a description. In a narrative of human
emotions, descriptions are, perhaps, better appreciated when they are
dispensed with unless, as in the case of San Pasqual, they are worth
the time and space and trouble. Assuming, therefore, that San Pasqual,
for all its failings, is distinctive enough to warrant this, we will
describe the town as it appeared early in the present decade; and, for
that matter, will continue to appear, pending the day when they strike
oil in the desert and San Pasqual picks itself together, so to speak,
and begins to take an interest in life. Until then, however, as a
center of social, scenic, intellectual and commercial activity, San
Pasqual will never attract globe-trotters, folks with Pilgrim ancestors
or retired bankers from Kansas and Iowa seeking an attractive
investment in western real estate.

San Pasqual is such a weather-beaten, sad, abject little town that one
might readily experience surprise that the trains even condescend to
stop there. It squats in the sand a few miles south of Tehachapi pass,
hemmed in by mountain ranges ocher-tinted where near by, mellowed by
distance into gorgeous shades of turquoise and deep maroon. They are
very far away, these mountains, even though their outlines are so
distinct that they appear close at hand. The desert atmosphere has cast
a kindly spell upon them, softening their hellish perspective into
lines of beauty in certain lights. It is well that this is so, for it
helps to dispel an illusion of the imaginative and impressionable when
first they visit San Pasqual--the illusion that they are in prison.

The basin that lies between these mountains is the waste known as the
Mojave desert. It stretches north and south from San Pasqual, fading
away into nothing, into impalpable, unlovely, soul-crushing suggestions
of space illimitable; dancing and shimmering in the heat waves, it
seems struggling to escape. When the wind blows, the dust-devils play
tag among the low sage and greasewood; the Joshua trees, rising in the
midst of this desolation, stretch forth their fantastically twisted and
withered arms, seeming to invoke a curse on nature herself while
warning the traveler that the heritage of this land is death. There is
a bearing down of one's spirit in the midst of all this loneliness and
desolation that envelops everything; yet, despite the uncanny mystery
of it, the sense of repression it imparts, of unconquerable isolation
from all that is good and sweet and beautiful, there are those who find
it possible to live in San Pasqual without feeling that they are
accursed.

At the western boundary of the Mojave desert lies San Pasqual, huddled
around the railroad water tank. It is the clearing-house for the
Mojave, for entering or leaving the desert men must pass through San
Pasqual. From the main-line tracks a branch railroad now extends north
across the desert, through the eastern part of Kern county and up the
Owens river valley into Inyo, although at the time Donna Corblay enters
into this story the railroad had not been built and a stage line bore
the brunt of the desert travel as far north as Keeler--constituting the
main outlet from that vast but little known section of California that
lies east of the Sierra Nevada range.

Hence, people entering or leaving this great basin passed through San
Pasqual, which accounted for the town that grew up around the water
tank; the little row of so-called "pool parlors," cheap restaurants,
saloons and gambling houses, the post-office, a drug store, a tiny
school-house with a belfry and no bell and the little row of cottages
west of the main-line tracks where all the _good_ people lived--
which conglomerate mass of inchoate architecture is all that saved San
Pasqual from the ignominy of being classed as a flag station.

We are informed that the _good_ people lived west of the tracks.
East of the tracks it was different. The past tense is used with a full
appreciation of the necessity for grammatical construction, for times
have changed in San Pasqual, since it is no longer encumbered with the
incubus that made this story possible--Harley P. Hennage, the town
gambler and the worst man in San Pasqual.

Close to the main-line tracks and midway between both strata of society
stood San Pasqual's limited social and civic center--the railroad hotel
and eating-house. Here, between the arrival and departure of all
through trains, the San Pasqualians met on neutral ground, experiencing
mild mental relaxation watching the waitresses ministering to the
gastronomic necessities of the day-coach tourists from the Middle West.
At the period in which the action of this story takes place, however,
most people preferred to find relief from the aching desolation of San
Pasqual and its environs in the calm, restful, spiritual face of Donna
Corblay.

Donna was the young lady cashier at the combination news stand, cigar
and tobacco emporium and pay-as-you-leave counter in the eating-house.
She was more than that. She was an institution. She was the day hotel
clerk; the joy and despair of traveling salesmen who made it a point of
duty to get off at San Pasqual and eat whether they were hungry or not;
information clerk for rates and methods of transportation for all
desert points north, south, east and west. She was the recipient of
confidences from waitresses engaged in the innocent pastime of across-
the-counter flirtations with conductors and brakemen. She was the joy
of the men and the envy of the women. In fact, Donna was an exemplified
copy of that distinctive personality with which we unconsciously invest
any young woman upon whose capable shoulders must fall such
multifarious duties as those already described; particularly when, as
in Donna's case, they are accepted and disposed of with the gentle,
kindly, interested yet impersonal manner of one who loves her little
world enough to be a very distinct part of it; yet, seeing it in its
true light, manages to hold herself aloof from it; unconsciously
conveying to one meeting her for the first time the impression that she
was in San Pasqual on her own sufferance--a sort of strayling from
another world who had picked upon the lonely little desert town as the
scene of her sphere of action for something of the same reason that
prompts other people to collect postage stamps or rare butterflies.

It has already been stated that Donna Corblay was an institution. That
is quite true. She was the mistress of the Hat Ranch.

This last statement requires elucidation. Just what is a hat ranch? you
ask. It is--a hat ranch. There is only one Hat Ranch on earth and it
may be found a half mile south of San Pasqual, a hundred yards back
from the tracks. Donna Corblay owned it, worked it in her spare moments
and made it pay.

You see, San Pasqual lies just south of Tehachapi pass, and about five
days in every week, the year round, the north wind comes whistling down
the pass. When it strikes the open desert it appears to become
possessed of an almost human disposition to spurt and get by San
Pasqual as quickly as possible. Hence, when the tourist approaching the
station sticks his head out of the window or unwisely remains on the
platform of the observation car, this forty-mile "zephyr," as they term
it in San Pasqual, sighs joyously past him, snatches his headgear,
whirls it down the tracks and deposits it at the western boundary of
Donna's "ranch." This boundary happens to be a seven-foot adobe wall--
so the hat sticks there.

In the days when Donna lived at the Hat Ranch she would pause at this
wall every evening on her way home from work long enough to gather up
the orphaned hats. Later, after cleaning and brushing them, she would
sell them to the boys up in San Pasqual. There was a wide variety of
style, size and color in Donna's stock of hats, and fastidious indeed
was he who could not select from the lot a hat to match his peculiar
style of masculine beauty. And, furthermore: damned was he who so far
forgot tradition and local custom as to purchase his "every-day" hat
elsewhere. He might buy his Sunday hat in Bakersfield or Los Angeles
and still retain caste, but his every-day hat--never! Such a
proceeding would have been construed by Donna's admirers as a direct
attack on home industry. In fact, one made money by purchasing his hats
of Donna Corblay. If she never accepted less than one dollar for a hat,
regardless of age, color, original price and previous condition of
servitude, she never charged more. Hence, everybody was satisfied--or,
if not satisfied at the time, all they had to do was to await the
arrival of the next train. The "zephyrs" were steady and reliable and
in San Pasqual it is an ill wind that doesn't blow somebody a hat.

In San Pasqual stray hats were not looked upon as flotsam and jetsam
and subject to a too liberal interpretation of the "Losers-weepers-
finders-keepers" rule. There was a dead-line for hats beyond which no
gentleman would venture, for, after a hat had once blown beyond the
town limits it was no longer a maverick and subject to branding, but
on the other hand was the absolute, undeniable and legal property of
Donna Corblay.

So much for the hats. As for the ranch itself, it wasn't, properly
speaking, a ranch at all. It was a low, four-room adobe house with a
lean-to kitchen built of boards. It had a dirt roof and iron-barred
windows and in the rear there was a long rectangular patio with a
fountain and a flower garden. In fact, the ranch was more of a fortress
than a dwelling-place and was surrounded by an adobe wall which
enclosed about an acre of the Mojave desert. Originally it had been the
habitation of a visionary who wandered into San Pasqual, established
the ranch and sunk an artesian well. With irrigation the rich alluvial
soil of the desert will grow anything, and the original owner planned
to raise garden-truck and cater to the local trade. He prospered, but
being of that vast majority of humankind to whom prosperity proves a
sort of mental hobble, he made up his mind one day to go prospecting.
So he wrote out a notice, advertising the property for sale, and tacked
it to a telegraph pole in front of the eating-house.

Alas for the frailty and suspicion of human nature! The self-centered
and self-satisfied citizens of San Pasqual had condemned the vegetable
venture from the start. It had been too radical a departure from the
desert order of things, and the fact that a mere stranger had conceived
the idea sufficed to damn the enterprise even with those who gloried in
the convenience of fresh vegetables; while the fact that the vegetable
culturist was now about to leave branded the experiment a failure and
was productive of a chorus of "I told you so's." The announcement of
the proprietor of the ranch that he would entertain offers on a
property to which he had no title other than that entailed in the God-
given right of every American citizen to squat on a piece of land until
he is driven off, was received as a rare piece of humor. In disgust the
founder of the Hat Ranch abandoned his vegetable business, loaded his
worldly effects on two burros and departed, leaving the kitchen door
wide open. He never returned.

In the course of time a young woman with a two-months-old daughter came
to San Pasqual to accept the position of cashier in the eating-house.
The old adobe ranch was still deserted--the kitchen door still wide
open. It was the only vacant dwelling in San Pasqual, and the woman
with the baby decided to move in. She hired a Mexican woman to clean
the house, sent to Bakersfield for some installment furniture and to
Los Angeles for some assorted seeds. About a week later a Cahuilla buck
with his squaw alighted from a north-bound train and were met by the
woman with the baby girl. That night the entire party took possession
of the Hat Ranch.

That first mistress of the Hat Ranch was Donna Corblay's mother, so
before we plunge into the heart of our story and present to the reader
Donna Corblay as she appeared at twenty years of age behind the counter
at the eating-house on the night that Bob McGraw rode into her life on
his Roman-nosed mustang, Friar Tuck, a short history of those earlier
years at the Hat Ranch will be found to repay the time given to its
perusal.

For more than sixteen years after her arrival in San Pasqual, Donna's
mother had presided behind the eating-house pay counter. She was quiet
and uncommunicative--a handsome woman whose chief beauty lay in her
eyes--wonderful for their brilliance and color and the shadows that
lurked in them, like the ghosts of a sorrow ineffable. Up to the day
she died nobody in San Pasqual knew very much about her--where she came
from or why she came. She gave no confidences and invited none. In a
general way it was known that she was a widow. Her husband had gone
away and never returned, and it was a moot question in San Pasqual
whether the Widow Corblay was grass or natural. Be that as it may, the
fact remains that the absent one was missed and that his wife remained
faithful to his memory, as several frontier gentlemen, who had sought
her hand in marriage, might have testified had they so desired.

Mrs. Corblay lived for her child, and was accused of being wantonly and
sinfully extravagant in her manner of dressing this child. She
maintained and supported two Indian servants, which fact alone raised
her a notch or two socially above the wives, sisters and daughters of
the railroad men and local business men who lived in the cottages west
of the tracks. A great many of these estimable females disliked her
accordingly and charged her with "'puttin' on airs." Indeed, more than
one of them had ventured the suggestion that Mrs. Corblay had a past,
and that her child was its outward expression. Of course, they couldn't
prove anything, but--and there the matter rested, abruptly. That "but"
ended it, even as the tracks end at the bumper in a roundhouse. One
felt the jar just the same.

Some hint of this provincial interest in her and her affairs must have
reached Mrs. Corblay shortly after her arrival, so with true feminine
obstinacy she declined to alleviate the abnormal curiosity which gnawed
at the heart of the little community. She died as she had lived,
considerable of a mystery, and San Pasqual, retaining its resentment of
this mystery, visited its resentment upon Donna Corblay when Donna, in
the course of time, gave evidence that she, also, possessed an ultra-
feminine, almost heroic capacity for attending strictly to her own
business and permitting others to attend to theirs.

Early in her occupation of the adobe ranch house Mrs. Corblay had
inaugurated the hat industry, with fresh vegetables as a side line. The
garden was presided over by a dolorous squaw who responded to the
rather fanciful appellation of Soft Wind. Sam Singer, her buck, was a
stolid, stodgy savage, with eyes like the slits in a blackberry pie.
Originally the San Pasqualians had christened him "Psalm Singer,"
because of the fact that once, during a revival held by an itinerant
evangelist in a tent next door to the Silver Dollar saloon, the buck
had attended regularly, attracted by the melody of a little portable
organ, the plaintive strains of which appeared to charm his heathen
soul. An unorthodox citizen, in the sheer riot of his imagination, had
saddled the buck with his new name. It had stuck to him, and since in
the vernacular psalm singer was pronounced "sam singer," the Indian
came in time to be known by that name and would answer to none other.

Donna grew up slightly different from the other little girls in San
Pasqual. For instance: she was never allowed to play in the dirt of the
main street with other children; she wore white dresses that were
always clean, new ribbons in her hair; she always carried a
handkerchief; she attended the little public school with the belfry but
no bell, and her mother trained her in domestic science and the
precepts of religion, which, lacking definite direction perhaps by
reason of the fact that there was no church in San Pasqual, served,
nevertheless, as a bulwark against the assaults of vice and vulgarity
which, in a frontier town, are very thinly veiled. As a child she was
neither precocious nor shy. From a rather homely, long-legged gangling
girl of fourteen she emerged apparently by a series of swift
transitions into a young lady at sixteen, giving promise of a beauty
which lay, not so much in her physical attractions, which were
generous, but in that easily discernible nobility of character which
indicates beauty of soul--that superlative beauty which entitles its
possessor to be alluded to as "sweet," rather than pretty or handsome.
At the dawn of womanhood she was a lovely little girl, kind,
affectionate, imaginative, distinctly virginal,

    --a flower... born to blush unseen,
    And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

When Donna was nearly seventeen years old her mother died. It was the
consensus of opinion that heart trouble had something to do with it. In
fact, Mrs. Corblay had often complained of pains in her heart and was
subject to fainting spells; besides which, there was that in her eyes
which seemed to predicate a heartache of many years' standing. At any
rate, she fainted at the eating-house one day and they carried her
home. She passed away very quietly the same night, leaving an estate
which consisted of Donna, the two Indian servants, and a quantity of
coin in a teapot in the cupboard at the Hat Ranch which upon
investigation was found to total the stupendous sum of two hundred and
twenty-eight dollars and ninety-five cents.

There was no one except Donna to attend to the funeral arrangements,
and for eight hours following her mother's death she was too distracted
to think of anything but her great grief. Soft Wind prepared her
mistress for the grave after a well-meant but primitive fashion, while
Sam Singer squatted all morning in the sand in front of the compound
and smoked innumerable cigarettes. Presently he got up, went to his own
little cabin within the enclosure and was invisible for ten minutes.
When he emerged he was clad in a new pair of "bull breeches," a white
stiff-bosomed shirt without a collar but with a brass collar button
doing duty nevertheless, while a red silk handkerchief, with the ends
drawn through a ring fashioned from a horseshoe nail, enveloped his
swarthy neck. He had rummaged through the stock of hats and
appropriated a Grand Army hat with cord and tassels, and arrayed thus
Sam Singer walked up the tracks to San Pasqual.

Arrived here Sam's very appearance heralded news of grave importance at
the Hat Ranch. Such extraordinary and unwonted attention to dress could
portend but one of two things--a journey or a funeral. Inasmuch,
however, as Sam was coatless and Mrs. Corblay had been carried home ill
the day before, San Pasqual allowed itself one guess and won.

To those who sought to question him, however, Sam Singer had nothing
more polite than a tribal grunt. He proceeded directly to the Silver
Dollar saloon, where he held converse with a man who seemed much
interested in the news which Sam had to impart, for he nodded gravely
several times, gave Sam fifty cents and a cigar and then hurried around
to the public telephone station in "Doc" Taylor's drug store.

Five minutes later, by some mysterious person, Mrs. Daniel Pennycook,
wife of the yardmaster, was informed over the telephone that Donnie
Corblay's mother was dead.

"So I understand" replied Mrs. Pennycook volubly. "Poor thing! There
was always somethin' so mysterious like about--"

The use of the word "like" was habit with Mrs. Pennycook. She rarely
took a decided stand in anything except Mr. Pennycook, and always
modified her modifying adjective with the word "like"; an annoying
practice which had always rendered her an object of terror to Mrs.
Corblay. To the latter it always seemed as if Mrs. Pennycook was
desirous of saying something nasty, but lacked the courage to come out
flatfooted with it.

Her unknown informant interrupted, or attempted to interrupt, but Mrs.
Pennycook was now started on her favorite topic, in such haste that she
failed to give the customary telephonic challenge:

"Who's speaking, please?"

She continued. "Yes, she was kinder quiet like any kept to herself
like--"

"Well," said the unknown, "she's dead now, and that little daughter o'
hers is all alone down there with her Indian woman. If you knew Mrs.
Corblay was dead, why in blue blazes didn't you or some other woman in
this heartless village go down there and comfort that child? I've asked
three of your neighbors already, but they're washin' or dustin' or
cookin' or somethin'."

"I was so terrible shocked like when I heard it--"

"Well, if the shock's over, for decency's sake, Mrs. Pennycook, go down
to the Hat Ranch and keep that little girl comp'ny till this
afternoon."

"Who's talkin'?" demanded Mrs. Pennycook belligerently.

"I am."

"Who are you?"

"Nobody!"

For several seconds Mrs. Pennycook shot questions into the transmitter,
but receiving no response she hung up, furious at having been denied
the inalienable right of her sex to the last word. Shortly thereafter
her worthy spouse, Dan Pennycook, came in for his lunch. To him Mrs.
Pennycook imparted the tale of the strange man who had rung her up,
demanding that she go down to the Hat Ranch and see Donnie Corblay.
Pennycook's stupid good-natured face clouded.

"Then," he demanded, "why don't you do it? I've been workin' with that
string of empties below town all mornin', an' if any woman in this
charitable community passed me goin' to the Hat Ranch I didn't see her.
It's a shame. Put on your other things right after lunch, Arabella, an'
go down. I'll go with you."

"But the gall o' the man, askin' me to do this! I intended goin'
anyhow, but him ringin' me up so sudden like, I--"

"My dear," said Mr. Pennycook, "he paid you a compliment."

"Humph" responded Mrs. Pennycook. Then she sniffed. She continued to
sniff at intervals during the meal; she was still sniffing when later
she joined her husband at the front gate and set off with him down the
tracks to the Hat Ranch.

Arrived at the Hat Ranch Mrs. Pennycook saw at once that Donna was "too
upset like" to have any of the details of her mother's funeral thrust
upon her. Here was a situation which required the supervision of a
calm, executive person--Mrs. Daniel Pennycook, for instance. At any
rate Mrs. Pennycook decided to take charge. She was first on the scene
and naturally the task was hers, not only as a matter of principle but
also by right of discovery.

Now, under the combined attentions of Donna, Mrs. Corblay and Soft
Wind, the house, while primitive, had, nevertheless, been made
comfortable and kept immaculate. But there is a superstition rampant in
all provincial communities which dictates that the first line of action
to be pursued when there is a death in the family is to scrub the house
thoroughly from cellar to garret, and Mrs. Pennycook had been
inoculated with the virus of this superstition very early in life. She
tucked up her skirts, seized a broom and a mop, rounded up Soft Wind
and proceeded to produce chaos where neatness and order had always
reigned.

It was at this juncture that Donna Corblay first gave evidence of
having a mind of her own. She dried her tears and gently but firmly
informed Mrs. Pennycook that the house had been thoroughly cleaned and
scrubbed three days previous. She begged Mrs. Pennycook to desist. Mrs.
Pennycook desisted, for if Donna couched her request in the language of
entreaty, her young eyes flashed a stern command, and Mrs. Pennycook
was not deficient in the intuition of her sex. So she composed herself
in a rocking chair and by blunt brutal questioning presently
ascertained that Mrs. Corblay had left her daughter two hundred and
twenty-eight dollars and ninety-five cents.

This decided Mrs. Pennycook. She dilated upon the importance of having
a clergyman come down from Bakersfield for the funeral, and suggested
the services (at the metropolitan rates usually accorded such
functionaries) of the local alleged quartette, which regularly made
night hideous in San Pasqual's lone barber shop.

"It'll be kinder nice like, don't you think, Donna?" she queried.

Donna nodded dubiously.

"An' what was your poor dear mamma's church?" continued Mrs. Pennycook.

"She didn't have any" Donna answered, truthfully enough.

Again Mrs. Pennycook sniffed. "Well, then, I suppose Mr. Tillingham, of
the Universal Church--"

Donna interrupted. "Mamma always knew she would be taken from me
without warning, and she often told me not to give her an expensive
funeral. I think she would have liked some services but I can't afford
them."

"But, dearie, that's so barbarous like!" exclaimed the dismayed
Samaritan. "There ought to be some one to say some prayers an' sing a
hymn or two."

"Mamma always said she wanted to be buried simply. She thought it was
sweet and beautiful to have services, but not essential. She was always
skimping and saving for me, Mrs. Pennycook. She said I wasn't to wear
mourning; that the--living needed more prayers than--the--dead. She--
she said that when she was gone God would be good to her and that--I--
she said I would need all the money we had."

"A-a-h-h-h!" breathed Mrs. Pennycook. She understood now. What a
baggage the girl was! How heartless, begrudging her poor dead mother
the poor comfort of a Christian burial, because she wanted the money
for herself! Privately Mrs. Pennycook prophesied a bad ending for
Donnie Corblay. She winked knowingly at her husband, then with truly
feminine sarcasm:

"Well, at _least,_ Donna, you'll _have_ to buy a coffin an'
a _grave_ an' have the grave _dug_--"

"Sam Singer will attend to that. I'm going to bury mamma among the
flowers at the end of our garden. I'll have a nice plain coffin made in
San Pasqual--"

"Oh!" Mrs. Pennycook trembled.

"Mamma always said," Donna continued, "that undertakers preyed on the
dead and traded in human grief, and for me not to engage one for her
funeral. I'm going to do just what she told me to do, Mrs. Pennycook."

"Quite right, Donnie, quite right" interjected Mr. Pennycook. He was an
impulsive creature and even under the hypnotic eye of Mrs. P. he
sometimes broke out of bounds.

"Daniel! Come!"

_Daniel!_ At the mention of his Christian name Mr. Pennycook
quivered. He knew he was in for it now, but he didn't care. It occurred
to him that he might as well, to quote a homely proverb, "be hanged for
a sheep as a lamb." He had visited the Hat Ranch to tender aid and
sympathy, and despite the impending visitation of his wife's wrath he
resolved to be reckless for once and deliver the goods in bulk.

"Your poor mother was a sensible woman, Donnie girl," he told the
orphan, "an' you're a dutiful daughter to follow out her last wishes
under these--er--deplorable circumstances--er--er--I mean it's a
terrible hard thing to lose your mother, Donnie, an'--damme, Donnie,
I'm sorry. 'Pon my word, I'm sorry."

Mrs. Pennycook's lips moved, and while no sound issued therefrom, yet
did Dan Pennycook, out of his many years of marital submission,
comprehend the unspoken sentence:

"_Dan Pennycook, you're a fool!_"

"Ya-a-h" growled Mr. Pennycook, thoroughly aroused now and striving to
appear belligerent. His wife silenced him with a look; then turned to
Donna. She had a duty to perform. She was a great woman for "principle"
and the performance of what she conceived to be her duty. She was a
well-meaning but misguided person ordinarily, who loved a fight with
her own family on the broad general ground that it denoted firmness of
character. Mrs. Pennycook was so long on virtue and character herself
that half her life was spent disposing of a portion of these attributes
to the less fortunate members of her household.

She entered now upon a calm yet stern discussion of the perfectly
impossible proceeding of making a private cemetery out of one's back
yard; but Mr. Pennycook had recovered his poise and decided that here
was one of those rare occasions when it behooved him to declare
himself--by the way, a very rare proceeding with Mr. Pennycook, he
being known in San Pasqual as the original Mr. Henpeck.

"Mrs. Pennycook," he thundered, "you will please 'tend to your own
business, ma'am. Donnie, my dear, I'm goin' to wire Los Angeles an'
order up a heap o' big red roses on 25--damme, Mrs. Pennycook, what the
devil are _you_ lookin' at, ma'am?"

"Nothing" she retorted, although it is a fact that had she been Medusa
a singularly life-like replica of Dan Pennycook in concrete might have
been produced, upon which the posterity of San Pasqual might gaze and
be warned of the dangers attendant upon mating with the Mrs. Pennycooks
of this world.

Donna commenced to cry. Mr. Pennycook's sympathy, albeit checked and
moderated to a great extent by the presence of his wife, was,
nevertheless, the most genuine sample of that rare commodity which she
had received up to that moment. His action had been so--brave--so
spontaneous--he knew--he understood; Dan Pennycook had a soul. And
besides he was going to wire for some red roses--and O, how scarce were
red roses in San Pasqual!

"O Mr. Pennycook, dear Mr. Pennycook" she wailed, and sought instant
refuge on his honest breast. She placed her arms around his neck and
cried, and Mr. Pennycook cried also, until his single Sunday
handkerchief was used up--whereat he pleaded dumbly with his wife for
her handkerchief--and was refused. So, like some great blubbering boy,
he used his fists, while Mrs. Pennycook looked coldly on, working her
lower lip and the tip of her nose, rabbit-fashion, for all the world
like one who, having anticipated a sniff of the spices of Araby, has
detected instead a shocking aroma of corned beef and cabbage.

It was a queer tableau, indeed; Donna weeping on Mr. Pennycook's
breast, when every instinct of her sex, even the vaguest acceptance of
tradition and custom, dictated that she should have wept on Mrs.
Pennycook's breast. Mrs. Pennycook realized the incongruity of the
situation and was shrewd enough to attribute it to a strong aversion to
her on the part of Donna Corblay. She resolved to make them both pay
for her humiliation--Dan, within the hour, Donna whenever the
opportunity should occur.




CHAPTER IV


When Donna and Mr. Pennycook had succeeded eventually in overcoming
their emotions, the worthy yardmaster and his wife took their
departure. Mr. Pennycook was compelled to return to work and something
told him that Donna would be happier alone than with Mrs. Pennycook;
hence he made no objection to her leaving the Hat Ranch.

They had scarcely left when the man whom Sam Singer had consulted at
the Silver Dollar saloon earlier in the day appeared from the north
angle of the adobe wall, where he had been lurking, and dodged into the
Hat Ranch enclosure. Donna was seated at the kitchen table, her face in
her hands, when he arrived. He could see her through the open half-
window of the lean-to, so he came to the window, thrust his head and
shoulders in and coughed.

Donna raised her head and gazed into the face of the worst man in San
Pasqual!

This peculiarly distinguished individual was Mr. Harley P. Hennage, the
proprietor of a faro game in the Silver Dollar saloon. He had an
impassive, almost dull, face (accentuated, perhaps, from much playing
of poker in early life) which, at times, would light up with the shy
smile of a trustful child, revealing three magnificent golden upper
teeth. He bore no more resemblance to the popular conception of a
western gambler than does a college professor to a coal passer. Mr.
Hennage lived in his shirtsleeves, paid cash and hated jewelry. He had
never been known to carry a derringer or a small, genteel, silver-
plated revolver in his waist-coat pocket. Neither did he appear in
public with a bowie knife down his bootleg. Not being a Mexican, he did
not carry a knife, and besides he always wore congress gaiters. Owing
to the fact that he was a large florid sandy person, with a freckled
bristly neck and a singularly direct fearless manner of looking at his
man with eyes that were small, sunken, baleful and rather piggy, the
exigencies of Mr. Hennage's profession had never even warranted
recourse to his two most priceless possessions--his hands. Yet, despite
this fact, and the further fact that he had never accomplished anything
more reprehensible than staking his coin against that of his neighbor,
Mr. Hennage had acquired the reputation of being the worst man in San
Pasqual. In the language of the country, he was a hard _hombre,_
for he looked it. When one gazed at Mr. Hennage he observed a human
bulldog, a man who would finish anything he started. Hence, he was
credited with the ability and inclination to do the most impossible
things if given half an excuse. It is needless, therefore, to remark
that Mr. Hennage's depravity, like Mrs. Pennycook's virtue, partook
more or less of the nature of the surrounding country; that is to say,
it was susceptible of development.

Most people in this queer world of ours harbor an impression that if
you make friends with a dog he will not bite you, and that lion tamers
are enabled to accumulate gray hairs merely by the exercise of nerve
and the paralyzing influence of the human eye. Hence, when the worst
man in San Pasqual confronted Donna, she did not at once scream for Sam
Singer, but looked Mr. Hennage in the eye and quavered.

"Good morning, Mr. Hennage."

It was hard work continuing to look Mr. Hennage in the eye. To-day he
looked more like a bulldog than ever, for his eyes were red-lidded and
watery.

Mr. Hennage nodded. He drew a silk handkerchief from his coat pocket
and blew his nose with a report like a pistol shot before he spoke.

"How's the kitty?" he demanded.

Donna glanced toward the store and about the kitchen wearily and
replied.

"I don't know, Mr. Hennage. I guess she's around the house somewhere."

"The Lord love you" murmured the gambler. The hard lips lifted, the
dull impassive face was lit for an instant by the trustful childish
smile, and through the glory of that infrequent facial expression
Harley P.'s three gold front teeth flashed like triple searchlights.

"I mean, Miss Corblay, have you any money?"

"Only a little bit, Mr. Hennage" Donna quavered. The question
frightened her and she hastened to assure the bad man that it was a
very little bit indeed, and all that her mother had been able to save.
She trembled lest the monster might take a notion to rob her of even
this meager amount.

"I just had a hunch it was that way with you." The worst man in San
Pasqual wagged his great head, as if to compliment himself on his
penetration. "I just knew it."

This was not strictly the truth. Sam Singer had managed to convey to
the gambler some hint of the Corblay fortunes, financial as well as
material, and had begged of him to exercise his superior white man
intelligence to aid the Indian in wrestling with this white man's
problem that confronted the dwellers at the Hat Ranch. Rather a queer
source, indeed, for Sam Singer to seek help for his young mistress; but
then Sam was not an educated aborigine; he was not given to reflecting
upon the ethics of any given line of procedure. The fact of the matter
was that Harley P. Hennage was the only white man in San Pasqual who
deigned to honor Sam Singer with a greeting and his cast-off shoes. In
return Sam had honored Harley P. with his confidence and an appeal to
him for further aid.

"I have attended to everything" continued Mr. Hennage. "Preacher,
quartette from Bakersfield--they're real good, too. Playin' in a
theater up there, but I engaged to get 'em back in time for the evenin'
performance on a special train--so they said they'd come. An' I've
ordered an elegant coffin, the best they had in stock, with a floral
piece from Sam Singer an' his squaw an' a piller o' white carnations
with 'Mother' in violets--from you, understand? Everything the best,
spick an' span an' no cost to the estate. Compliments o' Harley P.
Hennage, Miss Donna." He paused and rubbed his hairy freckled hands
together in an embarrassed manner. "I hope you won't think I'm actin'
forward, because I ain't one o' the presumin' kind. I just wanted to do
somethin' to help out because--your mother was a very lovely lady.
Three times a day for ten years she give me my change an' there never
was a time when she didn't have a decent, kindly word for me--the only
good woman in this town that'd look at me--God bless her! Mum's the
word, Miss Donnie. Don't let nobody know I did it, because it'd hurt
your reputation. And don't tell Mrs. Pennycook! Pennycook's a clean,
decent old sport, but look out for the missus!" Here Mr. Hennage
lowered his voice, glanced cautiously around to make certain that he
would not be overheard by Mrs. Pennycook, leaned further in the window
and improvising a megaphone with his hands, whispered hoarsely the
damning words: "She _talks!_"

Donna nodded. For a long time she had suspected Mrs. Pennycook of this
very practice.

"I've got to light out now" Mr. Hennage continued. "Folks'll wonder if
they see _me_ hangin' around here. But before I go I want to tell
you somethin'. Your mother was a-countin' out my change yesterday when
she got took. She thought she was goin' then on account o' the pain
bein' sharper than common, an' she cries out: 'Donnie! Donnie! My baby,
whatever is a-goin' to become o' you when I'm gone!' I was the only one
that heard her say it. I caught her when she was fallin', an' I told
her I'd see that you didn't lack for nothin' while I lived an' that I'd
keep an eye on you an' see that nothin' wrong happened to you. Your
mother couldn't speak none then, Miss Donnie, but she give my hand a
little press to show she was on an' that whatever I did was done with
her say-so. Consequently, Miss Donnie, any time you need a friend you
just ring up the Silver Dollar saloon an' tell the barkeep to call
Hennage to the 'phone. Remember! I ain't the presumin' kind, but I can
be a good friend--"

He dodged back as if somebody had struck at him. Before Donna could
quite realize what he had been saying he had disappeared. She ran to
the iron-barred gate, looked out and saw him walking up the railroad
tracks toward San Pasqual. She called after him. He turned, waved his
hand and continued on--a great fat bow-legged commonplace figure of a
man, mopping his high bald forehead--a plain, lowly citizen of
uncertain morals; a sordid money-snatcher coming forth from his den of
iniquity to masquerade for an hour as the Angel of Hope, and returning
--hopeless.

For the last tie that bound Harley P. Hennage to San Pasqual was
severed. His soul was not mediocre; he could dwell no longer in San
Pasqual without feeling himself accursed. Never again could he bear to
sit on his high stool at the lunch counter in the railroad eating-
house, where he had boarded for ten years, and watch a stranger taking
cash. He had watched Donna's mother so long that the vigil had become a
part of his being--a sort of religious ceremony--and in this little
tragedy of life no understudy could ever star for Harley P. Her
beautiful sad eyes were closed forever now and the tri-daily joy of his
sordid existence had vanished.

"What little things go to make up the big pleasures of life! Who could
guess, for instance, that the simple deceit of presenting a twenty-
dollar piece in payment of a fifty-cent meal check had held for Harley
P. a greater joy than the promise of ultimate salvation? Yet it had;
for during the slight wait at the pay counter while the cashier counted
out his change he had been privileged to view her at close quarters, to
mark the contour of her nose, to note the winning sweetness of her
tender mouth, to hearken to the music of her low voice counting out the
dollars, and, perchance, saying something commonplace himself as he
gathered up his change! Yet that had been sufficient to make of San
Pasqual a paradise for Harley P. He knew his limitations; he had
presumed but once, long enough to ask the cashier to marry him. Her
refusal had made him worship her the more, only he worshiped thereafter
in silence and from afar. She had not laughed at him nor scorned him
nor upbraided him, lowly worm that he was, for daring to hope that he
might be good enough for her! No. She had told him about her husband,
who had gone prospecting and never returned; of Sam Singer who had been
rescued on the desert when close to death, of his return with a wild
story of much gold and a man, whose name he did not know, who had
killed her husband and escaped with the gold. She respected Mr.
Hennage, she admired him, she knew he was good and kind--and she did
not refer to his method of making a living. She merely laid her soft
hand on his, as he reached for his nineteen dollars and a half change,
and said:

"Do you understand, Harley?"

Yes, she had called him Harley that day, and he had understood. Her
heart was out in the desert. He took the terrible blow with a smile and
a flash of his gold teeth, and never referred to his secret again.

He thought of her now, as he waddled back to his neglected game in the
Silver Dollar saloon. He wished that he might have been privileged to
admittance into that little room off the kitchen where something told
him she was lying; he wished that he might see her once again before
they buried her--but that would be presuming. He wished he knew of some
plan whereby that poor body might be spared the degradation of
interment in the lonely, windswept, desert cemetery, side by side with
Indians, Mexicans, Greek section hands and the rude forefathers of San
Pasqual.

What a profanation! That horrible cemetery, surrounded by a fence of
barbed wire and superannuated railroad ties, to receive that beloved
clay. He pictured her as he had seen her every day for ten years, and a
rush of vain regret brought the big tears to his buttermilk eyes; the
chords of memory twanged in his breast and he paused on the outskirts
of San Pasqual with hands upraised, fists clenched in an agony of
desperation.

"I can't stand it" he muttered. "I can't. It'll be lonely. I've got to
get out. I'll close my game after the funeral an' _vamose._"

But to return to affairs at the Hat Ranch.

While Harley P. Hennage sat in the Silver Dollar saloon that afternoon
dealing faro automatically and pondering the problem of the precise
purpose for which he had been created; and while Mrs. Pennycook went
from house to house west of the tracks, expounding her personal view of
the extraordinary situation at the Hat Ranch, a south-bound train
pulled in and discharged a trained nurse, an undertaker, a rectangular
redwood box and more floral pieces than San Pasqual had seen in a
decade. After instituting some inquiries as to its location, the nurse
and the undertaker proceeded to the Hat Ranch, followed by a wagon
bearing the box and the flowers.

But why dilate on these mournful details! Suffice the fact that Mrs.
Corblay was laid away next morning in conformity with the wishes of the
only human being who had any right to express a wish in the matter. The
Bakersfield quartette was there and sang "Lead, Kindly Light" and
"Nearer My God To Thee"; the Bakersfield minister was there and read:
"I am the Resurrection and the Life"; Soft Wind threw ashes on her head
and cried in the Cahuilla tongue, "Ai! Ai! Beloved," after the manner
of her people, while Sam Singer stood at the head of the grave like a
figure done in bronze. Dan Pennycook was there, supporting Donna, and
made a spectacle of himself. Mrs. Pennycook was there--and
superintended the disposal of the flowers on the grave; in fact, all
San Pasqual was there, with the exception of Harley P. Hennage--and
nobody wondered why _he_ wasn't there. It was well known that he
was not one of the presuming kind and had nothing in common with
respectable people. And when it was all over, the San Pasqualians went
their several ways, assuming--if, indeed, such an assumption did occur
to any of them--that the unknown who had provided these expensive
obsequies would without doubt provide for Donna also.

That night as Donna lay awake in bed, grieving silently and striving to
adjust herself to a philosophical view of the situation, she heard the
front gate open and close very softly; then slow, stealthy footsteps
passed on the brick walk around the house and down the patio to the end
of the garden. It was very late. Donna wondered who could be visiting
the Hat Ranch at such an hour, for No. 25, which was due in San Pasqual
at midnight, had just gone thundering by. She crept to the window and
looked out.

Beside the flower-covered mound at the end of the garden a man was
kneeling, with the moonlight casting his grotesque shadow on the
blossoms. Presently he stood up, and Donna saw that he had detached one
of Dan Pennycook's big red roses and was reverently hiding it away in
his breast pocket. Standing hidden in the darkness of her room, Donna
could see Harley P.'s face distinctly as he came down the moonlit
patio. The terrible mouth was quivering pitifully, tears bedimmed the
little, deep-set, piggy eyes to such an extent that Harley P. groped
before him with one great, freckled, hairy hand outstretched. He passed
her open window.

"My love! My love!" she heard him mutter, and then the slow stealthy
footsteps passed around the corner of the house and died away in the
distance. Harley P. Hennage had said his farewell to happiness. He was
an outcast now, a soul accursed, fleeing from the soul-crushing
loneliness and desolation of San Pasqual.

When two weeks had passed, the nurse so thoughtfully provided by the
gambler that Donna Corblay might not be obligated even to the slight
extent of companionship and comfort during that trying period to the
women of San Pasqual, returned to Bakersfield. In the interim Donna had
been offered, and had accepted, the position at the railroad hotel and
eating-house so long held by her mother. It was a good position. The
salary was sixty dollars a month. With this princely stipend and the
revenue from the Hat Ranch, and feeling perfectly safe under the
watchful eyes of Sam Singer and Soft Wind, Donna faced her little world
at seventeen years of age in blissful ignorance of the fact that she
was marked in San Pasqual.

She had committed two crimes. In the matter of her mother's funeral she
had scorned the advice of her elders and had dared to overthrow ancient
custom; and--ridiculous as the statement may appear--she had aroused in
Mrs. Pennycook the demon of jealousy! It is a fact. In the bigness of
his simple heart the yardmaster had yielded up to Donna a spontaneous
portion of tenderness and sympathy, which first amazed Mrs. Pennycook,
because she never suspected her husband of being such an "old softy,"
and then enraged her when she reflected that never since their
honeymoon had Dan shown _her_ anything more than the prosaic
consideration of the unimaginative married man for an unimaginative
wife.

It did not occur to Mrs. Pennycook that she had not sought to bring out
these qualities in her husband by a display of affection on her part.
It never occurred to her that Dan Pennycook was a homely, ordinary,
rather dull fellow, in dirty overalls and in perpetual need of a shave;
that Donna was a beauty who could afford to pick and choose from a
score of eager lovers. She only knew that Donna had aroused in Dan
Pennycook the flames of revolt against the lawful domination of his
lawful wife; that he was of the masculine gender and would bear
watching. Miss Molly Pickett, the postmistress, whose official duties
not so onerous as to preclude the perusal of every postal card that
passed through her hands (in addition to an occasional letter, for Miss
Molly was not above the use of a steam kettle and her own stock of
mucilage), was Mrs. Pennycook's dearest friend and her authority for
the knowledge that while all men will bear watching, married men will
bear a most minute scrutiny. Mrs. Pennycook knew that as a wife she was
approaching the unlovely age when fickle husbands tire and cast about
for younger and prettier women. Hence she decided to trim her mental
lamps and light the dastard Daniel out of temptation.

Her first move was a master-stroke of feminine genius. She issued an
order to her husband to buy no more hats of Donna Corblay.

Three loud cheers for Mr. Pennycook! He revolted. He did more. He
turned on Mrs. Pennycook--he shook a smutty finger under her nose. He
said something. He said he would see her, Mrs. Pennycook, further--in
fact, considerably further--than that! All of which was very rude and
vulgar of Mr. Pennycook, we must admit, but--

And now our stage is set at last; so assuming three years to have
passed, behold the curtain rising, discovering Donna Corblay behind the
cashier's counter in the railroad eating-house in the little desert
hamlet of San Pasqual.

It is a different Donna that confronts us now, and the first glimpse is
almost sufficient to cause us to view with a more complacent eye the
mental travail of any married lady whose husband might be exposed to
the battery of Donna's eyes.

Such wonderful eyes! Dark blue, wide apart, intelligent, tender, with a
trick of peeping up at one from under the long black lashes, and
conveying such a medley of profound emotions that it is small wonder
that men--and occasionally women--forgot their change in the excitement
of gazing upon this superior attraction.

In his old favorite seat down at the end of the lunch counter we see
Mr. Harley P. Hennage partaking of his evening meal. He has been away
from San Pasqual for three years, and he has just returned. Also he has
just decided to remain (for reasons best known to himself), although we
may be pardoned for presuming that it may be because he sees an old,
tender memory reflected in Donna's eyes. _Quien sabe?_ He is
older, homelier, sandier than when we saw him last, and he has gambled
much. So we can't read anything in his face. Moreover, we do not care
to. Instinctively our gaze reverts to Donna, for the day's work is
finished, she had proved her cash and is about to go home to the Hat
Ranch.

She is a woman now, a glorious, healthy, athletic creature, with wavy
hair, very fine and thick and black, and glossy as polished ebony. Her
face is tanned and glowing, and the halo of brilliant black hair only
serves to accentuate the glow and to remind us of an exquisite cameo
set in jet. She is taller by three inches than the average woman,
broad-shouldered, full-breasted, slim-waisted, a figure to haunt a
sculptor's memory.

She is dressed in a wash frock of light blue material, with a low
sailor collar that shows to bewildering effect her strong full throat.
She wears a flowing black silk navy reefer and when she puts on her hat
prior to leaving we realize that she has not studied male head-gear
alone, but has taken advantage of her semi-public position to copy
styles and to glean from the women's magazines, on sale at the counter,
the latest hints in metropolitan millinery.

This is the Donna Corblay that faces us this September evening. She has
developed from a girl into a woman, and we wonder if her mind, her
soul, has had equal development, or has it slowly starved in her
unlovely and commonplace surroundings?

It has not. Donna has never been away from San Pasqual since the day
she entered it a babe in arms, but--she presides over the news counter
in addition to her other duties. Here she has access to all the latest
"best-sellers," also the big national magazines, and through these
means she has kept pace with a world that is continually passing her by
in Pullman sleepers. To her has been given the glorious gift of
imagination, and dull, sordid, lonely San Pasqual, squatting there in
the desert sands, cannot rob her of her dreams. Rather has she grown to
tolerate the place, for at her will she can summon up a host of unreal
people to throng its dreary single street; she can metamorphose the
water tank into a sky-scraper, the long red lines of box cars on the
sidings into rows of stately mansions. She reads and dreams much, for
only between the arrival and departure of trains is she kept busy. She
sends for books that would never find a sale in San Pasqual, and some
day--ah! the glory of anticipation! she is going to Los Angeles, where
the event of her life is to take place. Going to be married? No? No,
indeed. She is going to a theater.

So much for an intimate description of our leading lady as she appears
when the curtain rises. But in all plays, whether in real life or on
the stage, there must be a leading man. Very well, be patient. In due
course he will appear. Donna has been dreaming much of this hero of
late. His name is Gerald Van Alstyne, and he is tall, with curly golden
hair, piercing blue eyes and a cleft chin; in short, a veritable Adonis
and different, so different, from the traveling salesmen who leer at
her across the counter and the loutish youths of San Pasqual who,
despairing of her favor, call her by her first name because they know
it annoys her. Donna has not the slightest doubt but that this young
fellow will come rushing in to the eating-house some day, discover her
when he comes to pay his check, and eventually return and keep on
returning until that final happy day when they shall go away together,
to walk hand in hand through green fields and listen to the birds and
bees, to linger under the shade of green trees, to wander in an
Elysium. She does not know what green fields and running water look
like, but she has read about them--

The director's whistle is heard in the wings; the play is on at last!

As Donna thrust the last hatpin through her glorious hair and turned to
leave the place of her employment, her glance rested upon Mr. Harley P.
Hennage, covertly watching her over the edge of his soup spoon. She
removed her glove, walked around the end of the lunch counter and held
out her hand.

"Well, Mr. Hennage. This _is_ a delightful surprise. I'm _so_
glad to see you back in San Pasqual. Where have you been these past
three years?"

Harley P. scrambled down from his high stool, took her cool hand and
blushed.

"I wouldn't like to tell you," he said, "but I've been in some mighty-
y-y funn-y-y places, where I didn't meet no beautiful young ladies like
you, Miss Donnie. I ain't much of a man at handin' out compliments--I
never was one o' the presumin' kind--but you sure do put San Pasqual on
the map. Miss Donnie, you do, for a fact."

Donna smiled her appreciation of Harley P.'s gallantry. "You left
without saying good-by" she reminded him. "If I had needed you I
couldn't have found you. Do you remember? You said if I ever needed a
friend--"

The big gambler grinned. "You never needed me, Miss Donnie. You never
would need a man like me, but you might have needed money. If you'd a-
needed money, now, why, Dan Pennycook he'd a-seen you through."

Mr. Hennage did not judge it necessary to tell Donna that he had left
the worthy yardmaster in charge of her destinies, with a thousand
dollars on deposit in a bank in Bakersfield, in Dan's name, for Donna's
use in case of emergency. Mr. Hennage lived in an atmosphere of money,
where everybody fought to get his money away from him and where he
fought to get theirs; hence finances were ever his first thought. As
for Donna, she did not think it necessary that she should express a
contrary opinion regarding Dan Pennycook. She said:

"Why didn't you come to the counter at once and say hello?"

He shook his head, "I wanted to all right, but I hated to appear
presumin', an' with my rep in this village you know how people are
liable to talk. World treatin' you well, Miss Donnie?"

"I think I get more fun out of San Pasqual than most of the people in
it."

"Well, then, you must spend a lot o' time lookin' into a mirror"
replied Harley P., and blushed at his effrontery. "That's the only way
the San Pasqual folks can get any fun--a-lookin' at your face."

"Mr. Hennage, I fear you're getting to be one of the presuming kind. I
declare I haven't had such pretty speeches made me this year. By the
way, how's the kitty?"

Harley P.'s russet countenance swelled like the wattles on a
Thanksgiving turkey. He leaned over the counter and gazed under it; his
glance swept the room; he even, peered under his stool. Finally he
looked up at Donna with his three gold teeth flashing through his
trustful, childish smile.

"I dunno" he answered. "I guess she's around the house somewheres. I
ain't seen her in quite a spell."

"I thought so," she answered gravely, "or you wouldn't have returned to
San Pasqual. Small game for a small pocketbook, eh, Mr. Hennage?" She
came closer to him. "I don't mind telling you--just between friends,
you understand--that I have a couple of hundred to stake you to if
you're hard up, but for goodness sake don't tell Mrs. Pennycook. She
talks."

"Good Lord" gasped the gambler, and choked on a crouton. "D'ye mean it,
Miss Donna?"

"Certainly."

"You're a dead game sport and I'd take you up, because I understand
that it's between pals, but you ain't got no notion o' tryin' to square
me for--you know!"

"I might--if I didn't understand all about that--you know? As it is I
want to show you that I'm grateful, and my experienced eye informs me
that you arrived in a box car. An empty furniture car, I should say,
judging by that scrap of excelsior in your back hair, although the car
might have been loaded with crockery."

Mr. Hennage removed the evidence and gazed at it reflectively.

"I suppose, now, if that'd been a feather, you'd a-swore I flew in."

"Possibly. You've been a high flyer in your day, haven't you?"

Mr. Hennage grinned. "I've flew some, but I've come home to roost now.
How's the old savage down at the Hat Ranch?"

"Sam Singer is unchanged. Nothing ever changes in this country, Mr.
Hennage."

"Nothin' but money," he corrected, as he fished a bill out of his vest
pocket, "an' money sure changes hands, more particular when I'm
around."

"Are you going back to the Silver Dollar saloon?"

"Yes, I suppose so."

"Faro, roulette, black jack, coon can or craps?"

"The old game--faro."

"I'll bank you up to five hundred."

"That's not the right thing for a young lady to do, is it?" queried the
gambler. "Havin' truck wit' my kind o' people. Me--I'll do anything,
but a young lady, now--"

"Please do not compare me with Mrs. Pennycook" Donna pleaded. "I am not
the guardian of San Pasqual's morals. I'll stake you because I like you
and I don't care who knows it--if you don't."

"You're a brick" the gambler declared. "I don't need your money, you
blessed woman. I'm 'fat'" and he waved a thousand-dollar bill at her.
"I did ride into San Pasqual on a freight, but I did it from choice,
an' not necessity. The brakie was an old friend o' mine an' asked me to
ride in wit' him. But all the same it's grand to think that there's
women like you in this tough old world. It helps out a heap. You're
just like your poor mother--a real lady an' no mistake."

Donna blushed. She was embarrassed, despite the earnest praise of
Harley P. She gave him her hand. He took it with inward trembling, lest
she might be seen shaking hands with him and dishonored. She said good-
night.

"Walkin' home alone?" Harley P. was much concerned. "Not that I'm
fishin' for an invitation to see you safe to the Hat Ranch, because
that'd start talk, an' anyhow I ain't one o' the presumin' kind an' you
know it; but it's dark an' the zephyr's blowin' like sixty, an' if
there was one hobo on that freight I come in on there was a dozen."

"Why, I didn't realize it was so late," Donna answered. "I'll have to
wait until the moon comes up. But I never walk home when I'm kept late.
The division superintendent lends me the track-walker's velocipede and
I whiz home like the limited. There isn't any danger, and if there was
I could outrun it. Do you wish to register before I go, Mr. Hennage? I
suppose you'll want your old room?"

The gambler nodded and Donna returned to the cashier's counter. After
assigning Mr. Hennage to his quarters she telephoned to the baggage
room next door where the track-walker for that division stored his
velocipede, and asked to have the machine brought out and placed on
the tracks.

For perhaps half an hour she conversed with Harley P., much to that
careless soul's discomfort, for he was terribly afraid of affording the
San Pasqualians grounds for "talk." And as she waited the moon arose,
lighting up the half mile of track that led past the Hat Ranch; and
Fate, under whose direction all the dramas of life are staged, gave the
cue to the Leading Man.

He entered San Pasqual, riding down through the desert from Owens river
valley. But he was not in the least such a Leading Man as Donna had
pictured in her dreams. He was tall enough but his hair was not crisp
and curly and golden. Most people would have called it red. Not, praise
be, a carroty red, a dull negative, scrubby red, but a nicer red than
that--dark auburn, in fact. And he had an Irish nose and an Irish jaw
and Irish eyes of bonny brown. In but one particular did he resemble
the dream man. He did have a cleft in his chin. But even that was none
of nature's doing. A Mexican with a knife was solely responsible. Yet,
worse than all of these disappointments is the fact that his name was
_not_ Gerald Van Alstyne. No, indeed. The Leading Man owned to the
plain, homely, unromantic patronymic of Bob McGraw. The only thing
romantic and--er--literary about Bob McGraw was his Roman-nosed
mustang, Friar Tuck--so called because he had been foaled and raised on
a wooded range near Sherwood in Mendocino county. As a product of
Sherwood forest, Mr. McGraw had very properly christened him Friar
Tuck, and as Friar Tuck's colthood home lay five hundred miles to the
north, it will be seen that Mr. McGraw was a wanderer. Hence, if the
reader is at all imaginative or inclined to the science of deduction,
he will at one mental bound, so to speak, arrive at the conclusion that
Bob McGraw, if not actually an adventurous person, was at least fond of
adventure--which amounts to the same thing in the long run. Most people
who read Robin Hood are, as witness Mr. Tom Sawyer.

The moon was coming up just as the red-headed young man from Owens
river valley rode into San Pasqual. As he approached the railroad hotel
and eating-house he saw a girl emerge, and pause for a moment before
walking out to climb aboard a track-walker's velocipede. In the light
that streamed through the open door he saw her face, framed in a tangle
of black wind-blown wisps of hair; so he reined in Friar Tuck and
stared, for he--well! Most people looked twice at Donna Corblay, and
the red-headed man was young.

So he sat his horse in the dribbling moonlight and watched her seize
the handles of the lever and glide silently off into the night. He had
been standing in the stirrups, leaning forward to look at her hands as
they grasped the lever, and now he sat back in his saddle, much
relieved.

"No wedding ring in sight" he mused. "My lady of the velocipede, I'll
marry you, or my name's not Bob McGraw."

Just then Mr. Harley P. Hennage appeared in the doorway. He saw Bob
McGraw, recognized him, and immediately dodged back and went out
another door. He wanted to rush out and shake hands with Mr. McGraw, of
whom he was very fond, but we regret to state that Mr. McGraw owed
Harley P. Hennage the sum of fifty dollars and had owed it for three
years, and Mr. Hennage hesitated to seek Mr. McGraw out for purposes of
friendship, fearing that Mr. McGraw might construe his advances as a
roundabout dun. Ergo, Mr. Hennage fled.

Bob McGraw watched Donna Corblay, and when she was about three hundred
yards distant and beyond the town limits, he saw that a switch had been
left open, for the velocipede suddenly left the outside track, cut
obliquely across several parallel rows of tracks before she could
control it, and shot in behind a string of box cars. As the girl
disappeared, three dark figures sprang after her and a scream came very
faintly against the wind.

Bob McGraw laughed and drew a gun from under his left armpit.

"I'd ride to hell for you" he muttered joyously, and sank the rowels
home in Friar Tuck.




CHAPTER V


As has been intimated elsewhere in this story, San Pasqual has the
reputation of being a "tough" town. This is due in a large measure to
the fact that it is a division terminal, and at all division terminals
train crews must reckon with that element in our leisure class which
declines to pay railroad fare and elects to travel on brake-beams
rather than in Pullman sleepers. Having been unceremoniously plucked
from his precarious perch, the dispossessed hobo, finding himself
stranded in a desert town where the streets are not electrically
lighted, follows the dumb dictates of his stomach and the trend of his
abnormal ambition, and promptly "turns a trick." Occasionally there is
an objection on the part of the "trickee" and somebody gets killed.
Naturally enough, it follows that the sound of pistol shots is
frequently heard in the land, and since it happens nine times out of
ten that the argument is between transients, the permanent resident is
not nearly so interested in the outcome as one might imagine--
particularly when the shooting takes place at night and beyond the town
limits.

Harley P. Hennage had crossed from the eating-house, and had just
reached the porch of the Silver Dollar saloon, when above the whistling
of the "zephyr" he heard the muffled reports of three pistol shots. One
"Borax" O'Rourke, a "mule-skinner" from up Keeler way, who had just
arrived in San Pasqual to spend his pay-day after the fashion of the
country, heard them also.

"Down the tracks," O'Rourke elucidated. "Tramps fightin' with a
railroad policeman, I guess. Let's go down."

"What's the use?" objected Mr. Hennage. "A yegg never does any damage
unless he's right on top of his man. They all carry little short
bulldog guns, an' I never did see one o' them little bar pistols that
would score a hit at twenty yards after sundown. They carry high."

At that instant the sound of another shot was heard, but faintly.

"That's the hobo" announced Mr. Hennage with conviction. "Them first
three shots came from a life-size gun."

Half a minute passed; then came the report of six shots, following so
quickly upon each other that they sounded almost like a volley.

"Nine shots" commented "Borax" O'Rourke. "That's an automatic."

"That's what it is!" Mr. Hennage walked to the end of the porch. He was
just a little excited. "It's all off with the hobo" he continued. "I
know the man that's using that automatic, and he can shoot your eye out
at a hundred yards. I saw him ridin' in just as I left the eatin'
house."

"He must have been movin' to get down there in such a hurry. What's a
man on horseback doin' chasin' hobos across a web of railroad tracks,
an' if he was headed south, seems to me he'd have laid over for
supper--"

But Harley P. had a flash of inspiration now. "Come on, O'Rourke" he
shouted, and made a flying leap off the saloon porch. Borax followed,
and the two raced down the street at top speed--which, in the case of
Mr. Hennage, owing to his weight and his bow-legs, was not remarkable.
Borax easily outdistanced him.

Meanwhile, a rather spectacular panorama had been unfolding itself back
of the string of box-cars. Guided by Donna's screams, Bob McGraw sent
his horse away at a tearing gallop, lifting him in great leaps across
the maze of railroad tracks, and in a shower of flying cinders brought
him up, almost sitting, in the little foot-path between two lines of
track. Almost under Friar Tuck's front feet, Donna was struggling in
the grasp of three ruffians, one of whom was endeavoring to tie a
handkerchief across her mouth. The velocipede had been derailed by
means of a car-stake placed across the track.

Bob McGraw's long gun rose and fell three times, and at each deadly
drop a streak of flame punctured the moon-light. The three assailants
went down, shot through their respective legs--which remarkable
coincidence was not a coincidence at all, but merely a touch of kindly
consideration on the part of Bob McGraw, who didn't believe in killing
his man when wounding him would serve the same purpose.

As the three brutes dropped away from her the man from Owens river
valley lowered his weapon, and Donna, pale, terrorized and disheveled,
reeled toward him. He swung his horse a little, leaned outward and
downward, and with a sweep of his strong left arm he lifted her off the
ground and set her in front of him on Friar Tuck's neck, just as one of
the wounded thugs straightened up, cut loose with his bulldog gun and
shot Bob McGraw through the right breast.

Donna heard a half-suppressed "Oh!" from her deliverer, and felt him
sway forward a little. Then, seeming to summon every atom of grit and
strength he possessed, he whirled his horse, scuttled away around the
rear of the box-car, out of danger, and set Donna on the ground.

"Wait here" he commanded, through teeth clenched to keep back the blood
that welled from within him. "I was too kind--to those hounds."

He rode back and finished his night's work. War-mad, he sat his horse,
reeling in the saddle, and emptied his gun into the squirming wretches
as they sought to crawl under the car for protection.

Donna was terribly frightened, but she was the last woman in the world
to go into hysterics. She realized that she was saved, and accordingly
commenced to cry, while waiting for the horseman to reappear. A minute
passed and still he did not come, and suddenly, without quite realizing
what she was doing or why she did it, the girl went back to the scene
of the battle to look for him. She was not so badly frightened now, but
rather awed by the silence, Donna was desert-bred, and in all her life
she had never fainted. For a girl she was remarkably free from
"nerves," and she had lived too long in San Pasqual to faint now at
sight of the three still figures huddled between the ties, even had she
seen them; which, she had not. All that Donna saw was a roan range
pony, standing quietly with drooping head, while his master sprawled in
the saddle with his arms around his horse's neck. Donna went quickly to
him, and when the moon came out from behind a hurrying cloud she was
enabled, with the aid of the ghastly green glare from a switch lantern
which shone on his face, to observe that he was quite conscious and
looking at her with untroubled boyish eyes.

His hat was lying on the ground, securely anchored by the pony's left
fore foot. With rather unnatural calmness and following, subconsciously
perhaps, her acquired instinct for salving hats for the men of her
little world, Donna stooped, slapped the pony's leg to make him release
the hat and picked it up. She stood for a few seconds, with the hat in
her hand, looking at him pityingly. The man's brown eyes blazed with
admiration.

"What a woman!" he wheezed. "You're brave--like a man. You came back.
I'd like--to live--to serve you further--"

He gurgled, a red stain appeared at the corners of his mouth, and he
closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again his soul was
shining through and he smiled a little. He did not again attempt to
speak, yet, for all that, Donna heard the man-call to the woman that
belonged to him, the mate for whom he had been destined when the world
was first created. There are in this world personalities so finely
attuned to each other that mere words are unnecessary to express the
feelings of each for the other when first they meet. Between certain
rare souls the gulf of convention may be bridged by a glance; the
divine miracle of a pure and holy love, leaping to life in an instant,
can suffer no defilement by a spontaneous and human impulse to grasp
the precious gift ere life departs.

Some women love at first sight, but the vast majority, lacking the
imagination to perceive, at a glance, the attributes that go toward the
making of a Man, only think they love and delay a conventional period
before yielding. But Donna Corblay had lived so long in sordid,
unimaginative, unromantic San Pasqual that, from much inhibition and
introspection, she was different from most women. She had grown to rely
on herself, to trust her own judgment and to bank on first impressions.
As she faced Bob McGraw now, her first impression was that he was
telling her with his eyes that he loved her, that he had ridden in
behind this string of box-cars to purchase her honor at the price of
his life, because he loved her. And inasmuch as there appeared to be
nothing unusual or unconventional in his telling her this--with his
eyes, Donna was sensible of but one feeling and one desire; a feeling
of gratitude to him for the priceless gift of his love and her honor, a
desire to--

She dropped his hat, wiped the blood from his lips and kissed him.

Bob McGraw smiled wistfully.

"It's worth it," he whispered, "and few women are--worth--dying for."

"You must not die," the girl cried passionately. "You're my Dream Man
and I've waited so long for you and dreamed of your coming! I'll pray
for you, I'll ask God to give you to me--"

An almost fanatical joy beamed in her wonderful eyes, the color had
returned to her cheeks; and to Bob McGraw, faltering there on the edge
of eternity, her radiant regal presence brought a wondrous peace. For a
moment he saw the moonlight reflecting the light in her eyes; a strand
of her hair blew across his face--he smelled its perfume; the
intoxication of her glorious personality caused him to marvel and doubt
his own waning sense of the reality of things. He leaned toward her
hungrily and lapsed into unconsciousness, while his big limp body
commenced to slide slowly out of the slippery saddle. She caught him in
her strong arms, eased him to the ground and knelt there with his red
head in her lap, showering his face with her kisses and her tears. It
was thus that "Borax" O'Rourke, badly blown after his three-hundred-
yard dash, found them.

"Great snakes, young lady, what's happened?" gasped Mr. O'Rourke.

"Three brutes and a man have been killed" she replied.

"What the--who--who's that feller? Are you--"

"Don't ask questions, Borax. I am not hurt, but I have no time to
answer questions. Please remove that car-stake and replace the
velocipede on the tracks."

Her cool demeanor, despite her tears, her terse commands, indicating a
plan for prompt action of some kind, flabbergasted Borax to such an
extent that he commenced to swear very fluently, without for a moment
realizing that there was a lady present. And just at this juncture
Harley P. Hennage arrived.

As might be expected, Harley P. wasted no time catering to the call of
curiosity.

"Let me have him, Miss Donna," he ordered. "We'll put him on the
velocipede and rush him up to the hotel. I'll--"

"No, Mr. Hennage. He belongs to me. Place him on the velocipede and
help me take him home."

"To the Hat Ranch?"

"Yes, of course, I can care for him there, if he lives."

"Why, Miss Donna--"

"Do it, please" she commanded. "I know best. Set him on the little
platform and tie his legs to the reach. Then stand behind him to work
the lever, and let him rest against your knees. I'll follow with the
horse."

"Remarkable! Very remarkable!" soliloquized the big gambler. Without
further ado he proceeded to carry out Donna's orders.

"Borax," Donna continued, "you run up to the drug store and tell Doc
Taylor what's happened. I'll send Sam Singer back with the velocipede
for him."

She gathered the reins in her left hand and swung aboard Friar Tuck.
Harley P., having disposed of his gory burden on the limited
accommodations of the track velocipede, seized the levers and trundled
away, followed by Donna on Friar Tuck, cautiously picking his way
between the ties.

Borax O'Rourke stood for a moment, gazing after them.

"She acts like a mother cat with a kitten" he muttered. "Damned if she
wasn't kissin' the feller--an' him a stranger in town!"

He walked rapidly back to San Pasqual, and such was his perturbation
that he sought to have "Doc" Taylor unravel the puzzle for him.

"Hysterics" was the doctor's explanation.

"Rats" retorted O'Rourke.

"All right, then. It's rats." The doctor grabbed his emergency grip and
departed on the run for the Hat Ranch. Sam Singer met him half-way with
the velocipede.

O'Rourke returned to the Silver Dollar saloon where, since he was a
vulgarian and a numbskull, he retailed his story to the loungers there
assembled.

"I'll never git over the sight o' that girl a-kissing that young
feller" he concluded. "Why, I'd down a hobo every mornin' before
breakfast if I knowed for certain she'd treat _me_ that-a-way for
doin' it."

The situation was canvassed at considerable length, and only the
entrance of the constable with a request, for volunteers to help him
remove the "remainders" that were littering up the right of way below
town, served to turn the conversation into other channels.

Upon their arrival at the Hat Ranch a shout from Harley P. Hennage
brought Sam Singer and Soft Wind to the front gate. Donna dismounted,
tying Friar Tuck to the "zephyr" by the simple process of dropping the
reins over his head, and hurried into the house to prepare her mother's
old room for the reception of the wounded man. Bob McGraw was very limp
and white as Harley P. and the Indian carried him in. The gambler
undressed him while Sam Singer sprang aboard the velocipede and sped
back toward town to meet the doctor.

When the doctor arrived, he and Harley P. Hennage went into the
bedroom, closing the door after them. Donna remained in the kitchen.
She had already ordered Soft Wind to light a fire in the range and heat
some water, and when presently the gambler came out to the kitchen he
nodded his appreciation of her forethought ere he disappeared again
with the hot water and a basin.

In about an hour Doctor Taylor emerged, grip in hand.

"I've done all I can for him, Miss Corblay" he told her. "I'm going up
town to close the drug store and get a few things I may need, but I'll
be back within an hour and spend the balance of the night with him."

"Will he live?"

Donna's voice was calm, her tones hinting of nothing more than a
friendly interest and sympathy; yet Harley P., watching her over the
doctor's shoulder, guessed the stress of emotion under which she
strove, for he, too, had seen her kiss Bob McGraw as he lay unconscious
in her arms.

"I fear he will not. The bullet ranged upward, perforating the top of
his right lung, and went on clean through. I've seen men recover from
wounds in more vital parts, but a .45-caliber bullet did the trick to
our young friend, and a .45 tears quite a hole. He's big and strong and
has a fighting chance, but I'm afraid--very much afraid--of internal
hemorrhage, and traumatic pneumonia is bound to set in."

"He will not die!" said Donna.

The doctor looked at her curiously. "I hope not" he said. "But he'll
need a trained nurse and the best of care to pull through. It's long
odds."

"That young feller's middle name is Long Odds." Mr. Hennage had arrived
at the conclusion that Donna needed a great deal of comforting at that
moment. "He's lived on long odds ever since he came into this country."

"How do you know, Hennage?" the doctor demanded. "I tell--"

"Long odds an' long guns, like birds o' feather always flock together"
the gambler answered him drily, "This young feller wouldn't feel that
he was gettin' any joy out o' life if he didn't tackle the nub end o'
the deal. I'm layin' even money he comes up to the young lady's
expectations."

Donna thanked him with her eyes, and Harley P. crossed to the door and
looked down the long patio to where a small white wooden cross gleamed
through the festoons of climbing roses.

"He ought to have a nurse" the doctor advised Donna.

"Very well, doctor. You will telephone to Bakersfield, or Los Angeles,
will you not, and engage one?"

"I don't think our patient can afford the expense. Hennage frisked him
and all the money--"

"Thank you, I will attend to the financial side of this case, Doctor
Taylor."

Mr. Hennage turned from his survey of the patio.

"Doc," he complained, "it's time for you to move out o' San Pasqual.
You've stayed too long already. You're gettin' the San Pasqual sperrit,
Doc. You ain't got no sympathy for a stranger."

"Well, you don't expect me to put up twenty-five a week and railroad
fare--"

"Never mind worryin' about what you've got to put up with, Doc. If you
know all the things I put up with--thanks, Doc. Hurry back, and don't
forget to 'phone for that nurse."

"Ain't it marvelous how a small camp always narrers the point o' view?"
the gambler observed when the doctor had gone. "Always thinkin' o'
themselves an' money, A man in my business, Miss Donna, soon learns
that mighty few men--an' women, too--will stand the acid. That young
feller inside (he jerked a fat thumb over his shoulder) will stand it.
I know. I've applied the acid. An' you'll stand the acid, too," he
added--"when Mrs. Pennycook hears you kissed Bob McGraw. Ouch! That
woman's tongue drips corrosive sublimate."

Donna blushed furiously.

"You--you--won't tell, will you, Mr. Hennage?"

"Of course not. But that chuckleheaded roughneck O'Rourke will. Why did
you kiss him? I ain't one o' the presumin' kind, but I'd like to know,
Miss Donna."

"I kissed him"--Donna commenced to cry and hid her burning face in her
hands. "I kissed him because--because--I thought he was dying--and he
was the first man--that looked at--me so different. And he was so
brave, Mr. Hennage--"

"That you thought he was a man an' worth the kiss, eh, Miss Donna?"

"I guess that's the explanation" she confessed, the while she marveled
inwardly that she should feel such relief at unburdening her secret to
the worst man in San Pasqual.

"If some good woman had only done that for me" the gambler murmured a
little wistfully. "If she only had! But of course this young Bob, he's
different from--what I was at his age--"

"I couldn't help it" Donna sobbed; "he's one of the presuming kind."

Harley P. sat down and laughed until his three gold teeth almost
threatened to fall out.

"God bless your sweet soul, Miss Donna," he gasped, "go in and kiss him
again! He needs you worse than he does a nurse. Go in an' kiss the
presumin' cuss."

"You're making fun of me" Donna charged.

"I'm not. Can't a low-down, no-account man like me even laugh where
there's happiness? Why, if that young feller goes to work an' spoils it
all by kickin' the bucket, I'd die o' grief."

"You know him, do you not?"

"I should say so."

"Is he--"

"Yes, he's the nicest kind of a boy."

"How old is he!"

"Twenty-eight."

Donna was thoughtful.

"Nice disparity in ages, don't you think, Miss Donna?"

Donna blushed again. "What is his business!" she asked.

"Well, that's a right hard question to answer, Miss Donna. He was a
lawyer once for about a month, after he got out o' college, an' then he
worked on a newspaper. After that, just to prove he was a human bein',
he got the notion that there was money in the chicken business. Well,
he got out o' the chicken business with a couple o' hundred dollars,
an' then he come breezin' into a minin' camp one day an' tried bustin'
a faro bank. Failed agin. I'm responsible for that failure, though. The
next I see of him is a year later, in McKittrick, where he's runnin' a
real estate office an' dealin' in oil lands. But somehow there never
was no oil on none o' the land that Bob tied up, so he got plumb
disgusted an' quit. He was thinkin' o' tourin' the country districts
sellin' little pieces o' bluestone to put in the bowls of kerosene
lamps to keep 'em from explodin', when I see him next. He borrowed
fifty dollars from me--which he ain't paid back yet, come to think on't
--an' went to Nevada minin' an' just at present he's about settled into
his regular legitimate business. He was headed that way from birth. I
could read the signs."

"What is his present profession?"

"He's an Inspector o' Landscapes."

"You're wrong. He's not a Desert Rat."

"He is. I can prove it."

"He's too young. They don't begin to 'rat' until they're close to
forty. I could name you a dozen, and the youngest is thirty-eight."

"Oh, you're thinkin' o' the ordinary, garden variety. But I tell you
this McGraw man's a Desert Rat. The desert's got him. Generally it
don't get 'em so young, but once in a while it does, An' of all the
Desert Rats that ever sucked a niggerhead cactus, the feller that goes
huntin' lost mines is the worst. They never get over it."

Donna permitted herself a very small smile.

"Sometimes they do" she reminded him.

"I wouldn't be surprised. But not until they've found what they're
lookin' for. However, we'll wait an' see if Bob McGraw--like that name,
Miss Donna?"

"I love it."

"We'll wait an' see if he pulls through this, an' then we'll find out
if he can be cured o' desert-rattin'. In the meantime I'll wait here
until Doc gets back. I ain't one of the presumin' kind, but I think I'd
better stay. An' you--I think you'd better go in an' have another good
look at this Desert Rat o' yours. He's breathin' like the north wind
sighin' through a knot-hole."

He watched her disappear.

"For the sight o' a good woman, O Lord, we thank Thee," he murmured,
"an' for the sight o' a good woman with grit, we thank Thee some more.
Great grief, why wasn't I born good an' good-lookin' 'stead o' fat an'
no account?"

At ten o'clock Doc Taylor returned to the Hat Ranch and found the
condition of his patient unchanged. He was still unconscious and his
loud, stertorous breathing, coupled with the ghastly exhaust of air
through the hole on his breast, testified to the seriousness of his
condition. Throughout the night Donna sat by the bedside watching him,
while the doctor remained in the kitchen with Mr. Hennage.

Toward morning Bob McGraw opened his eyes and looked at Donna very
wonderingly. Then his glance wandered around the room and back to the
girl. He was plainly puzzled.

"Where's my horse," he whispered, "and my spurs and my gun and hat?"

Donna bent over him and placed two cool fingers on his lips.

"The hemorrhage has stopped," she warned him, "and you mustn't speak or
move, or you may bring it on again."

"I remember--now. I fired--low--and he--got me. Where's Friar Tuck?"

"Your horse? He's in the corral at San Pasqual, and your gun is in the
kitchen with your spurs, and your hat--why, I guess I forgot to bring
your hat with me. But don't worry about it. I'm Donna Corblay of the
Hat Ranch, and I'll give you your choice of a hundred hats if you'll
only get well."

"Are you--the--girl--that kissed me?"

Donna's voice was very low, her face was very close to his as she
answered him. His lean brown hand stole confidingly into hers--for a
long time he was silent, content to lie there and know that she was
near him.

Presently he looked up at her again, with the same dominating, wistful
entreaty in his brown eyes. She lowered her head until her cheek rested
against his, and his arm went upward and around her neck.

"God--made you--for me" he whispered. "I love you, and my name is Bob
McGraw. I guess--I'll--get well."

"Beloved," she breathed, "of course you'll get well. I want you to."
She smoothed the wavy auburn hair back from his forehead. "Go to sleep"
she commanded. "You can't talk to me any more. I'm going to go to
sleep, too."

She drew a bright Mexican serape over her shoulders, sat down in a
rocking-chair by the side of the bed and closed her eyes. For what
seemed to her a lapse of hours, although in reality it was less than
five minutes, she tried to induce a clever counterfeit of sleep, but
unable longer to deprive herself of another look at her prize she
opened her eyes and gazed at Bob McGraw. To her almost childish delight
he was watching her; and then she noticed his little, cheerful, half-
mocking smile.

She flushed hotly. For the first time she permitted the searchlight of
reason to play on the events of the night, and it occurred to her now
that she had been guilty of a monstrous breach of convention, an
unprecedented, unmaidenly action. She felt like crying now, with the
thought that she had held herself so cheap. Bob McGraw saw the flush
and the pallor that followed it. He read the unspoken thought behind
the changing rush of color.

"Don't feel--that way--about it" he whispered haltingly. "It's unusual
--but then--you and I are unusual, too. There seems to be--perfect--
understanding, and between a--man and a woman that means--perfect
peace. It had to--be. It was preordained--our meeting. What is--your
name?"

Donna again told him.

"Nice--name. Like it."

He closed his eyes and dropped off to sleep like a tired boy.




CHAPTER VI


Donna sat there until sunrise, rocking back and forth, striving to
weave an orderly pattern of reason out of the tangle of unreason in
which she found herself when, confronted by that look in Bob McGraw's
brown eyes. She failed. She could not think calmly. She was conscious
of but one supreme emotion as she gazed at this man who had ridden into
her life, gun in hand. She was happy. Heretofore her life had been
quiet, even, unemotional, always the same--and now she was happy,
riotously, deliriously happy; and it did not occur to her that Bob
McGraw might die. She willed that he should live, for life was love,
and love--what was love? Something that surged, a wave of exquisite
tenderness, through Donna's lonely heart, something that throbbed in
the untouched recesses of her womanhood, arousing in her a fierce,
almost primitive desire to possess this man, to fondle his auburn head,
to caress him, to work for him, slave for him, to show her gratitude
and adoration by living for him, and--if need be--by dying for him!

It occurred to her presently that there was nothing so very unmaidenly
in her action, after all. She felt no distinct loss of womanly reserve
--no crumbling of the foundations of dignity. She still had those
attributes; to-morrow, when she returned to the cashier's counter at
the eating-house, she would still have these defensive weapons against
the invasions of the sensual, smirking, patronizing male brutes with
which every passing train appeared to be filled; the well-dressed,
hard-finished city men, who held her cheap because she presided behind
an eating-house cash-register. How well she knew their quick, bold
stares, their so clumsy subterfuges to enter into conversation with her;
and how different was Bob McGraw to such as they!

Here at last was the reason, unseen and unrecognized at first,
manifesting itself merely in the spontaneous and unconscious shattering
of her maidenly reserve, but distinctly visible now. It was not that
Bob McGraw had come to her out of the desert at a time when she needed
him most; it was not that he came in all the bravery and generous
sacrifice of youth, shedding his blood that she might not shed tears;
it was not the service he had rendered her that made her love him, for
San Pasqual was "long" on mere animal courage. It was the adoration
that gleamed in his eyes--an adoring stare, revealing respect behind
his love--that one quality without which love is a dead and withered
thing.

She knew him now--the man he was. She saw the priceless pearl of
character he possessed. Bob McGraw was a wild, reckless, unthinking,
impulsive fellow, perhaps, but for all that he was the sort of man at
whose feet women, both good and bad, have laid their hearts since the
world began. He was kind. Harley P. Hennage was right. Bob McGraw was a
Desert Rat. But a Desert Rat lives close to the great heart of Mother
Nature, and his own heart is clean.

The dawn-light came filtering across the desert and lit up the room
where she sat. She turned to the bed and saw that Bob McGraw was
watching her again, and on his face was that little, cheerful, mocking,
inscrutable smile.

Again Donna found herself powerless to resist the appeal in the man's
eyes. She was crying a little as she slipped to her knees beside the
bed and laid her cheek against his.

"I can't help it" she whispered. "I seem to have loved you always, and
oh, Bob, dear, you'll be very, very good to me, won't you? You must be
brave and try to get well, for both our sakes. We need each other so."

Bob McGraw did not answer readily. He was too busy thanking God for the
great gift of perfect understanding. Moreover, he had a perforated lung
and a heart whose duties had suddenly been increased a thousand-fold,
if it was to hold inviolate this sacred joy of possession which
thrilled him now. He was alert and conscious, despite the shock of his
wound, and the reserve strength in his six feet of splendid manhood was
coming to his aid. When he could trust himself to speak, he said:

"You're a very wonderful woman."

"But you were laughing at me--a little."

"Not at you, at Fate--the great, big, bugaboo Fate."

"Why?"

"Because I--can afford to. My luck's--turned."

"You dear, big, red-headed philosopher."

"And you--didn't you save my hat?"

"No, dear. Don't worry over such a trifle as a hat. I'll give you a--"

"But this was--a--good hat" he complained. "I paid twenty dollars--"

"Never mind your old hat. Don't talk. I'm selfish. I want to listen to
you, but for all that, you must be quiet."

He sighed. Forget all about that big, wide sombrero--genuine beaver--
that cost him twenty dollars only a week ago? His horse, his saddle,
his hat, his spurs, his gun--he was particular about these
possessions, for in his way Mr. McGraw was something of a frontier
dandy. His calm contempt of life and death amused Donna when she
compared it with his boyish concern for his dashing equipment. Hats,
indeed! Worrying over a lost hat while a guest at the Hat Ranch! If Bob
McGraw could only have understood Donna Corblay's contempt for hats he
would never have mentioned the matter twice.

She gauged the size of his red head with the practiced eye of one who
has sold many hats.

"Seven and a quarter" she mused fondly. "Wouldn't he look splendid in
that big new Stetson that blew in the day before yesterday! You great
big man-baby. I'll save that one for you."

And having decided this momentous question of hats, she kissed him and
went out to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for Doctor Taylor and
Harley P. Hennage.

After having breakfasted at the Hat Ranch, Harley P. Hennage helped
himself to Bob McGraw's automatic gun, reloaded it and walked back to
San Pasqual. He had never carried a gun before, but something seemed to
tell him that he might need one to-day. Borax O'Rourke generally
carried one and if Borax had talked, Mr. Hennage meant to chastise him.
In consequence of which decision, Mr. Hennage, like a good gambler,
decided to fill his hand and not be caught bluffing.

Arrived outside the Silver Dollar, Harley P. immediately found himself
greatly in demand. Borax O'Rourke, having told all he knew, which was
little enough, and aching to supply further details, was the first man
to accost him.

"Well, Hennage," he began, "what's the latest? Any more kissin' goin'
on?"

Mr. Hennage's baleful eyes scouted the mule-skinner's person for
evidence of hardware. Observing none, he said fiercely "You mutton-
headed duffer!" and for the first time within the memory of the
citizens of San Pasqual he had recourse to his hands. He clasped Mr.
O'Rourke fondly around the neck and choked him until his eyes
threatened to pop out, the while he shook O'Rourke as a terrier shakes
a rat. Then, after two prodigious parting kicks, accurately gauged and
delivered, the gambler crossed over to the hotel, leaving the garrulous
one to pick himself out of the dust, gasping like a chicken with the
pip. It is worthy of remark that the discomfiture of Borax O'Rourke was
observed by Mrs. Daniel Pennycook, who having noted from afar the
approach of Mr. Hennage, had endeavored to intercept him first. Judging
from his hasty action that the gambler was not in that state of mind
most propitious to the dissemination of the information which she
sought, Mrs. Pennycook decided to bide her time and returned to her
cottage and her neglected housework.

Mr. Hennage went at once to his room, where he lay down and went to
sleep. Late in the afternoon he was awakened by a knocking at his door.
He sprang out of bed and unlocked the door, and Dan Pennycook came into
the room.

"Hello, Dan" the gambler greeted him. "You look worried."

"You would too, if you knew what I know" replied Pennycook. He sat
down. "Harley, old man, you've laid violent hands on a mighty hard
character."

"Well," retorted the gambler, "ain't that the kind to lay violent hands
on? You wouldn't expect me to choke old Judge Kenny, or that little Jap
laundryman, would you?"

"But O'Rourke is dangerous. He's got two guns reachin' down to his
hocks an' he's tellin' everybody he'll get you on sight."

"Barkin' dogs never bite, Dan. However, I wish you'd carry a message
for me. Will you?"

"Who to?"

"The dangerous Mr. O'Rourke. Tell him from me he'd better go back to
the borax works at Keeler, where he got his nickname, an' take up his
old job o' skinnin' mules. Tell him I'll loan him that roan pony in the
corral, an' he can saddle up an' git. Tell him to send the little horse
back with the stage-driver. I want him to ride out tonight, Dan. Tell
him it's an order."

Pennycook nodded. "If I was you, though, Harley, I'd heel myself."

The gambler opened a bureau drawer and brought forth McGraw's automatic
pistol. He smiled brightly.

"No use givin' orders unless a feller can back 'em up, Dan" he said.
"Thanks for the hint, though. Of course you'll tell Borax privately. No
use arousin' his pride lettin' the whole town know he had to go. He's a
rat, but a rat'll fight when he's cornered--an' I don't want to kill
him."

"I will" replied Mr. Pennycook. "I'd hate to see any more trouble in
this town."

"Thank you, Dan."

"Donna all right?"

"Yes."

"Who's the feller that interfered?"

"Stranger ridin' through."

"Hard hit?"

"Right lung. He'll pull through."

"Hope so" responded the amiable yardmaster, and left. Mr. Hennage got
back into bed and pulled the sheet over him again. But it was too hot
to sleep, so he lay there, rubbing his chin and thinking. Late in the
afternoon he heard the sound of a horse loping through the street
beneath his window. He sprang up and looked out, just in time to see
Borax O'Rourke riding out of town on Bob McGraw's roan bronco.

Mr. Hennage permitted himself a quiet little smile. "Now there goes the
star witness for the prosecution" he mused. "But I'll stay an' tell 'em
Borax was mistaken. I guess, even if I ain't a gentleman, I can lie
like one."

He bathed and dressed and started over to the post-office--not because
he expected any mail, for he did not. No one ever wrote to Mr. Hennage.
But he had seen Mrs. Pennycook dodging into the post-office, and it was
his intention to have a quiet little conversation with the lady.

When he arrived at the post-office, however, Mrs. Pennycook was not in
sight. Mr. Hennage stepped lightly inside, and at that moment he heard
Miss Molly Pickett, the postmistress, exclaim: "Well, for the land's
sake!"

"It's a fact, Miss Pickett. She kissed him!"

The voices came from the inner office, behind the tier of lock boxes.
Realizing that he was in a public place, Mr. Hennage did not feel it
incumbent upon him to announce his presence by coughing or shuffling
his feet. He remained discreetly silent, therefore, and Mrs.
Pennycook's voice resumed:

"She had him taken right down to the Hat Ranch, of all places. Of
course it wouldn't do to bring him up town, where he could be looked
after. Of course not! He might be sent to a hospital and she wouldn't
have a chance to look after him herself. I never heard of such
carryings-on, Miss Pickett. It's so scandalous like."

Miss Pickett sighed. "Who is he?" she demanded.

"That's what nobody can find out. I told Dan to ask Harley Hennage, but
you know how stupid a man is. I don't suppose he even asked."

"Well, all I've got to say, Mrs. Pennycook, is that Donna Corblay's
taking a mighty big interest in a man she's never even been introduced
to. Still, I'm not surprised at anything she'd do, the stuck-up thing.
She just thinks she's it, with her new hats and a different wash-dress
every week, and her high an' mighty way of looking at people. She could
have been married long ago if she wasn't so stuck-up."

"Oh, nobody's good enough for _her_" sneered Mrs. Pennycook. "If a
dook was to ask her she wouldn't have him. She'd sooner make fools of
half the married men in town."

"She thinks she's too good for San Pasqual" Miss Pickett supplemented.

"I suppose she imagines her grand airs make her a lady," Mrs. Pennycook
deprecated, "but for my part, I think it shows that she's kinder vulgar
like."

"Well, what do you think o' last night's performance?" Miss Pickett
demanded.

"I can't think, dearie" murmured Mrs. Pennycook weakly. "I'm so shocked
like. It's hard to believe. I know the girl for a sly, scheming, hoity-
toity flirt, but to think that she'd act so low like! Who told
_you_ she kissed him?"

"Borax O'Rourke."

"He told everybody."

"Well, then, if it's got around, public like, we can't shield her, Miss
Pickett, an' I guess it's no use trying. Water will seek its own level,
Miss Pickett. You remember her mother. Nobody ever knew a thing about
her, an' you remember the talk that used to be goin' around about
_her._"

"The tree grows as the twig is bent" Miss Pickett murmured.

"I'll say this much, though, Miss Pickett" continued Mrs. Pennycook.
"You're a woman an' so'm I, an' you know, just as well as I do, that no
man or set o' men ever looks twice at any respectable woman that goes
right along tendin' to her business. You know that, Miss Pickett. A
man's got to have _some_ encouragement."

"Well" Miss Pickett was forced to remark. "I've been postmistress an'
assistant postmistress here for fifteen years, an' nobody's ever
insulted me, or tried to flirt with me. I can take my oath on that."

"I believe you, Miss Pickett" interrupted Harley P. Hennage serenely.
"Even in a tough town like San Pasqual human courage has its
limitations."

Miss Pickett flew to the delivery window and looked out. Harley P. was
looking in.

"Is that so!" sneered Miss Pickett.

"Looks like it" retorted the gambler. "You're Exhibit A to prove it,
ain't you, Miss Pickett? I hope I see you well, Mrs. Pennycook" he
added.

"So you're back, are you?" Mrs. Pennycook's voice dripped with sarcasm.

"Yes, I've been away three years, but I see time ain't softened the
tongues nor sharpened the consciences o' some of my old lady friends.
You're out late this afternoon, Mrs. P., with your scandal an' your
gossip."

"There ain't no mail for you, Mr. Card Sharp" Miss Pickett informed him
acidly.

"I didn't call for any" the gambler replied, and eyed her sternly. She
quivered under his glance, and he turned to Mrs. Pennycook. "Would you
oblige me, Mrs. Pennycook, with a few minutes of your valuable time--
where Miss Pickett can't hear us talk? Miss Pickett, you can go right
on readin' the postal cards."

"I'm a respectable woman--" Mrs. Pennycook began.

"Well, it ain't ketchin', I guess" he retorted. "I ain't afraid."

"What do you want? If you've got anything to say to me, speak right out
in meeting."

"Not here" the gambler answered. "It'll keep."

He walked out of the post-office and waited until Mrs. Pennycook came
by.

"Mrs. Pennycook, ma'am."

She tilted her nose and glanced at him scornfully, but did not stop.

"It's about Joe" the gambler called after her.

If he had struck her she could not have stopped more quickly. She
turned, facing him, her chin trembling.

"I thought you'd stop" he assured her. "Nothin' like shakin' the bones
of a family skeleton to bring down the mighty from their perch. Bless
you, Mrs. Pennycook, this thing o' bein' respectable must be hard on
the constitution. Havin' been low an' worthless all my life, I suppose
I can't really appreciate what it means to a respectable lady with a
angelic relative like your brother."

The drawling words fell on the gossip like a rain of blows. Her eyelids
grew suddenly red and watery.

"It ain't a man's trick to hammer you like this, Mrs. Pennycook," the
gambler continued, almost sadly, "but for a lady that's livin' in a
glass house, you're too fond o' chuckin' stones, an' it's got to stop.
Hereafter, if you've got somethin' to say about Donna Corblay you see
that it's somethin' nice. You gabbed about her mother when she was
alive, and the minute I saw you streakin' it over to Miss Pickett I
knew you were at it again. Now you do any more mud-slingin', Mrs.
Pennycook, and I'll tell San Pasqual about that thug of a brother o'
yours. He's out o' San Quentin."

"But his time wasn't up, Mr. Hennage," wailed Mrs. Pennycook. "He got
fifteen years."

"He served half of it and was paroled."

Mrs. Pennycook bowed her head and quivered. "Then he'll be around here
again, blackmailing poor Dan an' me out of our savings." She commenced
to cry.

"No, he won't. I'll protect you from him, Mrs. Pennycook. I want to
make a bargain with you. Every time you hear any of the long-tongued
people in this town takin' a crack at Donna Corblay because they don't
understand her and she won't tell 'em all her business, you speak a
good word for her. Understand? And the first thing tomorrow mornin' I
want you to get out an' nail that lie that Donna Corblay kissed the
feller that saved her from them tramps last night. It's a lie, Mrs.
Pennycook. I was there, an' I know. I ordered O'Rourke out o' town for
circulatin' that yarn. Suppose this town knew your twin brother was a
murderer an' a highwayman? Would they keep still about it?"

"No" faltered Mrs. Pennycook.

"I can keep Joe away from you, I have somethin' on him. You'll never
see him again. I'll save you from gossip an' blackmail, but you've got
to take programme."

"I will" Mrs. Pennycook promised him fervently.

"Then it's a go" said Harley P. and walked away. He returned to the
Silver Dollar saloon, smiling a little at the joke in which he had
indulged at the expense of Mrs. Pennycook. He had informed her that he
had "something on" her brother Joe, but he had neglected to inform her
what the "something" was which he had "on" brother Joe. Mr. Hennage
could see no profit in telling her that it was a blood-stained
tarpaulin, under which Mrs. Pennycook's brother reposed, quite dead, in
the back room of the stage stable, to which impromptu morgue Joseph,
with his two companions, had been borne by the committee of citizens
headed by the constable, shortly after the elimination of the trio by
Mr. Bob McGraw.

No, Mr. Hennage, while a man of firmness and resource, was not brutal.
He contrived, however, to avoid identification of the body by keeping
Dan Pennycook from attending the coroner's inquest, for he was a good
gambler and never wasted a trump.

"I never knew there was such fun at funerals" he soliloquized while
returning from the cemetery. He bit a large piece out of his "chewing"
and gazed around him. "Doggone it" he muttered, "if this ain't the
worst town in California for killin's. I never did see such a one-horse
camp with such a big potter's field. If I wasn't a inquisitive old
hunks I'd get out of such a pesky hole P. D. Q. I wouldn't a' come back
in the first place if it hadn't a' been for that Joe person. Dog-gone
him!"

This was quite true. For some months Mr. Hennage had been running a
game in Bakersfield, which, at that time, was a wide open town, just
beginning to boom under the impetus of rich oil strikes. It had been
one of his diversions, outside of business hours, to walk down to the
freight yards once a week and fraternize with the railroad boys. In
this way he managed to keep track of affairs in San Pasqual. Upon the
occasion of his last trip to the freight yards he had spied Mrs.
Pennycook's brother dodging into an empty box-car. Mr. Hennage had seen
this worthy upon the occasion of his (Joe's) last visit to San Pasqual,
the object of the said visit having been imparted to him by Dan
Pennycook himself. Having no money available for the blackmailer, poor
Pennycook had come to Hennage to borrow it. Upon the occasion of the
payment of the loan, Pennycook informed Mr. Hennage joyfully that Joe
was out of the way for fifteen years and Mr. Hennage had rejoiced with
the yardmaster. Hence, when Mr. Hennage observed Joe sneak into the
box-car, he at once surmised that Joe was broke and headed for San
Pasqual to renew his fortunes. Having a warm spot in his heart for Dan
Pennycook, Mr. Hennage instantly decided to follow Joe in another box-
car, which, in brief, is the reason why he had returned to San Pasqual.

Presently Mr. Hennage paused and glanced across the blistering half-
mile of desert, to where the sun glinted on the dun walls of the Hat
Ranch. In the middle distance a dashing girlish figure in a blue dress
was walking up the tracks.

Mr. Hennage's three gold teeth flashed like heliographs.

   "This world is so full o' a number o' things,
    I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings"

he quoted, and walked across to meet her.




CHAPTER VII


Early in the forenoon of the day following Bob McGraw's spectacular
advent into San Pasqual, the nurse for whom Doc Taylor had telephoned
to Bakersfield arrived at the Hat Ranch. She proved to be a kind
middle-aged woman, devoted to her profession and thoroughly competent
to do everything for Bob McGraw that could be done. Her arrival
released Donna from the care of watching the wounded man, and she
rested at last.

It was late in the afternoon before she appeared again in the sick
room, when she was overjoyed to learn of the change in Bob's condition.
There was no further hemorrhage from the wound, although his pulse was
racing at several degrees above normal. He was awake when Donna entered
the room and greeted her with a weak smile of welcome. It may be that
at the moment Mr. McGraw fondly hoped that he might be further rewarded
with another kiss; but if so he was disappointed. Donna favored him
with nothing more tangible than a rather sad, wistful, interested
scrutiny, and then, satisfied that he was making his fight, she turned
to leave the room, whereupon Mr. McGraw, disregarding his nurse's
explicit instructions, presumed to enter into conversation.

"Hello, Donna," he whispered, "aren't you going to speak to a fellow?"

Donna shook her head.

"But I might die" he pleaded piteously. The nurse intervened.

"Nobody's worried over that remote contingency," she retorted, "so do
not endeavor to seek sympathy."

He looked at her so tragically that she could not forbear a little
laugh, as she ordered Donna to leave the room.

"The right of free speech--and free assemblage," Mr. McGraw protested
hoarsely, "is guaranteed to--every American citizen--under the con--"

"Silence!" commanded the nurse.

Mr. McGraw muttered something about gag rule and the horror of being
mollycoddled, sighed dismally and predicted his death within the hour.
Donna left the room and he was forced to amuse himself, until he fell
asleep, watching the antics of an inquisitive lizard which in turn was
watching him from a crack in the sun-baked adobe wall. As for Donna,
the very fact that Bob was still a fighter and a rebel proved
conclusively that within a week he would be absolutely unmanageable.
This thought was productive of such joy in Donna's heart that she
became a rebel herself. In the bright evening she took her guitar and
went out into the patio, where she stood under Bob's window and sang
for him a plaintive little Spanish love song. Donna's voice, while
untrained, was, nevertheless, well pitched, sweet and true, and to Bob
McGraw, who for three years had not heard a woman's voice raised in
song, the simple melody was a treat indeed.

The nurse came out, looked at her and laughed, as who would not; for
all the world loves a lover, and the nurse was very human.

"That's quite irregular, Miss Corblay," she commented, "but in this
particular case I believe it has a soothing effect. Mr. McGraw has
promised me that he will be very good if I can induce you to sing for
him every evening. He said 'Bravo' three times."

"Then he has decided not to die after all."

"I think he has changed his mind."

"I'll sing him to sleep" Donna answered--and forthwith did so. And that
night, when she retired, she could not sleep herself for the happiness
that was hers; that excessive happiness which, more poignant than pain,
is often productive of tears.

The wounded man slept well that night. If he suffered nobody knew it.
In the morning his condition was slightly improved, and after hearing a
most cheerful and favorable report from both doctor and nurse, Donna
decided not to prejudice her position at the eating-house by staying
away another day, and accordingly she set off up the track to the town.
She was half-way there when she observed Harley P. Hennage walking
toward her from the direction of the cemetery.

"Well, Miss Donna," he began as he approached, "how are you after the
battle?"

"Still a little shaky, Mr. Hennage, but not enough to prevent my going
to work. I can count change, to-day, I think."

"Good news, good news. If I was governor of this state I'd declare to-
day a legal holiday. How's the wounded hero? Able to sit up and take
some food?"

"No, no food as yet. Nothing but nutriment. Who ever heard of a sick
man getting anything but that?"

Mr. Hennage showed his three gold teeth. "Ain't Mrs. Pennycook been
down with a plate o' calf's-foot jelly or somethin' o' that nature?" he
asked.

It was Donna's turn to laugh. "I hardly think she'll come. She hasn't
given me a friendly look in three years."

"Well, of course, you haven't needed her," the gambler reminded her,
"but she'll be droppin' in before long, now--Bob McGraw's a stranger
in town, an' entitled to the kindly services o' the community as a
whole, so Mrs. P. can show up at the Hat Ranch under those conditions
without unbendin' her dignity."

"I suppose she is kind enough in her way," Donna began, "but--"

"You don't like her way, eh?"

"I'm afraid I'm inclined to be uncharitable at times."

"Nonsense!" he corrected. "Ain't you been a' nursin' the sick?"

"Yes. Which reminds me that you, also, have been performing one of
the works of mercy. You came from the cemetery, did you no?!"

"Yes, I've been buryin' the dead. They had me as witness on the
coroner's jury last night, an' after the jury decided that it was
justifiable homicide, there was nothin' to do but plant the three o'
'em--before the sun got too high. But let's take up some live topic--"

Again Donna laughed, for while Harley P.'s humor was rather grim, Donna
had lived long enough in San Pasqual to appreciate it. The big gambler
loved to see her laugh, and the thought that she was courageous enough
to enjoy his jest, considering the terrible experience which she had
lately undergone, filled him with manly admiration.

"It's another joke," he began presently, "only this time it's on San
Pasqual. I want to put up a job on the town, an' you've got to help me,
Miss Donna."

Donna gave him a graceful travesty of a military salute.

"'Onward, Heart of Bruce, and I will follow thee,'" she quoted. "But
before you explain your plans, tell me what has poor little San Pasqual
been doing of late to earn your enmity?"

"Nothin' much. The town ain't no worse than any other one-horse camp
for wantin' to know everybody's business but its own. They never found
out any o' mine, though, you can bank on that; and it always hurt 'em
because they never found out any of your poor mother's when she was
livin'. An' since your trouble the other night, they're all itchin' to
learn the name o' the brave that saved you. Some o' the coroner's jury
was for callin' you to testify at the inquest, but considerin' the hard
looks o' the deceased an' what you told me--an' what Borax O'Rourke
told everybody else before he left town yesterday, I prevailed on Doc
Taylor to testify that you weren't in no fit frame o' mind to face the
music, so they concluded to bring in a verdict _muy pronto,_ an'
let it go at that. They tell me there's been a plague o' hard characters
droppin' off here lately, an' anyway, to make a long story short,
the boys rendered a verdict on general principles an' there ain't no
news for the rest o' the town--particularly the women. The way some o'
them women's been dodgin' back and forth between their own homes and
the post-office, you'd think it was the finish of a jack-rabbit drive.
They're just plumb _loco,_ Miss Donna, to find out the name o'
this gallant stranger that saved you. They want to know what he looks
like, the color o' his hair an' how he parts it, how he ties his
necktie, an' if he votes the Republican ticket straight and believes in
damnation for infants."

"I see," said Donna, "and you want to let them suffer, do you?"

"I wouldn't wag my tongue to save 'em" he retorted bitterly. "Now
here's the programme. You've got young McGraw bottled up there at the
Hat Ranch, and I want you to keep him there until he's able to walk
away without any assistance, an' all that time don't you let nobody see
him. I've got Doc Taylor fixed already, which was easy, Doc bein' a
bachelor--an' now if you stand in we'll have 'em goin' south. On
account o' bein' postmistress an' in a position to get all the news,
the town's lookin' to Miss Pickett to produce, an' if she can't
produce, I'm hopin' she'll go into convulsions."

"Mr. Hennage," said Donna, "this is most unworthy of you. I didn't
think you would harbor a grudge."

"Why, you know my reputation, Miss Donna."

"Yes, you're the worst man in San Pasqual. But I'm afraid I can't agree
to enter into this conspiracy."

"Why not?"

"It's unlawful."

"Miss Donna, I'm serious--"

"It's cruel and unusual punishment--"

"I'd light a fire under 'em" said Harley P. ferociously. "Better stand
in, Miss Donna--to oblige me."

"All right, it's a go, if you put it that way."

"Shake! You'll enjoy it, Miss Donna. You'll find yourself real popular
when you get up to the hotel. Some o' the natives was thinkin' o'
bringin' their blankets an' three days' rations, an' campin' in front
o' the hotel until you arrived. Well, good-by, till supper-time. I'm
goin' to breeze along down to the Hat Ranch an' warn the nurse agin
spies an' secret emissaries masqueradin' as angels o' mercy."

He waved his big hand at her and waddled down the track toward the Hat
Ranch. Arrived there, he introduced himself to the nurse and made a few
perfunctory inquiries regarding the condition of her patient, after
which, with many premonitory coughs, he ventured to outline his
campaign as San Pasqual's official news censor. The nurse was not
lacking in a sense of humor, and readily agreed to enlist under the
banner of Harley P.

"An' remember," he warned her, as he prepared to leave, "to look sharp
if you see a forty-five-year-old damsel, with a little bright red face,
all ears an' no chin, like the ace o' hearts. That'll be Miss Pickett.
She'll have with her, like as not, a stout married lady, all gab an'
gizzard, like a crow, an' a mouth like a new buttonhole. That'll be
Mrs. Pennycook. Look out for 'em both. They talk!"

And having played this unworthy trick on the gossips of San Pasqual,
Mr. Hennage returned to town in a singularly cheerful state of mind,
and devoted the balance of the day to the duties of his profession.

That night, when he went to his dinner at the eating-house, he stopped
at the counter to have a little chat with Donna.

"What luck?" he asked.

"I declare I'm almost exhausted. I've been dodging questions and
tripping over hints all day long."

"Miss Pickett come over to offer sympathy."

"Yes."

"Hu-u-um! An' after she went away, I suppose Mrs. Pennycook come in as
thick as three in a bed?"

"She was very nice."

"She'd better be" he remarked, and Donna thought that beneath the
jocularity of his manner she detected a menace.

"What have you heard?" she queried.

"I've heard," he replied deliberately, "that Donna Corblay is harboring
a desperate character in her home."

"I heard something else to-day. While we're gossiping, Mr. Hennage,
I'll tell you the latest--the very latest. It's reported that Dan
Pennycook is drinking."

"No!" Mr. Hennage was concerned. He was fond of Dan Pennycook. "Who
told you!" he inquired.

"He was seen buying a bottle of port wine in the Silver Dollar saloon
this afternoon, and you know his wife is strictly temperance."

"Oh, shucks! There's nothin' to that report. I can account for that
just as easy as lookin' through a hoop. It's goin' to be wine jelly,
after all. I thought maybe it might be calf's-foot, but--" he broke
off. "I wish," he said earnestly, "I could get hold of a low-spirited
billy goat, Miss Donna, an' tie him to your front gate when Mrs. P.
arrives. You want to warn the nurse, Miss Donna. Remember what the old
sharp in the big book says: 'Beware o' the Greeks when they come into
camp with gifts.' Hey, Josephine!"

He hailed his waitress.

"About twenty-five dollars' worth o' ham an' eggs," he ordered, "with
some pig's ear and cauliflower on the side. I ain't had such a big
appetite for my grub since I was a boy."

That evening, when Donna left the eating-house for her home, it seemed
to her that the Hat Ranch must be situated at least ten miles further
from San Pasqual than it had been two days previous. It almost seemed
as if she would never reach the gate that pierced the big seven-foot
adobe wall which shut Bob McGraw in from the prying eyes of the
townspeople; she felt that her heart, over-burdened with its weight of
agonized happiness, must break before she found herself once more
standing by Bob's bed, gazing down at him with a look of proprietorship
and love.

As she stood there, smiling, her face flushed from the exertion of her
rapid walk, her jaunty straw hat casting little vagrant shadows across
her great, dark, sparkling eyes, he awakened and looked up. She was
drawing off her gloves, and one who has ridden in the waste places as
much as had Bob McGraw soon learns that simple signs are sometimes
pregnant of big things. The big thing, as Bob read it then, was the
fact that she had just come home; that she had hurried, for she was
breathing hard. Why had she hurried? Why, to see him, Bob McGraw--and
in such a hurry was she that she had not waited to remove her hat and
gloves. This was all very gratifying; so gratifying that Mr. McGraw
would almost, at that moment, have welcomed a .45 through his other
lung, if thereby he could only make her understand how deeply gratified
he really was--how dearly he loved her and would continue to love her.
He was so filled with such thoughts as these that he continued to gaze
at her in silence for fully a minute before he spoke.

"It's been a long, hot day" he whispered. "I worried. Thought you might
be kept--late--again."

The adorable old muggins! The very thought of having somebody to worry
over her was so very new to Donna, and so very sweet withal, that she
_called_ Mr. McGraw an adorable old muggins, and pinched the lobe
of his left ear, and tweaked the sunburned apex of his Irish nose. Then
she kissed the places thus pinched and tweaked, and declared that she
was happy enough to--to--to _swear!_ "I understand--perfectly"
said Bob McGraw, and there is no doubt that he did. The idea of a
glorious young Woman like Donna swearing was, indeed, perfectly
ridiculous. Of course, nerve-racked tired waitresses and be-deviled
chefs "cussed each other out" as a regular thing up at the eating-house
during a rush, and Donna, having listened to these conversational
sparks, off and on, for three years, felt now, for the first time, as
she imagined they must feel--that the unusual commotion in one's soul
occasionally demands some extraordinary outlet.

"I could beat Soft Wind with the broom, or tip over the stove, or do
something equally desperate" she told him. "I feel so deeply--it hurts
me--here," and she pressed her hand to her heart.

"Think of me," he whispered, "hurt on--both sides. Bullet--hole in--
right lung--key-hole in--my heart."

The blarney of the wretch! Really, this McGraw man was the most forward
person! As if he could ever, by any possibility, love her as she loved
him!

"You great red angel" she said. Then she ruffled his hair and fled out
to the kitchen to investigate the exact nature of the savory concoction
which the nurse was preparing for her invalid. No royal chef, safe-
guarding the stomach of his monarch against the surreptitious
introduction of a deadly poison in the soup, could have evinced a
greater interest in the royal appetite than did Donna in Bob McGraw's
that night. As the nurse was about to take the bowl of broth which she
had prepared, in to her patient, Donna dipped up a small quantity on a
teaspoon and tasted it.

"A little more salt, I think" she announced, with all the gravity of
her twenty years.

The nurse glanced at her for a moment, before she took her glowing face
between her cool palms and kissed the girl on each cheek. Then she
reached for the salt cellar, dropped a small pinch into the soup,
seized the tray and marched out, smiling. She was one of the women on
this earth who can understand without asking--at least Donna thought
so, and was grateful to her for it.

The three weeks that followed, while Bob McGraw, having battled his
way through the attack of traumatic pneumonia incident to the wound in
his lungs, slowly got back his strength, seemed, indeed, the most
marvelous period of Donna Corblay's entire existence. On the morning
after her conversation with Harley P., Mrs. Pennycook, true to the
gambler's prediction, did favor the Hat Ranch with her bustling
presence, and wrapped in a snow-white napkin the said Mrs. Pennycook
did carry the hereinbefore mentioned glass of wine jelly for the
debilitated stranger in their midst. Donna was at the eating-house when
Mrs. Pennycook called, but the nurse received her--not, however,
without an inward chuckle as she recalled Mr. Hennage's warning and
discovered that Mrs. Pennycook's mouth did really resemble a new
buttonhole--as the mouth of every respectable, self-righteous,
provincial female bigot has had a habit of resembling even as far back
as the days of the Salem witchcraft.

For her wine jelly, Mrs. Pennycook received due and courteous thanks
from the nurse personally, and also on behalf of Miss Corblay and the
patient. To her apparently irrelevant and impersonal queries, regarding
the identity of the wounded man, his personal and family history, Mrs.
Pennycook received equally irrelevant and impersonal replies, and when
she suggested at length that she "would dearly love to see him for a
moment--only a moment, mind you--to thank him for what he had done for
that dear sweet girl, Donna Corblay," the nurse found instant defense
from the invasions by reminding Mrs. Pennycook of the doctor's orders
that his patient be permitted to remain undisturbed.

Two days later Mrs. Pennycook, accompanied by Miss Pickett, called
again. Miss Pickett carried the limp carcass of a juvenile chicken, and
armed with this passport to Bob McGraw's heart and confidence, she too,
endeavored to run the guard. Alas! The young man was still in a very
precarious condition, and baffled and discouraged, the charitable pair
departed in profound disgust.

The next day Dan Pennycook called, at Mrs. Pennycook's orders. The
yardmaster, as he bowed to the nurse and ventured a mild inquiry as to
the patient's health, presented a remarkable imitation of a heretofore
conscientious dog that has just been discovered in the act of killing a
sheep. Poor Daniel was easy prey for the efficient nurse. He retired,
chop-fallen and ashamed, and the day following, two conductor's wives
and the sister of a brakeman, armed respectively with a brace of quail,
a bouquet of assorted sweet peas and half a dozen oranges, came,
deposited their offerings, were duly thanked and dismissed.

To all these interested ladies, Donna, at the suggestion of Harley P.
(who, by the way, fell heir to the brace of quail, which he had
prepared by the eating-house chef, and later consumed with great
gusto), wrote a polite note of thanks. This, of course merely served to
irritate an already irritated community, without affording them an
opportunity for what Mr. Hennage termed "a social comeback." He
contracted the habit, during that first week, of coming in to his
dinner earlier, in order that he might hear from Donna a detailed
report of the frantic efforts of her neighbors to get at the bottom of
the mystery. Mr. Hennage was enjoying himself immensely.

After the first week had passed without developments, interest in Donna
and her affairs began to dwindle, for not infrequently matters move in
kaleidoscopic fashion in San Pasqual, and the population, generally
speaking, soon finds itself absorbed in other and more important
matters. Mrs. Pennycook was quick to note that Donna (to quote Mr.
Hennage) was "next to her game," and with the gambler's threat hanging
over her she was careful to refrain from expressing any decided
opinions in the little circle in which she moved.

At the end of the second week the news that development work was
projected somewhere near the town, doubtless by some syndicate whose
operations were so extensive that the work would likely mean a
construction camp conveniently near, swept the Bob McGraw-Donna
Corblay episode completely aside. Rumor, fanned by the eager desires of
the business element of the hamlet, gained headway, despite the fact
that false rumor was all too frequent a visitor to San Pasqual, until
not more than half a dozen people in the town remembered that Donna
Corblay had had an adventure, the details of which they had failed to
unearth.

During those three weeks of convalescence, Bob McGraw's splendid
condition, due to his clean and hardy life on the range and desert,
caused him to rally with surprising rapidity from his dangerous wound.
At the end of ten days he was permitted to sit up in bed and talk
freely, and a few days later with the assistance of the nurse and Sam
Singer he was lifted into a chair and spent a glorious day sitting in
the sun in the wind-protected patio. The slight cough which had
troubled him at first commenced to disappear, proving that the wound
was healing from within, and the doctor announced that at the end of a
month Bob would be able to leave the house.

As the reader may have had cause to suspect earlier in this recital,
Bob McGraw was not the young man to permit the grass to sprout under
his feet in the matter of a courtship. The brief period each evening
which he and Donna spent together served to convince each that life
without the other would not be worth the living. Their wooing was
dignified and purposeful; their love was too pure and deep to be taken
lightly or tinged with the frivolity that too often accompanies an
ardent love affair between two young people who have not learned, as
had Bob and Donna, to view life seriously. Both were graduates of the
hard school of practicalities, and early in life each had learned the
value of self-reliance and the wisdom of thinking clearly and without
self-illusion.

The last week of Bob's stay at the Hat Ranch, under the chaperonage of
the nurse, was not spent in planning for the future, for the lovers did
not look beyond the reality of their new-found happiness. True, Bob had
tried it once or twice, during the long hot days in the patio while
waiting for Donna to return from her work, but the knowledge of his
inability to support a wife, the present desperate condition of his
finances and the unsettled state of his future plans, promptly
saturated his soul in a melancholy which only the arrival of Donna
could dissipate. As for Donna, like most women, she was content to
linger in that delightful state of bliss which precedes marriage. Never
having known real happiness before, she was, for the present at least,
incapable of imagining a more profound joy than walking arm in arm in
the moonlit patio with the man she loved. Without the adobe walls, the
zephyr lashed the sage and whirled the sand with fiendish disregard of
human happiness, but within the Hat Ranch enclosure Donna Corblay knew
that she had found a paradise, and she was content.




CHAPTER VIII


Donna's mail-order library proved a great source of comfort to Bob
during the lonely days at the Hat Ranch. At night she sang to him, or
sat contentedly at his side while he told her whimsical tales of his
wanderings. He was an easy, natural conversationalist, the kind of a
man who "listens" well--an optimist, a dreamer. He was, seemingly,
possessed of a fund of unfailing good-nature, and despite the fact that
the past seven years of his life had been spent far from that
civilization in which he had grown to manhood, in unconventional,
occasionally sordid surroundings, he had lost none of an innate
gentleness with women, that delicate attention to the little,
thoughtful, chivalrous things which, to discerning women, are the chief
charm in a man. And withal he was a droll rascal, a rollicking,
careless fellow who quickly discovered that, next to telling her that
he loved her and would continue to love her forever and ever, it
pleased Donna most to have him tell her about himself, to listen to his
Munchausenian tales of travel and adventure. Did he speak of cities
with their cafes, parks, theaters and museums, she was interested, but
when he told her of the country that lay just beyond the ranges, east
and west, or described the long valley to the north, rolling gradually
up to the high Sierra, with their castellated spires, sparkling and
snow-encrusted; of little mountain lakes, mirroring the firs of the
heights above them, of meadows and running water and birds and
blossoms, he could almost see the desert sadness die out in her eyes,
as she trailed him in spirit through this marvelous land of her heart's
desire.

"When we're married, Donna," he told her, when there came to him for
the first time a realization of the hunger in the girl's heart for a
change from the drab, lifeless, unchanging vistas of the open desert,
"we'll take horses and pack-animals and go up into that wonderful
country on our honeymoon."

She turned to him with glistening eyes, seized his hand and pressed it
to her cheek.

"How soon?" she murmured.

He was silent, wishing he had not spoken. He was a little subdued as he
answered.

"As soon as my ship comes in, Donna. Just at present it seems quite a
long way off, although if nothing happens to upset a little scheme of
mine, it will not be more than a year. Things are very uncertain right
now." He smiled sheepishly as he thought of his profitless wanderings.
"You know, Donna, I've been a rolling stone, and I haven't gathered
very much moss."

"We can wait. I haven't thought much about the future, either, Bob. I'm
just content to know I've got you, and the problem of keeping you
hasn't presented itself as yet."

They were silent, listening to the zephyr whistling around the Hat
Ranch.

"Do you know," she told him presently, "I haven't stopped to gather up
the hats since the night you came. Bob, dear, I'm afraid you're ruining
my business."

He stared at her amazed. "I don't understand" he said.

"I don't gather moss," she taunted him; "my specialty is hats," and
then she explained for the first time the peculiar side-line in which
she was engaged. It was their first discussion of any subject dealing
with the practical side of her life, and Bob was keenly interested. He
laughed as Donna related some homely little anecdote of the hat trade,
and later, after plying her with questions regarding her life, past and
present, the mood for a mutual exchange of confidences seized him and
he told her something of his own checkered career.

Bob McGraw's father had been a mining engineer who had never
accomplished anything more remarkable than proving himself a failure in
his profession. He was of a roving, adventurous disposition, the kind
of a man to whom the fields just ahead always look greenest, and as a
result his life had been a remarkable series of ups and downs--mostly
downs. Bob's mother had been an artist of more or less ability--
probably less--who, having met and fallen in love with McGraw senior in
New York during one of his prosperous periods, had continued to love
him when the fortune vanished. Bob had been born in a mining camp in
Tuolumne county. He had never seen his mother. She died bringing him
into the world. His father had drifted from camp to camp, each
successive camp being a little lonelier, less lively and less
profitable than its predecessor. He had managed to keep his son by him
until Bob was about ten years old, when he sent him to a military
academy in southern California. At eighteen, Bob had graduated from the
academy, and at his father's desire he entered the state university to
study law.

Long before he had waded half-way through the first book of Blackstone,
Bob had become fully convinced that he was his father's son, and that
mining engineering would be vastly more to his liking. It was a
profession, however, upon which his father frowned. Like most men who
have made a failure of their vocation, he dreaded to see his son follow
in his father's footsteps. He was insistent upon Bob following the law;
so to please him young Bob had managed to struggle through the course
and by dint of much groaning and burning of midnight oil, eventually he
was admitted to practice before the Superior Court. Unknown to his
father, however, he had been attending the courses in geology and
mining engineering, in which he had made really creditable progress. He
was unfortunate enough to pass his law examinations, however, whereupon
his father declared that he must make his own way in the world
thereafter. He secured for his son a position in the office of an old
friend, a corporation lawyer named Henry Dunstan, where Bob while not
actively engaged upon some minor detail of Dunstan's large practice had
the privilege of going down into the police courts for a little
practical experience in the gentle art of pleading.

A month later, McGraw, pere, while ascending the shaft of the mine
where he was employed as superintendent, was met by an ore bucket
coming down. Bob closed his office, went up country to the mine and saw
to it that his father was decently buried. Fortunately there was
sufficient money on hand to do this, Bob's parent having received his
pay check only the day before.

There had been no estate for Bob to probate, and his few briefless
weeks scouting around the police courts and acting as a messenger boy
for Henry Dunstan had given him a thorough disgust for the profession
of the law. He left his position with Dunstan and went to work on a
morning paper at fifteen dollars a week. At the end of two months he
was getting twenty--also he was very shabby and in debt. It was his
ambition to gather together sufficient money to enable him to complete
his mining course and secure his degree.

He hated the city; it was not in his nature to battle and grub with his
fellows for a few paltry dollars, and the call of his father's blood
was strong in his veins. Bob was the kind of fellow who likes to make a
heap of his winnings, when he has any, and stake it all on the turning
of a card; if this metaphor may be employed to designate Bob McGraw's
nature without creating the impression that he had, inherited a
penchant for the gaming table. It had been born in him to take a
chance. And the gold fever, inherited from his father, still burned in
his blood. He drifted to Nevada, where he did a number of things--
including the assault on Mr. Hennage's faro bank, which, as we have
already been informed, also resulted disastrously.

These adventures occupied the first two years of Bob McGraw's
wanderings. For the next eighteen months he worked in various mines in
various capacities, picking up, in actual experience, much of the
mining wisdom which circumstances had denied that he should acquire in
college. His Nevada experiences had given him a taste of the desert and
he liked it. There was a broad strain of poetry in his make-up,
inherited perhaps from his mother, and the desert appealed to that
mystical sixth sense in him, arousing his imagination, taunting him
with a desire that was almost pre-natal to investigate the formation on
the other side of the sky-line. It pandered to the spirit of adventure
in him, the purple distances lured him with promise of rich reward, and
the day he made the remarkable discovery that he had saved enough money
to purchase two burros, an automatic pistol, a box of dynamite and the
usual prospector's outfit, he took the trail through Windy Gap and
Hell's Bend into Death Valley.

Here Bob McGraw learned the true inwardness of a poem which he had once
recited as a boy at school. "Afar In the Desert I Love to Ride." Only
Bob walked. And after walking several hundred miles he found nothing.
But he had seen lots of country, and the silence pleased him. Also he
had met and talked with other desert wanderers, with whom he had shared
his water and his grub, and in return they had infected him still
further with the microbe of unrest. He heard tales of lost mines, of
marvelous strikes, of fortunes made in a day, and that imaginative
streak in him, inherited from his mother, fused with the wanderlust of
his father, combined to make of him a Desert Rat at twenty-three.

He came out of the desert, on that first trip, at Coso Springs, and
doubled north along the western edge of the White mountains up through
Inyo county picking, prospecting, starving, thirsting cheerfully as he
went. At the town of Bishop, his stomach warned him that it would be a
wise move to sell his outfit and seek a job; which he accordingly did.
He found employment with a cattle company and went up to Long valley in
Mono county. Here he was almost happy. Life on a cow range suited him
very well indeed, for it took him away from civilization and carried
him through a mineral country. He rode with a prospector's pick on his
saddle, and in addition the scenery just suited him. There was just
enough of desert and bare volcanic hills, valley and meadow and snow-
capped peaks to please the dreamer and lover of nature; there was
always the chance that a "cow," scrambling down a hillside, would
unearth for him a fortune.

Thus a few more years had slipped by. In the summer and fall Bob McGraw
rode range. In the winter he quit his job, invested his savings in two
burros and a prospector's outfit and roved until summer came again and
the heat drove him back to the range once more. He was very happy, for
the future was always rose-tinted and he had definitely located two
lost mines. That is to say, he could say almost for a certainty that
they lay within five miles of certain points. Somehow, his water had a
habit of always giving out just when he got to those certain points,
and when he had gone back after more water something had happened--a
new strike here, a reported rush elsewhere, to lure him on until he was
once more forced to abandon the trail and return to work for his
grubstake in the fall.

This was the man who had ridden into San Pasqual and got as far as the
Hat Ranch; when as usual, something had happened.

He told Donna his story simply, with boyish frankness, interlarding the
narrative with humorous little anecdotes that robbed the tale of the
stigma of failure and clothed it in the charm of achievement. She
laughed in perfect understanding when he described how some desert wag
had placed a sign beside the trail at Hell's Bend at the entrance to
Death Valley. "Who enters here leaves hope behind."

"I saw that sign when I came by, Donna," he told her, "and I didn't like
it. It sounded too blamed pessimistic for me, so when I broke camp next
morning I changed the sign to read 'Soap' instead of 'Hope.'"

Donna's laughter awoke the echoes in the silent patio, and Bob McGraw,
certain of his audience, rambled on. Ah, what a dreamer, what a
lovable, careless, lazy optimist he was! And how Donna's whole nature
went out in sympathy with his! She knew so well what drove him on; she
envied him the prerogative of sex which denied to her these joyous,
endless wanderings. "I love it" he told her presently. "I can't help
it. It appeals to something in me, just like drink appeals to a
drunkard. I'm never so happy as when gophering around in a barren
prospect hole or coyoting on some rocky hillside. But it's only another
form of the gambling fever, and I realize that whether my present plans
mature or not I've got to give it up. It was all right a few years ago,
but now the idea of wandering all my life over the mountains and
desert, and in the end dying under a bush, like a jack-rabbit--no,
I've got to give it up and follow something definite."

Again she patted his hand. She knew the resolution cost him a pang; it
pleased her to learn that he had made it because he realized that he
owed something to himself; not because of the fact of his love for her.

"It won't take you long, once you have made up your mind" she
encouraged him.

"I don't want to be rich," he explained. "When I started out, Donna, I
had that idea. I wanted money--in great big gobs, so I could throw it
around with both hands and enjoy myself. I used to think a good deal
about myself in those days, but five years in the desert and riding the
range changes one. It takes the little, selfish foolish notions out of
one's head and substitutes something bigger and nobler and--and--well,
I can't exactly explain, dear, but I know a little verse that covers
the subject very thoroughly:

    The little cares that fretted me,
    I lost them yesterday
    Among the fields above the sea,
    Among the winds at play,
    Among the lowing of the herds,
    The rustling of the trees,
    Among the singing of the birds,
    The humming of the bees;
    The foolish fears of what might happen,
    I cast them all away
    Among the clover-scented grass,
    Among the new-mown hay,
    Among the hushing of the corn
    Where drowsy poppies nod,
    Where ill thoughts die and good are born,
    Out in the fields with God."

The hint of the desert sadness died out in the girl's eyes as he
declaimed his gospel.

"Oh," she cried softly, "that's beautiful--beautiful."

"That's the Litany of a Pagan, Donna," he answered. "One has to believe
to understand when he goes to church in a city, but if you're a Pagan
like me, you only have to understand in order to believe."

"I am," she interrupted passionately, "I'm a Pagan and the daughter of
a Pagan. My father was a Sun Worshiper--like you."

"Tell me about yourself and your people," he said, and Donna told him
the story with which the reader is already familiar. He questioned her
carefully about Sam Singer and the man who had murdered her father and
despoiled him of his fortune.

"Who was this tenderfoot person?" he asked. "Didn't Sam Singer know his
name?"

"No. We never knew the man's name. When my father left for the desert
he merely told mother that he was going to meet an Eastern capitalist
at Salton. Sam says the only name my father called the man was Boston."

"Boston?"

Donna nodded.

"That means he hailed from Boston, and your father called him that in
sheer contempt. No wonder they fought."

He was silent, thinking over that strange tale of a lost mine which Sam
Singer had told Donna's mother.

"Well, I'm not going to keep on desert ratting until somebody cracks me
on the head and stows me on the shelf" he said presently.

He waved his arm toward the north. "Away up there, a hundred and fifty
miles, I've cast my fortune--in the desert of Owens river valley. I've
cut out for myself a job that will last me all my life, and win or
lose, I'll fight the fight to a finish. I'm going to make thirty-two
thousand acres of barren waste bloom and furnish clean, unsullied
wealth for a few thousand poor, crushed devils that have been
slaughtered and maimed under the Juggernaut of our Christian
civilization. I'm going to plant them on ten-acre farms up there under
the shadow of old Mt. Kearsarge, and convert them into Pagans. I'm
going to create an Eden out of an abandoned Hell. I'm going to lay out
a townsite and men will build me a town, so I can light it with my own
electricity. It's a big Utopian dream, Donna dear, but what a crowning
glory to the dreamer's life if it only comes true! Just think, Donna. A
few thousand of the poor and lowly and hopeless brought out of the
cities and given land and a chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness; to know that their toil will bring them some return, that
they can have a home and a hope for the future. That's what I want to
do, and when that job is accomplished I will have lived my life and
enjoyed it; when I pass away, I want them to bury me in Donnaville--
that's to be the name of my colony--and for an epitaph I'd like Robert
Louis Stevenson's "Requiem":

    Under the wide and starry sky
    Dig the grave and let me lie,

    Glad did I live and gladly die
    And I laid me down with a will.

    This be the verse you grave for me;
    Here he lies where he longed to be;
    Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
    And the hunter home from the hill."

He paused, a little flushed and exalted. Never before had Bob McGraw
unburdened his heart of its innermost secrets, its hopes, its fears,
its aspirations; for a moment now he almost quivered at the thought
that Donna would look upon him as a dreamer, an idealist--perhaps a
fool--he, a penniless desert wanderer assuming to hold in his sunburnt
palm the destinies of the under dogs of civilization--the cripples
too weak and hopeless to be anything more than wretched camp-followers
in the Army of Labor.

He glanced down at her now, half expecting, dreading to meet, the look
of gentle indulgence so common to the Unbeliever. But there was no
patronizing smile, no tolerant note in her voice as she asked simply:

"And this great, beautiful Utopia of yours, Bob--what did you call it?"

"It doesn't exist yet," he explained hastily, "but it--it may. And when
it does become a reality, I'm going to call it Donnaville."

"Why?"

"Because it sounds so much better than Bobville or Robertstown, and
because it will be beautiful. It will be the green fields of God after
centuries upon centuries of purgatory; because it will be the land I've
been telling you about, where you'll find all the things your soul is
hungry for; where we will own a big farm, you and I, with great fields
of alfalfa with purple blossoms; and there'll be long rows of apple and
pear trees and corn and--don't you understand, dear? It will be the
most beautiful thing in the desert. And yet," he added a little sadly,
"I may be beaten into the earth and all my life Donnaville will remain
nothing but a dream, a desire, and so I--I--"

"Nobody can despoil you of your dreams," she interrupted, "and hence
you'll never be beaten, Bob. The dreamers do the world's work. But tell
me. How do you propose to establish Donnaville? Tell me all about it,
dear. I want to--help."

He gave her a grateful glance. "I guess I must be wound up to-night,"
he began, "but it is good to talk it over after hugging it to myself so
many years, and suffering and striving as I have suffered and striven
since I came into this country.

"When I pulled out of Death Valley on my first trip I came into Inyo
from the south and worked up along the base of the White mountains as
far as Bishop. The Owens river valley runs north and south, with the
White mountains flanking it on the east and the high Sierra on the
west. It is from ten to fifteen miles wide, that valley, with the Owens
river running down the eastern side most of the way until it empties
into Owens lake just above Keeler. The lake is salty, bitter, filled
with alkali, boras and soda, and for nearly forty miles above its mouth
the river itself is pretty brackish and alkaline. Away up the valley
the river water is sweet but as it approaches the lake it gathers
alkali and borax from the formation through which it flows. This
renders it unfit for irrigating purposes and at first glance the lower
end of the valley seemed doomed to remain undeveloped unless somebody
led pure water from above down the valley in a big cement-lined canal
and the cost of such a canal would thus render the project prohibitive,
unless the water company which might tackle the job also owned the
land.

"The valley is pure desert, although there are a great many brilliant
green streaks in it, where streams of melted snow water flow down from
the mountains and either disappear in the sands or just manage to reach
the river or the lake. The valley looks harsh and desolate, but once
you climb the mountains and look down into it, it's beautiful. I know
it looked beautiful to me and I wished that I might have a farm there
and settle down. For the next few years, every time I drifted up or
down that valley I used to dream about my farm, and finally I picked
out a bully stretch of desert below Independence, and made up my mind
to file a desert claim of three hundred and twenty acres, provided I
could see my way clear to a water-right that would insure sufficient
water for irrigation.

"There wasn't any alkali in the land that I imagined would be my farm
some day--when I found the water. Of course I didn't want the river
water at this point, on account of the alkali in it, and from the
formation I judged that I wouldn't have much success putting in
artesian wells. Besides, I didn't care to be a lone rancher out in that
desert. I've always been a sociable chap, when I could meet the right
kind of people, and unless I could have neighbors on that desert I
didn't want any farm.

"I scouted for the water all one summer, but didn't find any. However,
just at a time when I was getting ready to come out of the mountains
and hustle for next year's grubstake, I found a 'freeze-out' in the
granite up on the slope of old Kearsarge, and it netted me nineteen
hundred dollars.

"That water question always bothered me. I knew the land was rich--a
pure marle, with lots of volcanic ash mixed with it, and that it would
grow anything--with water. You ought to see that land, Donna. Why, the
sage grows six feet tall in spots, and any desert land that will grow
big sage will produce more fortunes than most gold mines--if you can
only get the water. There the land lay, thousands of acres of it, but
good water wasn't available, so the land was worthless.

"However, Donna, I had wandered around in the desert long enough to
observe that wherever Nature appears to have created a paradox, there's
always a reason. If Nature makes a mistake here, she places a
compensating offset over there. Here was a valley that with irrigation
could be made marvelously fertile at this point, only the river had to
go brackish and alkaline just where it was needed most. I couldn't
develop an irrigation system from any of the little streams that flowed
down the Sierra, because there wasn't enough water, and there was no
place to impound it, even if there had been sufficient water.

"While I was pondering this peculiar situation, a very strange thing
occurred. The lower portion of the valley, including the stretch of
desert on which I had my eye, was suddenly withdrawn from entry and
thrown into a Forest Reserve by the Department of the Interior. It was
a queer proceeding that--including a desert timbered with sage-brush
and greasewood in a Forest Reserve. Withdrawing from entry lands that
would not even remotely interest settlers!

"I thought this over a great deal, and by and by I began to see the
light. I had suspected from observation and personal experience that
there was a powerful private influence at work in the state land
office, and by reason of their seeming control of the office were
engaged in looting the state of its school lands which were timbered.
In the congressional investigation into certain land frauds in
California, it was discovered that the men accused of the frauds had
been aided by corrupt minor officials in the General Land Office--
clerks and chiefs of certain bureaus, whom the land-grabbers kept on
their private pay-rolls. This was a matter of public record.
Fortunately for the government, however, it has generally managed to
secure for the head of the Land Department able and incorruptible men
to whom no taint of suspicion attached--men whom the land-grabbers dare
not attempt to corrupt.

"At the outset, I strongly suspected that the corrupt influence, which
presumably had been exposed and punished in former investigations, was
nevertheless still at work. The suspicion that grossly erroneous
reports, intentionally furnished the General Land Office by officials
of the Forestry Department in California, was responsible for the
inclusion of the desert in the Forest Reserve, strengthened into belief
the more I thought it over. I thought I could detect in this
hoodwinking of the Department of the Interior, through the agency of
some local official, who had been 'reached' by the land ring, the first
move in a well-planned raid on the public domain, _through the state
land office._

"I quietly investigated the surveyor-general of the state, who is also
ex-officio Registrar of the State Land Office. I discovered that he was
a man of unimpeachable public and private life. I discovered also that
he was in ill health, and had been during the greater portion of his
tenure in office; that he rarely spent more than two hours each day in
his office; that frequently he was away from his office for a month at
a time, ill, and that the office practically was dominated by his
deputy. The surveyor-general was a quiet, easy-going man, advanced in
years and inclined to take things easy, and the upshot of my
investigations confirmed me in the belief that he was taking things
easy--too easy--and that his wide-awake deputy was doing business with
the land ring, by virtue of his unhampered control of the office and
the implicit confidence reposed in him by the surveyor-general.

"There could be but two reasons for this ridiculous action by the
Department of the Interior in thus including a desert in a Forest
Reserve. Either an error had been made by the local forestry officials
in defining the boundaries of the reserve, and thus reporting to the
General Land Office, or the job was intentional. If the former, the
error would be discovered and the boundaries rectified.

"Well, a year passed and the boundaries were not rectified, despite the
fact that I wrote half a dozen complaining letters to the General Land
Office. The answer was easy. The land-grabbers had subsidized somebody
and my letters never got to headquarters. So I knew a big job was about
to be pulled off. I guessed that the land-grabbers had solved the water
problem further up the valley and were scheming to get control of the
lower valley and lead the water to it, and while developing their water
supply they wanted the land denied to the public. There was always the
chance that some smart nester would come, file on a half-section and
start boring artesian wells. If he struck water, the news would travel
and other settlers would come in and take a chance, and before long
there might be a hundred settlers in there. There would be no reason to
fear that they would stay forever, unless they got a big artesian flow
on every forty acres, and knew they could get water in sufficient
quantity. But they would have found water and it would have taken say
three years for them to discover that their claims could not support
them, Nesters are a dogged breed of human. It takes a nester a long
time to wake up to the fact that he's licked, and until they woke up,
the nesters would be liable to block the water wheels of a private
reclamation scheme.

"Then, too, if it should become bruited abroad, while the valley was
open for entry, that water for irrigation was being developed up the
valley, settlers could have flocked in down the valley--and waited for
the water. A nester is patient. His life is spent in waiting. Under the
desert land laws one can file on three hundred and twenty acres, or a
half-section, pay twenty-five cents per acre down and then wait four
years before being compelled to file with the land office the proof of
reclamation that will entitle him to final patent to his land. The land
ring, of course, knew this, and by their corrupt influence had so
maneuvered to hoodwink the General Land Office that the valley had been
withdrawn from entry. When they had protected themselves from
prospective settlers, it would be safe for them to develop their water
away up the valley. When they were ready, it would be easy enough, to
suddenly discover that a desert valley had, by some stupid error, been
included in a Forest Reserve, the boundaries would be readjusted
immediately, the valley once more thrown open for entry and--dummy
entrymen, Johnny-on-the-spot, to file on the land for the water
company! Within the statutory limit of four years the water company
would have had time to extend its canals and laterals, the dummy
entrymen would have been able to show proof of reclamation and secure
their patents, and after waiting a year, perhaps to preserve
appearances, they would, for a consideration, gradually transfer their
holdings to the water company, Within five years, the water company
would have owned the entire valley, would have reorganized, called
themselves a land and irrigation company and gone into the real estate
business, selling five to twenty acre farms, with a perpetual water
right, at prices ranging from three to five hundred dollars per acre.

"I didn't, of course, know who was behind the game, but I knew the
rules by which it would be played. I'm more or less of a mining
engineer, Donna, and it's part of a mining engineer's business to know
the laws relating to the public domain. I could see that unless I
developed water first and filed on the land first, I would never get my
farm in the valley without paying dearly to the thieves who had stolen
from me my constitutional right to it.

"Hence, for the past two summers, Donna, I've been up in the Sierra
looking for water. It seemed to me that with so many mountain lakes up
there below the snow-line, I must find one that I could tap and bring
the water down into my valley. If Nature made a mistake in the valley,
she would compensate for it up in the mountains, and I had an abiding
faith that if I searched long enough I'd find the water.

"I circled around mountain lakes where in all probability no human foot
but mine had ever trod. I crawled along the brink of a chasm three
thousand feet deep, and crossed a glacier crevice on a rawhide riata. I
camped three nights on a peak with so much iron ore in it that when an
electrical storm came up it attracted the lightning and struck around
me for hours. I crawled and crept and climbed; I fell; I was cut and
bruised and hungry and cold; but all the time I was up there in the
mountains I could look on the valley--my valley--and it was beautiful
and I didn't mind.

"A big thought that had been in the back of my brain for a long time
came to me with renewed force while I was up there in those Inyo Alps--
the thought that if I could find the water it would be riches enough
for me. But I wanted the land, too--not merely a half-section for
myself, but the whole valley--only I didn't want it for myself. It
would only be mine in trust, a sacred heritage that belonged to the
lowly of the earth, and I wanted to save it for them. I could see them
all at that moment, the roustabouts, the laborers and muckers, the
unskilled toilers of the world. It was the hewers of wood and the
drawers of water that I wanted that valley to bloom for; the poor, poor
devils whose only hope is the land that gave them birth and life and
would receive them in its bosom when they perished. Ten acres of that
lonely thirsty land, waiting there for me to reclaim it from the ruin
of ages--ten acres of my desert valley and some water and an equal
chance--that's what I wanted for each of my fellow-Pagans, and I made
up my mind to get it for them from the robber-barons that planned to
steal it.

"It comforted me a whole lot, that thought. It gave zest to the battle,
and made the prize seem worth fighting for. And I guess the God of a
Square Deal was with me that day, for I found the water. I discovered a
lake a mile wide and nearly five miles long, fed by countless streams
from the melting snow on the peaks above. I walked around it, but I
couldn't find any outlet, and yet the lake never seemed to have risen
higher than a certain point. This puzzled me until I discovered a
sandstone ledge half-way around its eastern edge, and through a
gigantic crevice in this sandstone the water escaped. When the lake
rose to the edge of this crevice, during the summer when the snow was
melting up on the face of old Mount Kearsarge, the surplus flowed off
into some subterranean outlet, probably emerging at the head of some
canyon miles away on the other side of the range. This lake was hemmed
in by hills, and between two of these hills a canyon dropped away sheer
to the desert two thousand feet below. I made careful estimates and
discovered that by shooting a tunnel three hundred feet through the
country rock at the head of this canyon I would come out on the other
side of the place where the two hills met, and pierce the lake below
this sandstone crevice. I could drain the lake until the surface of the
water gradually came down to the intake, when I could put in a concrete
pier with an iron head-gate and regulate the flow. Even in winter when
the lake was frozen over I would have a steady flow of water, for my
tunnel would tap the lake below the ice.

"Having found the water, my next move was to go down into the valley,
into the great, hot, panting hungry heart of Inyo to protect the land
for my Pagans. At the land office in Independence I registered my
filing and turned to leave, just as a clerk came out and tacked a
notice on the bulletin board. I read it. It was the customary notice to
settlers that the lower valley had been withdrawn from the Forest
Reserve and would be thrown open to entry at the expiration of sixty
days from date.

"I went to the feed corral, where I had kept Friar Tuck all summer,
while I was up in the mountains. I paid my livery bill, threw the
saddle on Friar Tuck and headed south, for I knew that if I was to turn
robber baron and steal the valley for my Pagans I'd have to hustle. I
got to San Pasqual one night three weeks ago--and here I am."

Donna was silent. For perhaps a minute she gazed into his tense, eager
face.

"What will it cost to drive that tunnel?" she queried finally.

"With me superintending the job and swinging a pick and drill myself, I
estimate the cost at about five thousand dollars."

"And how long does your right hold good before commencing operations?"

"The law allows me a year."

"And you have five weeks left in which to plan your campaign to acquire
the land?"

"Five weeks. And I'm about to attempt an illegal procedure, only I'm
going to do it legally. I want to tie up fifty sections on that valley
--aggregating 32,000 acres. I have money enough in bank at Bakersfield
after paying my expenses here, to accomplish that. If I can tie that
land up, my water-right is worth millions. If the other fellows get the
land, they will buy my water-right at their own figures, or starve me
out and acquire the right when I am forced to abandon it by reason of
my inability to develop it; or failing that they will proceed on their
original plan and lead their own water down the valley in canals.
Without the water the land is worthless, and without the land my water-
right is practically worthless--to me. To control that 32,000 acres of
desert I will have to put up the purchase price of $40,000 for the men
I induce to file on the land, and after paying the filing fee of $5 and
the initial payment of $20 on each of the fifty applications for the
land, I'll be in luck if I'm not left stranded at the State Land
Office."

"But can you accomplish this in opposition to the land ring, if you
secure all the money you will require?"

"No" he answered. "The plan I have outlined is a mere contingency. In
order to carry it out, I must get my filings into the land office
before theirs--and they control the land office."

"Then, how can you hope to succeed?"

Bob smiled. "Hope doesn't cost anything, Donna. It's about the only
thing I know of that can't be monopolized. A man can hope till he's
licked, at least, and despite the fact that I have neither money nor
corrupt influence, I have a long chance to win. I have one grand asset,
at least."

"What may that be?" queried Donna.

"All anybody ever needs--a bright idea."




CHAPTER IX


Bob McGraw threw back his red head and chuckled. "A bright idea,
sweetheart," he repeated, "and if it works out and I am enabled to file
first, the problem of getting back to the desert will be a minor one.
The real problem is the acquisition of four or five thousand dollars to
drive my tunnel, and after that I must scrape together thirty-nine
thousand dollars to advance to my poor Pagans, in order that they may
pay for the land on which I shall have induced them to file. In the
meantime I do not anticipate any diminution in the appetites of myself
and Friar Tuck.

"Well, after I have my tunnel driven and the head-gates in and my
Pagans have the land, I have only started. The land must be cleared of
sage and greasewood, which in turn must be piled and burned. Then I
must build several miles of concrete aqueduct, with laterals to carry
the water for irrigation, and I must install a hydro-electric power-
plant, purchase telegraph poles, string power lines, build roads,
houses, barns and fences. I think I shall even have to build one
hundred and fifty miles of railroad into Donnaville and equip it with
rolling stock."

He thrust both arms out, as if delving into the treasures of his
future. "Whew-w-w!" he sighed. "I'll need oodles of money. I'm going to
be as busy as a woodpecker in the acorn season."

Donna drew his arm within hers and they walked slowly--up and down the
brick-lined patio.

"It means a fight to the finish, Bobby dear--and you're terribly
handicapped. If your suspicions are well founded you will find yourself
opposed by men with the power of wealth and political influence behind
them."

His whimsical exalted mood passed. In the presence of the girl he loved
and whom he hoped to marry he suddenly realized that he stood face to
face with a gigantic sacrifice. To carry through to a conclusion,
successful or unsuccessful, this great work to which he had set his
hand meant that until the finish came he must renounce his hope of
marriage with Donna. True, he might win--but it would take years to
demonstrate that victory was even in sight; if he lost, he felt that he
could never have the heart to ask her to share with him his poverty and
his failures.

An intuitive understanding of his thoughts came to Donna at that
moment; she realized that under that gay, careless exterior there beat
the great warm heart of a man and a master, on whom, for all his youth
and strength and optimism, a great load of care was already resting--
the destiny of his people. She realized that he needed help; she
thought of her insignificant savings (some six hundred dollars)
reposing in the strong-box of the eating-house safe, and the first
impulse of her generous heart was to offer him these hard-earned
dollars. In the task that Bob McGraw had set himself, moral support was
a kindly thing to offer, but dollars were the things that counted!

However, to offer him financial aid now, no matter how badly he
required money, would not avail. The dictates of his manhood would not
permit him to accept, and until God and man had given her the right to
make the offer she must remain silent.

"I can wait here until you're ready to come for me, Bob," she said
bravely. "It's a big task--a man's work--that you're going to do, and
win or lose, I want you to fight the good fight. I know the kind of man
I want to marry. If he starts anything that's big and noble and worthy
of him, I want him to finish it--if he wants to marry me. Success or
failure counts but little with men like you; it is only the fight that
matters, and there are some defeats that are more glorious than
victories. Remember that little jingle, dearie:

    The harder you're hit, the higher you bounce,
    Be proud of your blackened eye.
    It isn't the fact that you're licked that counts,
    But how did you fight--and why?"

"You quoted your Pagan's Litany to me to-night, sweetheart. I
want you to be true to it. I don't know a thing about desert land laws
and riparian rights, but I do know that if you sold your Pagans into
bondage for money to marry me, I'd be ashamed of you--and disappointed.
Don't let your love for me weaken your defenses, Bob. If you win I want
to live with you in Donnaville, but if you lose--I want you to make me
a promise, Bob."

"You wonderful woman! What is it--you wonderful, wonderful woman?"

"I'm asking for a promise, dear."

"I'll grant it."

"If you lose, you'll come to me and we'll be married despite defeat and
failure, and you'll live here, with me--at the Hat Ranch until--"

"Oh, Donnie, girl, I couldn't do that!"

"I understand your point of view. Perhaps you think me bold--or
unconventional. But a woman has certain rights, Bob. She should be
given the right to outline her own ideas of happiness, regardless of
tradition and ancient usage, provided she conforms to all of the law,
legal and moral. If you go forth to battle and they slaughter you, I
claim the right to pick up your poor battered old heart and give it the
only comfort--I mean, if I have to wait, I love you enough to work with
you--and for you--when further waiting is useless--"

She pressed her face against his great breast and commenced to cry.

"I have never been really happy until you came" she sobbed. "We're
young, Bob--and I do not want to wait--for happiness--until the
capacity for it--is gone."

He patted the beautiful head, soothing her with tender words, and it
was characteristic of the man that in that instant he made his
decision.

"Within six weeks I shall know how long the fight is to last, Donna. If
I can put through a scheme which I have evolved to secure that land
without recourse to the desert land laws--if I can get my applications
filed first in the State Land Office--I shall have won the first battle
of the war. If I fail to do this I shall have lost the land, and
without further ado I shall sell my water-right to the best possible
advantage. The enemy may conclude to pay me a reasonable price for it,
rather than declare war and delay the development of their land. The
power possibilities of my water-right are tremendous and I think I can
force a good price, for I can poke away at my tunnel and by doing the
assessment work I can keep my title alive for a few years. Of course,
in the event that I should, after the lapse of years, be financially
unable to develop my water-right, or interest others in it, I should
lose it and they would grab it, no doubt. But they will buy me out, I
think, rather than brook delay."

She raised her face, transfigured through the tears.

"Then, win or lose--"

"Win or lose, if you desire it and I can scrape together the price of a
marriage license, we'll be married in six weeks.

"I'm so tired of the desert, dear. I'm lonely."

"A little like Br'er B'ar, eh, darling! You want to see the other side
of the mountain." He pressed her to him lovingly. "Of course" (with
masculine inconsistency Bob was beginning to equivocate) "I may not be
able to sell my water-right and the enemy may elect to play a waiting
game and starve me out. In that case, it would not be fair to you to
burden you with a husband whose sole assets are his dreams and his
hopes."

"That makes no difference" she exclaimed passionately. "We're young.
We'll fight the rest of the battle together."

"Well, there's strength in numbers, at any rate, beloved. You're my
mascot and I'm bound to win." He placed his left hand under her chin
and tilted her face upward. He was stooping to seal their compact with
a true lover's kiss, when the sound of footsteps startled them. Both
turned guiltily, to confront Mr. Harley P. Hennage.

"Hah-hah," puffed Mr. Hennage, "at it again, eh?" He stood at the
corner of the house, with his three gold teeth flashing in the
moonlight.

"Kill-joy!" hissed Bob McGraw. "His Royal Highness, Kill-joy the
Thirteenth!"

Harley P. shook a fat forefinger at the lovers. "If I was a young
feller, Bob McGraw--"

"Mr. Hennage, you're an old snooper, that's what you are!" cried Donna.
"You're all the time snooping."

"Explain this unwarranted intrusion, Harley P. Hennage" Bob demanded,
as he advanced with outstretched hand to greet the gambler. "I'll have
you know that in approaching this ranch hereafter, you will be required
to halt at the front gate and whistle, cough, stamp your feet, yell or
fire six shots from a Colts revolver--"

"You mean a presidential salute o' twenty-one twelve-inch guns"
retorted Harley P. "I ain't no snooper. I've wore corns on my hands a-
bangin' that there iron gate to announce my approach, an' it wasn't no
use; so I just made up my mind you was ready to receive me an' I come
ramblin' in. Donnie, you know I ain't one o' the presumin' kind."

He held out a hand to Bob and another to Donna. "How?" he queried, and
made swift appraisal of Bob McGraw from heels to hair. "You've filled
out a whole lot since the last time I seen you standin' up. How's
tricks?"

"Great. I'll be out in a day or two."

The gambler nodded his approval of this cheerful news. Donna brought
out another chair and the trio sat in the secluded patio and talked
generalities for ten minutes. Donna knew that Mr. Hennage must have
some reason for calling other than a mere desire to pay his respects to
Bob, and presently he unbosomed himself.

"Our mutual friend, Miss Pickett, has a notice pasted up on the wall o'
the post-office, advertisin' a registered letter for one Robert McGraw."
The gambler tittered foolishly. "Ain't a soul can tell Miss Pickett who
the feller is or where he's at, except me an' Doc Taylor an' Miss
Donna--an' we're all swore to secrecy, so I come down to scheme out a
way to bell the cat--meanin' Miss Pickett" he added, apparently as an
afterthought.

"A letter for me?" Bob was surprised. "Why, it's years since I have
received a letter. I wonder who could know that I might be found in San
Pasqual I didn't tell anybody I was headed this way, and as a matter of
fact I hadn't intended staying here beyond that first night."

"Well, there's a letter there all right," reiterated Mr. Hennage, "an'
if I was called on to give a guess who sent it I'd bet a stack o' blue
chips I could hit the bull's eye first shot. A dry, purse-proud
aristocrat, with gray chin whiskers an' a pair o' bespectacled blue
lamps that'd charm a Gila monster, they're that shiny, lined up at the
Silver Dollar bar the other day an' bought a drink for himself. Yes, he
drank alone--which goes to prove that men with money ain't always got
the best manners in the world. Well, after stowin' away his little
jolt, he comes fussin' around among the boys, askin' which one of 'em
is Mr. Robert McGraw. Of course he didn't get no information, an'
wouldn't 'a got it if the boys had it. So he goes down to see Miss
Pickett, an' bimeby me an' him meets up in front o' the eatin' house,
an' he up an' asked me if I could tell him who owns that little roan
cayuse kickin' up his heels over in the feed corral.

"Of course, I seen right off that Miss Pickett had her suspicions an'
had sicked this stranger onto me; so when he informed me that he'd been
told I knew the name o' the little hoss' owner, I told him I did--that
the little roan hoss belonged to a Mexican friend o' mine by the name
o' Enrique Maria Jose Sanchez Flavio Domingo Miramontes.

"He give me a sour look at that. 'Well, that don't correspond none with
the initials on the saddle' he says.

"'Shucks,' I says,'that don't signify nothin'. Mexicans is the biggest
hoss thieves living besides, I ain't feelin' disputatious to-night, so
I'll just close up my game an' go get my scoffin's.'

"'But I must find this man' he says, 'It means a great deal to him--an'
me.'

"'What do you call a great deal?'

"'Money' he says.

"I says: 'See here, pardner, don't you go givin' no money to no
Mexican, because he'll only gamble it away on three-card monte.'

"'I don't mean your Mexican friend,' he says, like a snappin' turtle,
'I'm after a man named Robert McGraw,'

"'Oh,' I says, 'you mean that red-headed outlaw from up country? Why I
didn't know he was wanted. What's it this time? He ain't got himself
mixed up in more trouble, has he?'

"'I prefer to refrain from discussin' the details,' says this wealthy
gent, 'with a perfect stranger.'

"'Oh, very well' I says. 'I didn't seek this interview, but when you
mentioned the hoss I could tell by the look in your eye that McGraw's
been robbin' you o' somethin'. Well, you might own that hoss, but
you've got to prove property. McGraw sold the hoss to Enrique an' lit
out for Bakersfield, an' I won the hoss from Enrique at faro. I been
keepin' him in the corral in order to give the Mexican a chance to buy
him back. But McGraw's not in town. He won't be here for a week or two
yet.'

"'Thank you, my man,' says he, an' pulls a card, just about the time I
was gettin' ready to pull his nose. 'If you should see Mr. McGraw, you
might be good enough, to tell him he can learn of somethin' to his
advantage by communicatin' with me right away.'

"'Well, my man,' I says, 'I do hope it's an alibi,' an' I took the card
an' he went back to Miss Pickett. I want to tell you, children, that
any time Miss Molly thinks she can spring a secret out o' me she's got
to go some."

Mr. Hennage chuckled, produced a white square of cardboard and handed
it to Bob. Donna, leaning over his shoulder, read:

MR. T. MORGAN CAREY PRESIDENT INYO LAND & IRRIGATION COMPANY, 414-422
SOUTHERN TRUST BUILDING, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

"I've heard of that fellow before," mused Bob, "and it strikes me his
name is associated with some unpleasant memory, but I can't recall just
what it is. However, I can hazard a good guess as to what he desires to
see me about. I'm glad you didn't tell him where I might be found,
Hennage. It was thoughtful of you. I do not care to meet T. Morgan
Carey--yet."

"Well," said Mr. Hennage, "he's a smart man an' smells o' ready money.
However, I wasn't goin' to give him no information until I'd talked
with you first, although my main idea was to throw Miss Pickett off the
scent. I'm goin' up to Bakersfield to-night, Bob, and just to keep up
appearances, you give me an order for that registered letter, datin'
the order from Bakersfield, to-morrow, an' I'll mail that order from
Bakersfield to myself in San Pasqual. Then to-morrow night when I get
back I'll go to the post-office for my mail. I ain't had a letter come
to me in ten years. Miss Pickett'll give me the letter, I'll open it
right in front o' her an' flash the order for the registered letter,
an' the old gossip'll be annoyed to death to think she's lost the
trail."

When presently Bob went into the house to write the desired order for
Harley P., Donna and the gambler were left alone for a few minutes.
Instantly Mr. Hennage became serious.

"Looky here. Miss Donnie," he said, "Bob McGraw's free, white an'
twenty-one an' he can play his own hand. I ain't one of the presumin'
kind an' I hate to tell any man his own business, but if twenty years
o' gamblin' an' meetin' all kinds an' conditions o' men ain't made me as
fly as a road-runner, then that there artesian well is spoutin' mint
juleps. Say, Miss Donnie, if ever I see a cold-blooded, fishy, snaky,
ornery man, it's this T. Morgan Carey--an' at that he's a dead ringer
for a church deacon. That Carey man would steal a hot stove without
burnin' himself. Now, this young Bob is an impulsive cuss, an' if he
has any dealin's of a money nature with this sweet-scented porch-
climber that's on his trail, you take a tip from Harley P. Hennage,
Miss Donnie, an' act as lookout on Bob's game. Miss Donnie, I can tell
a crook in the dark. Let a crook try to buck my game an' I have him
spotted in a minute. I just _feel_ 'em."

"Thank you, Mr. Hennage. I have great faith in your judgment."

"Well, generally speakin', I call the turn, if I do say so myself."

He sat there, his bow-legs spread apart, his hands folded across his
ample abdomen, staring thoughtfully at the little white cross down at
the end of the garden.

"You're a heap like your mother" he said presently, and sighed.

When Bob returned with the order for the registered letter, Mr. Hennage
tucked it carefully in his side coat pocket; then from his rear hip
pocket he produced Bob McGraw's automatic gun.

"I took charge o' this the night o' the mix-up" he explained as he
returned it. He looked hard at Bob. "When you're ready to toddle about"
he added, with a lightning wink and a slight movement of his fat thumb
and forefinger, as if counting a stack of imaginary bills, "send Sam
Singer up to let me know. _Comprende, amigo?"_

Bob smiled at this sinful philanthropist. "Not necessary, old man--
if you'll drop in at the Kern County Bank and Trust Company in
Bakersfield to-morrow and get me a check-book. I have owed you fifty
for three years and I'd like to square up."

"Sure you ain't bluffin' on no pair?"

"Thank you, Harley. I have a small stake."

"Well, holler when you're hit." He waved his hand and departed with a
"_Buenas noches,_ children."

Scarcely had the gate slammed behind him when Bob turned to Donna with
beaming face.

"They're after my water-right, sweetheart--they're after it already!"
His exultant laugh rang through the patio, "I knew I was treading on
somebody's toes when I filed on that water, Donna. By George, I must
investigate T. Morgan Carey and ascertain the kind of man I have to
fight."

"He came here looking for you a week after you arrived. Doesn't that
seem strange? How did he discover you had a water-right, investigate
it, ascertain its value and then, come seeking you, all in the course
of one week?"

"That is very easily explained, Donna. It merely verifies my suspicions
that there is a ring of land-grabbers operating in this state, which
ring controls some official of the State Land Office and keeps on its
pay-roll an employee in every United States land office in California.
The moment I filed on that water, T. Morgan Carey was notified by his
tool in the State Land Office that Robert McGraw (I gave my address as
Independence, Inyo county) had filed on one hundred thousand
miners' inches of water for power and irrigation. Now, there isn't that
much non-alkaline water available anywhere in the valley--at least
under the control of one man or one corporation, and of course it
frightened Carey. He wired his field engineer, who was probably in Inyo
county at the time, to investigate. The engineer found my location
notices tacked to a cottonwood tree right where I'm going to drive my
tunnel, and he immediately reported to Carey that the location was very
valuable. Also he wired my name and general description and probably
stated that the last seen of me I was headed south for the railroad on
a roan bronco. They've traced me by my horse to San Pasqual, and now
they're trying to find me with a registered letter; very probably
acting under the advice of Miss Pickett, who, apparently, is an elderly
bird and not to be caught with Harley P. Hennage's chaff.

"It's absurdly simple, dear. They want my water, for they must
eliminate competition, and they want to tie me up before I have an
opportunity to sell to somebody who realizes the value of my holdings.
Up Inyo way they know me for a range rider, a desert rat, a ne'er-do-
well, and it may be they are under the impression that I am like most
of my kind--that I can be mesmerized by the sight of four or five
thousand dollars."

"Harley P. will give me your letter to-morrow night and I'll bring it
home with me. We'll know definitely, then, what to expect. In the
meantime, Bob, I think you've dreamed enough for one night. You've been
up all day and you've talked and it's time you went to bed."

"'Talk'" he echoed, "talk! That's what. I've been talking--talk. But
when I clash with T. Morgan Carey's company I'll talk--turkey. If
you'll kiss me good-night, Donna, I think I can manage to last until
morning."

Late the following afternoon Harley P. Hennage returned from
Bakersfield and at once went to the post-office and secured Bob's
registered letter. He brought it over to Donna at the eating-house,
delivering with it a pantomime of the inquisitive Miss Pickett when she
discovered that the order for delivery of the registered letter to the
gambler was dated and mailed from Bakersfield.

At dinner Bob read the letter and silently handed it over to Donna. It
was from T. Morgan Carey. On behalf of the Inyo Land & Irrigation
Company Carey requested the favor of an interview at an early date to
take up with Bob the matter of purchasing his newly acquired water-
right on Cottonwood lake, or submitting a proposition for consolidation
with, certain rights held by his company. He begged for an early reply.

"Will you reply to his letter?" Donna queried.

"Yes. I shall write him that my location is not for sale."

"Then write it from Bakersfield" Donna suggested. "Harley P.'s
reputation is bad enough, but you mustn't convict him of lying."

Three days later Bob's strength had so far returned that Doc Taylor
told him he might leave San Pasqual whenever he pleased. Bob realized
that a longer stay at the Hat Ranch, while inviting enough, would
nevertheless prove expensive, by reason of the retention of his nurse,
for Donna could not continue to entertain him unchaperoned, even in
such a free-and-easy town as San Pasqual, and he was fearful that a
longer stay, even under the prevailing conditions, might prove
embarrassing to Donna, in case interest in his affairs should revive;
hence he announced his determination of going up to San Francisco to
recuperate and complete his plans for the acquisition of thirty-two
thousand acres of the public domain in the desert of Owens river
valley.

Donna did not endeavor to dissuade him. She realized that a longer stay
was impossible, much as both desired it, and Bob had his work to do and
not a great deal of time in which to do it. Accordingly Bob issued a
check to Doc Taylor that evening in payment of his fee, dismissed his
nurse and paid her off, and left with Donna another check, to be cashed
by Harley P. Hennage and the proceeds applied to the care and
maintenance of Friar Tuck until Bob's return to San Pasqual.

During the afternoon Bob dispatched Sam Singer to Harley P. Hennage
with a request for a shaving outfit, a shirt, underwear, a necktie and
a new suit of khaki. Armed with information respecting the physical
dimensions of Mr. McGraw, the gambler had attended to Bob's shopping,
and upon Donna's return to the Hat Ranch that night she discovered that
during her absence a transformation had taken place. Bob was arrayed in
his new habiliments, and paraded up and down the patio for the
inspection of Donna and the nurse.

"Well, Donna" he called to her, "how do I look? Presentable? I know I'm
feeling clean and respectable again, at any rate, and I've asked Sam
Singer to bury that ruin of rags I wore into town."

"Your gun hangs below the tail of your khaki coat."

"Then I'll tuck it up under my arm."

Donna helped him remove the coat, after which he buckled the belt over
his right shoulder, permitting the gun to hang securely in the holster
under his left arm.

"Now, I don't look so confoundedly woolly and western" he said. "I do
hate to go about looking like the hero of a dime novel. I suppose if a
tourist saw that gun hanging down he'd think I was bloodthirsty. It
would never occur to him that a gun comes in handy in the wilderness."

"Why not leave it here until your return?"

Bob grinned. "It's a good gun, Donna. I might be able to pawn it for
enough to help out on my return trip. Of course I have a watch, but its
hockable value is negative. When I was very young I was foolish enough
to have my initials engraved on the case, but of course I know better
now--by George, Donna girl, I haven't any hat!"

She flashed him one of her rare wonderful smiles. "I was waiting for
you to make that discovery" she said. "You lost your hat the night you
arrived in San Pasqual, but I haven't worried about it. I've been
saving a splendid big sombrero for you, Bob."

She went to her room, returning presently with a "cowboy" hat that must
have been the joy and pride of the tourist who sacrificed it to the San
Pasqual zephyr. She pinched it to a peak and set it jauntily on his
auburn head, then stood off and surveyed him critically.

"It's a dear" she announced.

"Looks dear, too" he replied whimsically. "Must have cost the original
owner a month's board. Whew! That's a bird of a hat, Donna girl. Thank
you. It's as good a hat as I'll ever own."

He sat down forthwith, turned back the sweat-band, moistened it
slightly and with the stub of an indelible pencil wrote his name in
full. He had ridden range long enough to acquire the habit of branding
his property, and in that land of breeze and sunshine he knew the
dangers that beset a maverick hat.

That night they walked together in the patio for the last time. Neither
felt inclined to conversation, for the thoughts of each were occupied
with dreams of the future, and the tragedy of that farewell lay heavy
upon them. Lover-like, each exacted from the other a promise to write
every day, and that important detail finally settled, Donna found it
easy enough to be brave and let him go.

At eleven o'clock Sam Singer appeared in the patio to announce his
willingness to trundle Bob up to San Pasqual on the same trackwalker's
velocipede upon which Bob had arrived at the Hat Ranch. The nurse was
not to leave until the next day, and being a discreet woman, and kindly
withal, she had had the delicacy to bid her patient farewell in the
patio. Donna accompanied him to the front gate, and there Bob with many
a fervent promise to take good care of himself--and not to forget to
write every day, took her in his arms, kissed her quickly before the
tears should have a chance to rise, and was gone.

She watched him stride slowly through the gloom to the velocipede
waiting on the tracks; she saw him climb aboard. Then the Indian's body
bent over the levers and the machine glided away into the night. She
stood at the gate and watched it until it vanished; she waited until
Twenty-six came thundering by at eleven-thirty-five and heard the grind
of the brakes as the long train pulled up at the station. Five minutes
later she heard it pull out of San Pasqual, with many a short and
labored gasp, casting a lurid gleam across the desert as it sped
northward into Tehachapi Pass, carrying Bob McGraw forth to battle, to
fight for his land and his Pagans.

When the last dim flicker of the green tail lights had disappeared
Donna retired to her room and cried herself to sleep. Once more she was
left to battle alone with the world, and the days would be long until
Bob McGraw came back.

Three hours after leaving Donna Corblay at the Hat Ranch, Bob McGraw
alighted from the train at Bakersfield and went at once to a hotel. He
arose late the next morning, breakfasted in the most appalling
loneliness and later wended his way weakly to the bank where his meager
funds were on deposit. Here he had his account balanced and discovered
that his total fortune amounted to a trifle over sixteen hundred
dollars, so he closed out his account and purchased a draft on San
Francisco for the amount of his balance, less sufficient money to pay
his current expenses.

This detail attended to, Mr. McGraw next proceeded to do what he had
always done when in a civilized community--spend his money recklessly.
He went back to the hotel, called Donna on the long-distance phone and
frittered away two dollars in inconsequential conversation. However, he
felt amply rewarded for the extravagance when Donna's voice--deep,
throaty, almost a baritone--came to him over the wire; the delighted,
almost childish cry of amazement which greeted his "Hello, Donna girl"
was music to his soul.

Bob was the kind of man who always thinks of the little things. He knew
Donna had gone to work that morning feeling blue and lonely, and the
substitution of that mood for one of genuine happiness for the rest of
the day Mr. McGraw would have considered cheap at the price of his
great toe or a hastily plucked handful of his auburn locks. As for
money--bah! Had it been his last two dollars it would have made no
difference. He would have telephoned just the same and trusted to
heaven to rain manna for his next meal.

But Bob McGraw was nothing if not an impetuous lover. Even in the case
of one who, like himself, had plans afoot where every dollar counted,
we might pardon readily the expenditure of two dollars on conversation,
in view of the extraordinary circumstances; but Mr. McGraw's next move
savors so strongly of the veal period of his existence that no amount
of extenuating circumstances may be adduced in defense of it. While the
promoter of Donnaville was a true son of the desert, he was college-
bred, and with the sight now, for the first time in several years, of
trolley cars, automobiles and people wearing clean linen, old memories
surged up in Mr. McGraw's damaged breast, and despite the fact that his
long legs were now weak and wobbly from the premature strain of his
journey from the hotel to the bank and back again, he fared forth once
more and pursued the uneven tenor of his way until he found himself in
a florist's shop.

Here no less than six dozen red carnations caught Mr. McGraw's fancy,
the purchase price of which, in addition to the express charges prepaid
to San Pasqual, further denuded him of ten dollars. Into the heart of
this cluster of fragrance he caused to be secreted a tiny envelope
enclosing a card, upon which he had drawn a heart with a feathered
arrow sticking through it; and for fear this symbolic declaration of
undying devotion might not be sufficient, he scrawled beneath it: "Love
from Bob."

Ah, if he could only have seen Donna's face when the express messenger
next door brought that votive offering in to her! Red carnations were
not frequent in San Pasqual. It was the first lover's bouquet Donna had
ever received and she bent low behind the cash register and kissed the
foolish little card, for the hand of her Bob had touched it! The
carnations she bore home to the Hat Ranch in triumph, and two weeks
later when Soft Wind, a stranger to romance, threw them out, Donna
wept.

His mission of love finally accomplished, Bob returned to his hotel and
went to bed. Late that afternoon he arose, much refreshed, dined and
waited around the lobby until it was time for the bus to leave for the
north-bound train.

By nine o'clock next morning he was in San Francisco. He found frugal
lodgings in a third-class hotel, and after writing a letter to Donna,
he went down town, purchased a suit of "store" clothes, and spent the
balance of the day in the public law library.

By nightfall Bob had saturated his brain with legal lore bearing on
every feature of the laws governing the acquisition of lands in the
public domain, and was satisfied that the hazy plan which he had
outlined was not only within the law, but really did have some vague
elements of feasibility. The beauty of Bob's plan, however--the part
that appealed to the sporting instinct in his ultra-sporty soul--lay
in the fact that it would cost him only fifteen hundred dollars to try!
Twelve hundred and seventy-five in preliminary payments, filing fees
and notary's fees, and the balance in hotel bills, traveling expenses,
etc.; but as an offset to his comparatively brilliant prospects of
going hungry and ragged there was the dim, long chance that he
_might_ win millions, provided his venture should be attended with
a fair percentage of supernatural luck. That was all Bob McGraw had to
cheer him on to victory--a million-to-one chance; yet, such was his
peculiar mental make-up, the terrific odds only proved an added
attraction.




CHAPTER X


Now; in order to insure even perfunctory understanding of the procedure
under which Bob McGraw planned to acquire his lands, and to give an
inkling of the difficulties confronting him, it is necessary that the
reader take a five-minute course in land law. This is regrettable, for
it is a dry subject, even in the matter of swamp and overflow lands, so
we shall endeavor to make the course as brief as possible.

Section sixteen and thirty-six in each township throughout the United
States are commonly designated as "school lands," for the reason that
the Federal government has ceded them to the various states, to be sold
by the states for the use and benefit of their public school funds.
School lands are open to purchase by any citizen of the United States,
and in the case of California school lands the statutory price is one
dollar and twenty-five cents per acre.

Now, frequently it happens that by reason of the inclusion of certain
of these "school lands" in a Forest Reserve, a Reclamation District, an
Indian Reservation, a National Park, a Government Military Reservation
or an old Mexican grant (which latter condition obtains very frequently
in California, where the titles to many huge grants still hold since
the days of the Mexican occupation) they are lost to the state. In such
cases, the Federal government reimburses the state suffering such loss
of school lands, by extending to the state the privilege of selecting
from the public lands within its borders an acreage corresponding to
the acreage thus lost by reason of inclusion in a restricted area.

The lands thus selected from the public domain in exchange for school
lands lost to the state, having been taken in lieu, thereof, are known
as "state lieu lands," and the lands which were originally state school
lands and which have been lost to the state by reason of their
inclusion in some restricted area, are spoken of as the "basis" for the
exchange.

If a citizen of the United States, duly qualified, desires to purchase
state school lands at the statutory price of one dollar and twenty-five
cents per acre, he must file his application for a section, or such
fraction thereof as he may desire, or be entitled to purchase, with the
surveyor-general of the state, who is also ex-officio registrar of the
State Land Office. If there are no school lands open for purchase at
the time, naturally they cannot be purchased; but if, on the contrary,
the state owns many sections of school lands which have been included
in restricted areas, the surveyor-general will select for the applicant
from the public domain such state lieu lands as the purchaser may
desire. However, no such selection of lieu lands can be made by the
surveyor-general unless there is a corresponding loss of school lands
_as the basis for the selection._

Now, this basis constituted the horns of a dilemma upon which Bob
McGraw had once found himself impaled in an attempt to purchase three
hundred and twenty acres of timbered land in the public domain--land
which he knew would, in the course of a few years, become very
valuable. Bob's restless nature would not permit of his taking up the
claim under the homestead law, for that would entail residence on the
property for more years than Bob could afford to remain away from his
beloved desert; hence he decided to acquire it by purchase as state
lieu land at a time when he knew there were no available school lands
lying outside restricted areas. Mr. McGraw saw an attractive profit in
purchasing at one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre three hundred
and twenty acres of timber worth fully fifty dollars per acre.

Thrilled, therefore, with most pleasurable anticipations, Mr. McGraw
had duly filed his application for purchase of this particular half-
section, under Section 3495 of the Political Code of the State of
California. He knew that, owing to the recent extension of the Forest
Reserve policy, thousands of acres of school lands had recently been
lost to the state, and that therefore, under the law, there could be no
legal hindrance to his purchase of lieu lands--particularly in view of
the fact that there were several hundred thousand acres of government
lands within the state from which to make his selection!

To Bob's surprise, his application for the purchase of lieu lands had
been denied, under a ruling of the State Land Office--a ruling having
absolutely no foundation under any section of legislative procedure--
which stipulated that before the State Land Office could receive or
grant an application for the purchase of lieu lands, the intending
purchaser _must first designate the basis of corresponding loss to
the state of school lands._

"Bless my innocent soul," Mr. McGraw had murmured at the time, "what a
curious rule! I had a notion that that was the surveyor-general's
business, not mine. I had a notion that he was paid for compiling that
information for the people, and not forcing them to compile it for
themselves."

However, in no whit daunted by the prospect of a little research work,
Bob had had recourse to the land maps in the office. To his surprise
and chagrin he discovered that as fast as he brought to light a "basis"
for his selection, he was informed, after some perfunctory
investigation by the employees of the State Land Office that these bases
_had already been used!_ Eventually the light of reason began to
sift through the fog of despair and suddenly Bob had a very brilliant
idea.

"Euchred!" he muttered to himself. "I do not happen to possess the
requisite amount of inside information and I have no means of obtaining
it until I ascertain where it is for sale! The purpose of this
ridiculous rule is to keep the rabble out of the public domain until
some middleman gets a profit out of his information. I'll just give up
for the time being and await results."

Bob did not have long to wait. Within a week he received a letter from
an alleged land attorney, offering to locate him on state lieu lands
worth fifty dollars per acre, in return for the trifling payment of one
dollar and twenty-five cents per acre to the state and the further
trifling payment of ten dollars per acre to the purveyor of information
respecting the necessary basis for the exchange!

At the time this procedure had struck Bob as rather humorous. He was an
ardent admirer of genius wherever lie saw it, and even this exhibition
of evil genius, which so adroitly deprived him of his constitutional
right to the public domain without the payment of a middleman's profit,
rather aroused his admiration. At the time he was not financially
equipped to argue the matter calmly, clearly--and judicially, and he
had no money to pay for "inside information." He only knew that the
rule requiring applicants to designate the basis was an office-made
rule and had no place in Mr. McGraw's copy of the Political Code of the
State of California.

    And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the knave

caroled Bob, and charged the matter up to experience, not, however,
without first storing the incident away in his nimble brain for future
reference.

Now, while recovering from his wound at the Hat Ranch, Bob had brooded
much over the difficulties which would without doubt assail him in his
attempt to acquire his lands in Owens river valley; also he had figured
out to his own satisfaction the exact method by which the land-grabber
was enabled to grab; or, provided the grabber did not care to retain
his grab, how he could nevertheless derive tremendous profits from his
control of certain officials in the State Land Office. Therefore, after
his day spent in the public law library in San Francisco, Bob's brain
was primed with every detail of the land laws, and had confirmed his
original interpretation of the land-grabbers' clever schemes to
defraud. However, not satisfied with his own opinion, he decided to
seek a little expert advice on the subject, and to that end he went the
following morning to his father's old friend and his own former
employer, Homer Dunstan, the corporation attorney, whom he knew to be
an authority on land law.

He sent in his name by Dunstan's stenographer, and presently Dunstan
appeared in the reception room. He welcomed his old friend's failure of
a son in a manner which bespoke forced heartiness, for old sake's sake,
and a preconceived impression that the ill-dressed, pale Bob McGraw had
come to him to borrow money. They shook hands and stood for a moment
looking at each other.

"Glad to see you again, Bobby, after all these years. You've grown.
Where in the world have you been ranging since I saw you last?" Homer
Dunstan was forcing an interest in Bob McGraw which he was far from
feeling, and Bob was not insensible to this.

He grinned. "Drifting, Mr. Dunstan--just drifting. Mines and mining--
mostly the latter; there's a difference, you know. It's my inheritance,
Mr. Dunstan, despite all poor old dad did to make me follow in your
footsteps. So I've quit bucking the inevitable and turned wanderer. Do
you happen to be engaged with a client just now?"

"Well--no, not just this minute. Perhaps if you'll call--"

"No, I will not call later. My motto is 'Do it now.' Seeing that you're
regularly in the business of dispensing legal advice, I'd like to take
advantage of the ever-active present." He pulled from his hip pocket a
tattered wallet and produced a hundred-dollar bill. "Mr. Dunstan, how
much expert legal advice can you give me for that?"

Dunstan's manner underwent a swift metamorphosis. "Oh, put back your
money, boy. I have an hour to spare this morning, and for your father's
sake my advice to you will always be given gratis on Mondays and
Fridays."

"Glad I called on Friday, even if it is an unlucky day. Your generosity
knocks that superstition galley-west, so I'll take you at your word.
Also I will gladly retain this century. To tell the truth I have urgent
need of it for other things," and he followed Dunstan into the latter's
private office. Dunstan indicated an easy chair and presented his ex-
assistant with a fifty-cent cigar.

"Well, Bobby, my boy, what's on your soul this morning?"

"A very heavy weight, Mr. Dunstan. Desert land. Acres and acres of it."

"Any water?"

"Not yet."

"Any prospect?!"

"I have it bottled up, and it's all mine. Now I want the land."

"Well?"

"I want to acquire thirty-two thousand acres of state lieu land in
Owens river valley, Mr. Dunstan."

"You cannot do it."

"Well, suppose there was a rule in the State Land Office which forced
prospective purchasers of state lieu lands to first designate the basis
of exchange before their applications would be received and filed.
Suppose also that you wanted to turn crook and steal thirty-two
thousand acres of lieu land, despite this rule. How would you go about
it?"

The lawyer glanced at him keenly. "See here, son, I don't give that
kind of advice to young fellows--or old fellows for that matter--even
for money. I'm an honest corporation attorney, and stealing the public
domain is illegal--and very, very risky."

"Don't worry, sir. When I have your advice, I will not follow it. Tell
me how you would steal this land. It's a hypothetical question."

Dunstan smiled. "That's unfair--attacking a lawyer with a hypothetical
question. It's rather hoisting him on his own petard, as it were.
However, I'll answer it. In the first place, if I planned to go into
the business of looting the public domain I would conspire with some
prominent official of the State Land Office to institute such a rule."

"Good. Somebody conspired with a surveyor-general forty years ago and
had such a rule instituted in the State Land Office. The state
legislature, however, has never been asked to confirm that rule and
spread it in black and white on the statute books."

"Well, having had such a rule instituted" continued Dunstan, "I would
then have the public at a disadvantage. Through my friend in the land
office I would have primary access to the field notes of the chief of
staff in the field, and I would have advance information of where
losses of school lands were soon to occur. In other words I would be in
position to designate every basis of exchange of lost school lands for
lieu lands, and the public would not. I'd give some weak brother say
one hundred dollars to file on some lieu lands and use the basis which
I would designate, and in the meantime I would hustle around, secure in
the knowledge that I had the basis tied up. It would appear of record
as used in the state land office. When I had secured a customer for the
lieu land I had tied up with my dummy applicant, the dummy would
abandon his filing in favor of my client, I would collect the
difference between the statutory cost of the land and the price my
client paid me for it, whack up with my friends in the land office and
consider myself a smart business man."

Bob nodded. "I figured it out that way also. Now, suppose an outsider--
myself, for instance--succeeded in getting his application filed
without designating the basis for the exchange of lands, and the
surveyor-general has issued me a receipt for my preliminary payment of
twenty dollars on account of the purchase of the lieu land--what then?
When he discovered I was an outsider, could he reject my application?"

"Well, he might try, Bob. But with his receipt in your possession, that
would be bona-fide evidence of an implied contract of bargain and sale
between you and the State of California. You could institute a mandamus
suit and force him to make the selection of lieu lands for you."

"I figured it out that way" said Bob musingly. "The only rift in the
surveyor-general's lute is the fact that while he has never yet bumped
up against the right man, he is due to so bump in the very near future.
However, Mr. Dunstan, I do not think our present surveyor-general is
doing business with the land ring. I think the guilty man is one of his
deputies through whom ninety-nine per cent of the office routine is
transacted, and the land-grabbers have him under their thumbs."

"Then why not go direct to the surveyor-general with your troubles?"
queried Dunstan.

Bob shook his head. "No hope in that direction. The office records show
all bases used, and the deputy--the surveyor-general, in fact--can find
defense for their arbitrary ruling in the matter of designation of the
basis--by claiming that their office force is not large enough to
permit of such extended search of the records; hence they turn their
records over to the applicant of lieu lands and let him search for
himself. The surveyor-general, being honest, will be hard to convince
that his deputy is not--particularly since the deputy is probably an
old friend."

"It's a peculiar condition" said Dunstan. "The worst that can happen to
the deputy is to lose his job, the dummy entryman can abandon his
filing at any time he may elect, and there is no law making it a felony
to accept money in exchange for information--if you do not state where
you acquired it. How are you going to stop this looting?"

"I'm not quite certain that I want it stopped--right away" said Bob,
and grinned his lazy inscrutable smile. "I want to do a little grabbing
myself, only I want to do it legally. I have a scheme worked out to do
this, but I want you to confirm it. Just now you schemed out a plan to
get public lands illegally, and you ought to be able to scheme a plan
to get them legally, operating on the state lieu land basis. I want
thirty-two thousand acres of desert land and the law only allows me a
selection of six hundred and forty. I want to get this thirty-two
thousand acres without corrupting any weakling in the employ of the
state, without paying money to dummy entrymen, without designating the
basis for the selection of my fifty sections, without antagonizing the
land ring and without disturbing that rule of the State Land Office,
can it be done?"

Dunstan frowned at his visitor. "Of course it cannot be done" he
retorted sharply. "Why do you ask me such fool questions?"

"Because it might be done--with a little luck and some money."

Dunstan shook his head. "There is only one way for you to acquire
desert land, Bob, without disturbing the rule in that land office.
You'll have to file on a half-section only, under the Desert Land Law
of the United States of America, paying twenty-five cents per acre down
at the time of filing your application. Then you must place one-eighth
of it under cultivation and produce a reasonably profitable crop. You
must spend not less than, three dollars per acre in improvements, and
convince the government that the entire tract, if not actually under
irrigation, is at least susceptible to it. That accomplished, you can
pay the balance of one dollar per acre due on the land, prove up and
secure a patent. That's the only way you can secure desert lands
without doing some of the things you wish to avoid doing."

Bob shook his head. "Too slow, too expensive and generally
irritating. Why, I'd have to live on the land until I could prove up!"

"Well, then, Bobby boy, put your scruples behind you and pay somebody
to live on it and prove up for you." "No use" mourned Bob. "I can see
myself at the head of a long procession of desert-land enthusiasts,
bound for McNeill's Island, and I'm too young to waste my youth making
little rocks out of big ones. Even if the attorney-general didn't have
me on the carpet, I'd have to ride herd on one hundred dummy entrymen
with a Gatling gun, or else equip each one with an Oregon boot. My land
lies in a devil's country and I don't think they'd stay. You see, Mr.
Dunstan, were it not for that confounded rule I mentioned, I could
purchase a full section of desert land in the public domain, under the
provisions of the state lieu land law. Under that law the land would
only cost me one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre, while under the
United Slates Desert Land Laws it would cost me not less than four
dollars and a quarter per acre. Too much money for Bob McGraw. Now,
Owens river valley is pure desert, Mr. Dunstan, and it lies, or will
lie, very shortly, in the public domain. It is not agricultural land,
neither is it coal-bearing nor timbered, so I can purchase it by the
full section, which will only require fifty entrymen. Besides, there
have never been any entries made heretofore in the section of the
valley that I have my eye on, and I'd like to get my land in one strip
without having it checker-boarded with adverse holdings."

Dunstan smiled a little wearily. "But we're not getting anywhere, Bob,
my boy. You're simply wasting your breath. Just what nebulous idea for
the acquisition of this desert land have you floating around in that
red head of yours? Now, then, proposition Number One."

"I cannot oppose that rule. I must sneak my applications in and get
them filed and secure a receipt, when I will be in position to force
the attorney-general to make the selections for my clients."

"Oh, they're clients, eh?" said Dunstan. "I thought they were to be
dummy entrymen."

"They are--but they don't know it--and not knowing it, they will not be
committing a crime."

"Ignorance of the law excuses nobody, Robert. But proceed with
proposition Number Two."

"My clients are to be paupers--so I must pay for the land which they
will file upon. Hence I shall need money."

Homer Dunstan figured rapidly on a desk pad.

    Notarial fees on fifty applications @ $  .50 $  25.00
    Filing fees    "   "     "          @   5.00   250.00
    First payment      "     "          @  20.00  1000.00
                                          _______________
                                          Total, $1275.00

"It will take $1275 to start you off, Bob, presuming, for the sake of
argument, that your filings are accepted--which, of course, they will
not be."

"Oh, I have the twelve seventy-five, all right" said Bob confidently.

"Well, after your applications are passed to patent, you will have to
put up $780 more for each section, or $39,000 in all. Have you provided
for this additional sum?"

"Why, no sir. I was going to ask you to lend it to me."

"Indeed! Well, assume that I'm that soft-headed, Bobby, and proceed to
proposition Number Three."

"Well, under the law, my applications must be acted upon within six
months after filing. The surveyor-general must approve or disapprove
them within six months, and if he approves them--"

"Which he will not" promptly interjected Dunstan.

"I'll sue him and make him. Well, when the applications are sent on to
the Commissioner of the General Land Office at Washington for his
ratification of the exchange of the lieu lands, they may be hung up
there a long time--years, perhaps--"

"Certainly. The land ring will see to that."

"Then, don't you see, Mr. Dunstan" said Bob, brightening, "I'll have
lots of time to get that balance of $39,000 together."

"I'm so glad" said Homer Dunstan. "Then I won't have to lend you the
money after all. Well, when you're an old man, Bobby, and that red
head of yours is snowy white, your lands will be passed to patent
and--"

"But the peculiar thing about this operation, Mr. Dunstan, lies in the
fact that the land ring will readily ascertain my financial condition,
and that of my clients--"

"In which event, my dear boy, your lands will be rushed to patent right
away, you will be notified that they are waiting for you to pay the
balance due on them within, thirty days, and if at the end of thirty
days you do not pay that $39,000, your applications lapse automatically
and your initial payment will be forfeited to the state as liquidated
damages."

"I fear that is just what will happen. That is why I want to know if
you are prepared to lend me $39,000 to call their bluff. I will assign
you a half interest in a certain water-right which I possess, as
security for the advance. My water-right is worth millions."

"It will have to be, if I am to consider your suggestion seriously. Get
your fifty applications passed to patent first, however. Then see me,
and I'll lend you the money you require, provided I find upon
investigation that the security is ample. Is your water-right
developed?"

"No, sir. I've just filed on it."

Dunstan permitted himself a very thin smile. "You're your father's son,
Bob. You see visions and you'll die poor. I am firmly convinced that
you're honest, but as firmly convinced that you're chasing a will-o'-
the-wisp--so I hold out very little hope for you in the matter of that
loan."

"But my water-right is good for ten times the amount" pleaded Bob
desperately, and produced T. Morgan Carey's letter to bolster up his
argument. "All I need is money to develop it."

"And in the meantime it's worth ten cents. Bob, you weary me."

"I'm sorry, sir. You're the only human being in this world that I can
come to for help; and I never ask help of any man, unless I can pay him
well for his trouble, And I think I can pay you well--I know I can."

Dunstan eyed him more kindly. "Your father was a visionary, Bob, only
he looked the part. You do not. I have difficulty in convincing myself
that you're insane; but surely, Bob, you must admit that no sane man
would seriously consider your proposition. Tell me how you expect to
induce fifty paupers to apply for land for you, to do it in good faith
and be within the law, and yet hand the land over to you. Dang it, boy,
the thing's impossible. You can't do it."

"I can" replied Bob McGraw doggedly. "I can."

"All right then, you do it. Put that trick over, Bob, and I'll take off
my hat to you."

"You may keep your hat on your head. I want $39,000."

"Do the impossible and I'll give it to you--without security."

"Taken" said Bob McGraw. "I'll hold you to that, Mr. Dunstan. I'll
simply round up fifty paupers, or their equivalent, with a
constitutional right to purchase state lieu land and permit me to pay
for it for them. Then after I have secured the land for them I will buy
it back from them--"

Homer Dunstan roared with laughter. He pointed a bony finger at Bob
McGraw.

"Young man, the right to purchase state lieu land is a strictly
personal one and it is unlawful for one person to purchase for another.
Of course you can buy it back, Bob, but the attorney-general will have
a leg-iron on you before the ink is dry on your check. Transfer of
title under such circumstances would be looked upon as bona-fide
evidence of fraud, unless your clients could prove conclusively that
they had parted with their lands for a valuable consideration--"

Bob McGraw in turn pointed _his_ finger at Dunstan. "Ah, that's
the weak point in the law, Mr. Dunstan" he exulted. "A valuable
consideration. I can beat that. I'll give my clients ten dollars per
acre for lands which cost them one dollar and a quarter, and there
isn't a lawyer in the land--yourself included--who wouldn't consider
that a valuable consideration."

"McGraw," said Dunstan rising impatiently, "you're a consummate ass!
Where the devil do you expect to get $320,000 to buy their land from
them? I suppose you think I'll help you with that, also. Your stupidity
annoys me, Robert. Damme, sir, you're light in the upper story."

Bob McGraw laughed aloud. "I won't need it. All I shall ever ask of you
is that first $39,000. The water I have bottled up in the Sierra will
make the land worth three hundred dollars an acre. Don't you see where
I can afford to pay ten dollars per acre for it?"

"You can't do business on gab, McGraw. Money makes the mare go, and you
cannot induce fifty men to waste their constitutional right to lieu
land on your bare word that your water-right will make a desert
valuable. You'll have to take 'em down there, at your own expense, and
show 'em--"

"Old maids in New England buy stocks in wild-cat prospect holes in
Nevada. Do the promoters have to bring them out to see the holes?"

"Nobody but a fool or an idiot would listen to your crazy proposition,
and fools and idiots are not qualified under the law to do anything
except just live and try to avoid being run over by automobiles. But
granted that you can do all these things, what are you going to do with
your land when you get it?"

Bob McGraw stood up and leaned both brown hands on the edge of Homer
Dunstan's desk. The genial mocking little smile was gone from his face
now, for Dunstan's query had brought him back from the land of
improbabilities into the realm of his most ardent day-dream. He raised
his hand in unconscious imitation of every zealot that had preceded him
down the ages; the light of the visionary who already sees the
fulfillment of his dreams blazed in his big kind brown eyes.

"I'm going to give it to the lowly of the earth" he said. "I'm going to
subdivide it into ten-acre farms, with a perpetual water-right with
every farm. I'm going to build a town with a business block up each
side of the main street. I'm going to install a hydro-electric plant
that will carry a load of juice sufficient to light a city of a million
inhabitants. I'm going to reclaim the desert and make it beautiful, and
I'm going to have free light and free fuel and free local telephone
service and free water and, by God! free people to live in my free
country. I'm going to gather up a few thousand of the lowly and the
hopeless in the sweat-shops of the big cities and bring them back to
the land! Back to _my_ land and _my_ water that I'm going to
hold in trust for them, the poor devils! Back where there won't be any
poverty--where ten acres of Inyo desert with Inyo water on it will mean
a fortune to every poor family I plant in my desert."

"Why?" demanded Homer Dunstan smiling.

"Why?" Bob McGraw echoed the attorney's query. He gazed at Dunstan
stupidly. "Why, what a damn-fool question for you to ask, Mr. Dunstan!
Isn't it right that we should look to the comfort of our helpless
fellow-man? Isn't it right that we strong men should give of our
strength to the weak? What in blue blazes are we living for in this
enlightened day and generation if it isn't to do something that's worth
while, and to leave behind us at the last something that hasn't got the
American eagle stamped on it with the motto 'In God We Trust.' Ugh! How
the good Lord must hate us for that copyrighted chunk of sophistry I
It's a wonder He doesn't send His angels down to make us tend to
business."

"Well, I'm not going to worry about it" retorted Dunstan crisply. "I'm
too busy, and you're Johnny McGraw's boy Bob, so we won't quarrel about
it. Good luck to you, old man. Get all the fun out of life that you
possibly can--in your own way--and when you get your land and can show
me, I'll take a $39,000 mortgage on it, at eight per cent. Now, good-by
and get out. I'm a busy man."

Bob McGraw took up his big wide hat, shook hands with his father's old
friend, and with heightened color withdrew. Out in the hall he paused
long enough to swear; then, as suddenly, the old mocking cheerful
inscrutable smile came sneaking back to his sun-tanned face, and he was
at peace again. He had suddenly remembered that he was Bob McGraw, and
he had faith in himself. He thought of Donna, waiting for him in lonely
San Pasqual; he raised his hard brown fist, and in unconscious
imitation of Paul Jones he cried aloud:

"I have not yet begun to fight!"




CHAPTER XI


It must have been a sublime faith in that homely adage that there are
more ways of killing a cat than by choking him with butter which moved
Bob McGraw to cudgel his nimble brain until he had discovered exactly
how it would be possible for him to accomplish legally what every
freebooter with an appraising eye on the public domain is troubled to
accomplish illegally. The sole difference between Bob's projected
course and that of his competitors' would be a slightly lessened
profit; but after inventorying a free and easy conscience and posting
it to the credit side of his profit and loss account, Bob knew that
this apparent difference would dwindle until it would be scarcely
perceptible.

Immediately after breakfast on the morning of the day following his
interview with Homer Dunstan, Bob set to work to draw up the circular
letter and contract form, to be submitted later to his prospective
clients. In about fifteen minutes he had outlined the following:

THE PROPOSITION IS THIS

I have information of some state lieu lands which I believe can be
taken up under the State laws at $1.25 per acre. The right to buy them
will very probably have to be established and enforced by legal
proceedings.

Now, this right to purchase state lieu lands is a limited personal
right. (See Political Code, Section 3495, et seq.) I am willing to try
to make YOUR right good to a tract of this land, under the conditions
of the contract herewith. I am willing to stand the expenses of suit to
enforce your right, and to advance for you the legal fees and the first
preliminary payment to the state, on the chance of being able to secure
you something sufficiently valuable to justify you in paying me the
fee provided for in the contract. Read the contract carefully and note
that you retain the right to cancel it and relieve yourself of all
obligation in the matter _by abandoning your claim to the land._

READ THE CONTRACT CAREFULLY BEFORE YOU SIGN IT. BE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND
JUST WHAT YOU ARE DOING.

ROBERT MCGRAW.

"That looks like fair warning" mused Mr. McGraw, as he reread this
document. "I defy any man to look between the lines and scent my hocus-
pocus game."

Bob next proceeded to draw up the contract. It was a simple contract,
framed in language that could not fail of comprehension by the dullest
mind. For and in consideration of the sum of one dollar, the receipt
whereof was duly acknowledged, Bob McGraw agreed to furnish, his
applicants for land with certain valuable information, whereby the
applicant would be enabled to file, or tender his application for,
certain state lieu lands, "bounded and particularly described as
follows:" (Here he left a space sufficient for the insertion, at a
later date, of the exact description of the lands he desired; the
descriptions he would glean from maps of the valley on sale in the
United States Land Office in San Francisco.)

He agreed to tender the application of his client to the State Land
Office and to conduct, at his own expense, any litigation that might
arise or become necessary to establish the right of his client to
purchase the land from the state; stipulating, however, that he
(McGraw) should be the sole judge of the necessity for such litigation.
He agreed to pay the filing fees and the first payment on the land,
required at the time of filing the application, and to represent the
applicant before the state land office; also to notify his client, by
registered letter, at the address given him, whenever the application
should be approved; and it was distinctly stipulated that the applicant
should not be required to elect whether or not he would abandon the
application until served with this written notice!

In consideration, also, of the services, fees and costs provided for in
the contract, _Mr. McGraw would make a charge of Three Dollars per
acre for all, or any part, of the land which the applicant might be
awarded the opportunity to purchase;_ this fee to be payable to him,
his heirs or assigns, _if and whenever the application of his
client_ should be duly approved by the Registrar of the State Land
Office.

In consideration of these covenants, the applicant was to bind himself
to pay Mr. Robert McGraw the stipulated fee of Three Dollars per acre,
in addition to the One Dollar and Twenty-five Cents per acre demanded
by the state, _reserving, however, the right to abandon his filing at
any time prior to its approval by the Registrar of the State Land
Office, but pledging himself not to abandon without first furnishing
his attorney (Robert McGraw) with a proper instrument of abandonment,
in order that some other person might be located on the land._ In
addition the applicant was required to state that he was duly
qualified, under the law, to make the application _and that he had
read both the application form and the contract and was familiar with
the section of the code under which he made it._

A critical perusal of the terms of this shrewd contract will readily
convince even a layman that it was perfectly legal. Bob hurled mental
defiance at every legal light in the country to prove collusion and
conspiracy to defraud under that contract. It proved merely that Bob
McGraw was acting in his capacity as a duly authorized attorney-at-law,
seeking to turn an honest penny.

Now, in the first place, the abandonment clause in the contract, while
not holding his client to the contract, nevertheless held the land to
Bob McGraw! He anticipated that, in the event of his success in forcing
the registrar of the state land office to accept and approve the
applications, the land ring would immediately seek out each applicant,
charge the applicant with being a party to a gigantic land fraud
conspiracy and threaten him with a Federal Grand Jury investigation in
case he did not at once abandon his filing! The poor and the ignorant
are easily intimidated, and Bob McGraw had figured on this. In the
event of "cold feet" on the part of his applicant, the applicant would
come to _him,_ to abandon, as per the terms of the contract, but
by that time Bob would have a man with nerve to take his place, and his
scheme would still be impervious to "leaks!" While the land was "tied
up" by a McGraw applicant, Bob knew the enemy could not get it.

When Bob's clients signed that contract, it meant nothing! But the
moment the applications were approved for patent, and the State Land
Office had so notified him, and he, in turn, had so notified his
clients, his clients were no longer his clients. They were his victims!
His contract then constituted a promissory note, and Mr. McGraw knew
enough law to realize that failure to pay a promissory note or perform
a contract is actionable. Should his client repudiate the contract
_prior_ to the approval of the application, he was safe; but to
repudiate it _after_ approval and after Bob McGraw had advanced
him the money to pay for the land--ah, that was a different matter. Bob
McGraw knew he could secure a judgment against his unfortunate client
in any court of law in the country--and the land was good for the
judgment! Having advanced the cash to purchase the land for his
clients, Bob McGraw would hold that deadly contract over their heads as
security for the advance!

Under the terms of the contract, when fulfilled, each client would owe
Bob his three dollars per acre on six hundred and forty acres, or a
total of one thousand nine hundred and forty dollars as a legal
attorney's fee, and to the clients that Bob McGraw intended to select,
a debt of such magnitude would loom up in all the pristine horror of
the end of the world at hand and salvation not yet in sight. With,
malice aforethought the promoter of Donnaville was trading on the
credulity of the very people he planned to benefit! He knew with what
ease the poor rush into debt where the creditor requires nothing down;
he knew also the avidity with which they grasp the first means of
escape from the burden, once it becomes onerous; and at the thought the
villain McGraw chuckled pleasurably.

"Once under the McGraw thumb, and I have them! I'll demand cash on the
nail for my services. They will be unable to pay me. I'll harass them
and threaten to sue them, and then, when I have them thoroughly cowed,
I'll send a secret agent around to buy their land from them at ten
dollars an acre. After using their constitutional right to purchase
lieu lands, they are entitled to a profit on the investment, and
besides, I must show a 'valuable consideration' or have a secret
service operative trailing me.

"However, I will not have sufficient funds on hand to pay them ten
dollars per acre spot cash, so I shall turn over to them their signed
contracts and thus relieve them of that bugbear, and for these three-
dollar contracts they shall credit me with a payment of four dollars
and twenty-five cents per acre on the land! I will secure them for the
balance by a first mortgage on the property! And with that
accomplished, I court an official investigation. Come on, you secret
service operatives, and prove Bob McGraw a crook. I am a crook, and I
know it, but nobody else shall know it and I have never been accused of
talking in my sleep. I'm a crook, but I'm an honest crook, and the ends
justify the means. Besides, I'm going to present every one of my
clients with a cheek for three thousand six hundred and seventy dollars
for the mere scratch of a pen and the use of their constitutional right
to purchase lieu land. Why, I'm a philanthropist! I'm going to make
fifty men happy by giving them a lot of money for something they never
knew they had. Three thousand six hundred and seventy dollars for the
use of one constitutional right, when the market price is a hundred!
McGraw, my boy, this must never leak out. If it does, your sanity will
be questioned, in addition to your morality."

Thus figured Bob McGraw, the sage of Donnaville. Let him but get his
applications past the land ring's tool in the state land office, and a
receipt issued for his first payment, and Donnaville would be no longer
a dream. Should the applications be rejected later on some flimsy
pretext, he would commence a mandamus suit to enforce the selection of
his lands, and force action of the pending applications of the land
ring, whereby they so artfully "tied up the basis" of exchange. If he
should find himself opposed by a corrupt judge who should rule against
him, he would not be daunted. If beaten in the Superior Court he would
appeal the case to the United States Circuit Court, for Bob McGraw had
a sublime faith in the ability of Truth, crushed to earth, to rise
again and kick the underpinning from crookedness and graft, provided
one never acknowledged defeat. And he could go into court with clean
hands, for he broke no law himself and he would induce no one else to
break it, in thought, spirit or action!

The road to Donnaville stretched ahead of him now, smooth and white and
free from ruts, and with but one bridge to cross. For the successful
crossing of that bridge Bob McGraw had not evolved a plan, for he was
merely a human being, and human cunning has its limitations. It was a
bridge which he must cross when he came to it. He only knew that he
must make the effort on a certain day--the day that Owens river valley
should be thrown open to entry. He must be first at the window of the
land office, and once before that window, the future of Donnaville, the
future of Bob McGraw and his sweetheart in San Pasqual, lay in the laps
of the gods. He must manage somehow to get his applications filed that
day, without designating the basis of the exchange of school lands for
the lieu lands which he sought; for that was information which Bob
McGraw did not possess, and should it come into his possession the day
after the valley was opened for entry, it would be worthless; for the
land ring, in the parlance of the present day, would have "beaten him
to it."

To get those precious filings accepted! That was all that worried him
now. Prior to his visit to Homer Dunstan, this task had seemed to Bob
the least of his worries compared with the titanic task of accumulating
the money necessary to pay for the land when the filings should be
approved. Yesterday everything had revolved around the necessity for
thirty-nine thousand dollars, until the contemplation of this monetary
axis had threatened to set his reason tottering on its throne. But that
worry no longer existed. Homer Dunstan had indicated very clearly to
Bob that he considered him insane, but Homer Dunstan had pledged him
the thirty-nine thousand dollars when he could come to him with the
notification from the Registrar of the State Land Office that the lands
had been passed to patent, and Bob knew that Dunstan would keep his
word, provided his death did not occur prior to the granting of the
patents.

The rough draft of the contract having been drawn up to his
satisfaction, Bob sallied forth in search of a public stenographer. He
knew that he had evolved rather a clever scheme, and he was averse to
permitting the details of his plan to fall under the comprehending eye
of some boss printer, whose enterprise might perchance soar beyond the
boundaries of his vocation. So Bob sought, instead, a public
stenographer and had his copy multigraphed by a young lady whose
interest could never, by any possibility, center in anything more than
her fee.

The job was delivered two days later, and with the knowledge that he
had thirty days in which to make the acquaintance of his fifty
prospective clients, Bob resolved to devote one more week to the
problem of still further recruiting his shattered vitality before
getting down to active work.

He spent that week wandering through Golden Gate Park, along the
romantic and picturesque San Francisco water-front, and in moving-
picture shows. Each morning, before starting for the day's
wanderings, he wrote a long letter to Donna and then waited for the
first mail delivery for her letter to him. Those letters came with
unfailing regularity, and in that city where Bob McGraw prowled through
the day, unknown and unnoticed, there was no man so free from the curse
of loneliness as he. The very opening line in Donna's matutinal
greeting--"My Dear Sweetheart"--routed the blue devils that camped
nightly on his worried and harassed soul, as he lay abed and wrestled
with the mighty problems that confronted him. To Bob McGraw those three
words held the open-sesame of life; they gave him strength to cling to
his high, resolve; they whispered to him of the prize of the conflict
which awaited him at the end of his long road to Donnaville, and sent
him forth to face the world with a smile on his dauntless face and a
lilt in his great kind heart.

Time glided by on weary wings, but eventually the day arrived for Bob
to open his campaign. He must clear for action. It was imperative that
he must have his fifty applications filled out and the signatures of
his clients attested before a notary public on the very date upon which
the desert of Owens river valley would be opened for entry, for to have
them dated the day before would nullify them--to arrive with them at
the land office the day after would be too late. Bob was obsessed with
a suspicion that amounted almost to a conviction that the land ring
would endeavor to acquire the desert valley by practically the same
method which he was pursuing, _only for every section of lieu land
upon which they filed, they would be enabled to show a corresponding
loss of school lands._ His line of reasoning had convinced him that
they had caused dummy entrymen to file on worthless lands in some other
part of the state, in order that these bases might appear of record in
the land office as already used, in case of an investigation; he was
equally convinced that these dummy applications had never been acted
upon in the land office, but were being held up there until the land
ring was ready to act, when their dummy entrymen would abandon their
filings on the worthless land, thus throwing the original basis open
for use once more and permitting the land ring to step in with other
dummy entrymen and use the basis for the acquisition of _valuable_
lands. It was absurdly simple when one understood it and took the time
to reason it out.

Of one thing Bob was morally certain. The representative of the land
ring would be on hand, bright and early, to file the dummy
applications. Bob decided, therefore, that the field of his operations
until that eventful day must be confined to the state capital,
Sacramento, where the state land office was located. He must recruit
his little army of applicants from the capital itself, attest their
applications before a notary public after midnight of the day preceding
the opening of the valley for entry, and be first at the filing window
when the land office opened.

Accordingly Bob proceeded to Sacramento. Immediately upon his arrival
he rented a cheap back office, a desk and some chairs, and for the time
being announced himself to the world, through the medium of a modest
sign on his office door, as The Desert Development Company. The
following day he set to work.

He interviewed street sweepers, hotel porters, cab drivers newspaper
reporters, milk-wagon drivers, barkeepers and laborers along the river
docks--in fact every follower of an occupation which Bob judged might
be sufficiently unremunerative to keep its votaries in poverty as long
as they persisted in sticking to it. By discreet questioning he learned
whether the prospective client had money in bank, or was involved in
debt. If the former, Bob terminated his interview and neglected to
return; if the latter, Bob would present the victim with a good cigar
and proceed to unfold a tale of wealth in desert lands.

To these men Bob explained every detail of his proposition and gave
them a copy of his contract form and his explanatory circular attached.
He answered all their questions patiently--and satisfactorily, and he
was particularly insistent upon calling to their attention the fact
that they were not required to put up a single dollar in order to
acquire the land. Naturally, this seeming philanthropy immediately
inspired suspicion and a request for information as to what was in the
deal for Mr. McGraw; whereupon Mr. McGraw would point proudly to that
clause in the contract which stipulated a three-dollar-per-acre fee and
inform them that he had private and reliable information of not less
than two irrigation schemes which were being projected in the valley--
schemes which would give their apparently worthless land a value of at
least ten dollars per acre and enable both Mr. McGraw and his client to
turn a nice little profit together. He showed them where he was
helpless without them and where they were profitless without him, and
to make a profit of three dollars per acre for himself he was willing
to buy the land for them and take their promissory notes in payment.
More: he would agree to carry them for the land until they had an
opportunity to sell out at a profit of at least three thousand dollars!
Mr. McGraw demanded to know if anything could possibly be fairer than
that.

It could not, and the clients were forced to admit it. Win, lose or
draw, it cost them nothing to play the game with Bob McGraw. After all
is said and done the average human being is a gambler and likes long
odds, and Bob's prospective clients were not so deficient in
intelligence as in ready cash. They knew that desert land without
irrigation is worthless; that no man would advance them money to
purchase it at $1.25 per acre unless he saw a profit in the deal for
himself. Consequently, irrigation was the only solution of that
problematic increase in value, and if Mr. McGraw could afford a flyer
so could they.

Bob had foreseen this line of reasoning, for he knew that spot cash is
the bugbear of life and that a good salesman can sell anything provided
he sells it on time. Long before the expiration of the period he had
set himself to accomplish this task, he had signed up fifty eager
applicants for desert land, procured their addresses and then
retired to his little back office to write letters to Donna and await
the rising of the sun on his day of destiny.

The day preceding the one on which the valley would be opened for entry
was a busy one for Bob McGraw. His cash reserve was beginning to run so
low that he decided to save the dollar postage necessary to remind his
clients that they were to meet him in his office at midnight of that
day; consequently, and in view of the fact that his old-time strength
practically had been restored to him, he walked several miles in order
to call upon his clients at their places of employment and secure from
their lips a solemn promise to be on hand at the appointed hour. His
apparent anxiety made them all the more eager to sign up with him, and
not a single client failed him.

This matter attended to, Bob engaged a notary public, with instructions
to meet him at his office at midnight. By eleven-thirty the corridors
of the silent office building were thronged with the eager fifty; at
eleven-forty-five the notary arrived and at exactly one minute past
midnight Bob commenced to sign his clients up. The notarial blanks had
already been filled out and, together with the notary's seal, had been
attached to each contract. In addition to the contract Bob took a
power-of-attorney in duplicate from each applicant; the notary swore
each of the fifty applicants in as many minutes, Bob paid him twenty-
five dollars and he departed; after which Bob made a short speech to
his clients and exhorted them to stand by their guns in the event of
influence being brought to bear upon them to abandon their filings;
whereupon the fifty gave him their promises, collectively and
individually, shook the hand of their benefactor and departed to their
homes.

Nothing now remained for Bob to do except present his fifty
applications for filing at the land office in the morning, and
realizing the truth of that ancient saw anent the early bird and the
resulting breakfast he decided to wait in the office until it should be
time for him to go to the land office. In the meantime, he decided to
while away the lonely hours by a review of his financial status, so he
locked the door and devoted the succeeding five minutes to the
comparatively trifling task of counting his money and figuring on the
outlay necessary to carry him back to San Pasqual. He was horrified to
discover that after providing twelve hundred and fifty dollars for the
registrar of the state land office (in the event that the day of
miracles was not yet past and his filings should be accepted), his
return journey by rail would terminate somewhere in the heart of the
San Joaquin valley. Even after pawning his gun, Mr. McGraw could still
see, in his mind's eye, at least one hundred miles of dusty county road
stretching between him and San Pasqual, and he was not so conceited as
to imagine that he was strong enough to walk a hundred miles with
nothing more tangible than the scenery to sustain him en route.
Moreover, he had promised Donna that they should be married immediately
upon his return. The situation was truly embarrassing, and Mr. McGraw
cast about him for a means to extricate himself from his terrible
predicament. In his agony he saw a flash of light--and smiled as he
realized that it radiated from Mr. Harley P. Hennage's three gold
teeth.

"Saved!" quavered Mr. McGraw. "Good old Harley P! I'll just touch the
old boy for that fifty again, in case I need it. If they accept my
applications, I'll have to assault Harley, and if they decline the
applications I will still have my twelve hundred and fifty. But in the
meantime I'll write to Hennage and tell him frankly just how I'm fixed,
and if it comes to a show-down I'll drop the letter in the mail, return
to San Francisco and wait for him to send me a postal money order."

He turned to his desk, drew a blank sheet of paper toward him and
indited a brief note to Mr. Hennage.

_Dear Harley P.:_

I have just made the discovery that I was too precipitate in paying you
that fifty I owed you for three years. I am a financial wreck on a lee
shore, but with millions in sight, and I will be very grateful if you
will strain your good nature long enough to send me a P. O. order for
the aforesaid fifty, addressing me General Delivery, San Francisco. I
will explain the transaction to you when I get back to San Pasqual,
merely mentioning in passing that until you send me the fifty the
prospects for my immediate return are, to say the least, somewhat
vague. I never could walk very far in my Sunday shoes.

Thanking you, my dear Harley, until you are better paid, believe me to
be

Your sincere friend, ROBERT MCGRAW.

This communication Bob folded and sealed in an envelope. He was too
preoccupied in the folding to notice that he had folded two sheets of
paper instead of one. The second sheet was a spare copy of his
marvelous contract for the acquisition of desert lands, which through
some accident had become mixed, with the printed side up, among some
loose sheets of blank legal-size typewriter paper which the
unconventional Robert had purchased in the pursuit of his
correspondence with Donna. His choice of letter paper was
characteristic of Bob. He was a man who required room in which to
operate.

His letter sealed and stamped, Bob slipped it into his pocket, lifted
his long legs to the top of his rented desk, tilted back his chair, lit
a cigar and gave himself up to the contemplation of his future.
Providentially, his future, as he viewed it there in that lonely
office, waiting to see what the dawn would bring to him of wealth or
woe, was sufficiently indefinite to keep his fertile brain actively
employed until, far off in the city, he heard a clock booming the hour
of six; when he yawned, closed down his desk, picked up his suit-case
which stood, packed with, his few poor possessions in one corner, and
departed.

In an all-night restaurant he ate a hurried breakfast; then, suit-case
in hand, walked over to the capitol building. The capitol grounds were
deserted as he strolled through, entered the State House and passed
down a dim deserted corridor until he came to the door of the state
land office. He had definitely located the office, the previous day, in
order to provide against possible fatal delay in finding it this
morning. Apparently he was the sole applicant for desert lands that
morning, and anticipating that there would be no great rush to file
entries he set his suit-case down in the corridor, sat himself on the
suit-case and waited for the office to open for business. In order to
make certain that he would not be usurped in line, however, when the
office opened for business, he had placed his suitcase directly in
front of the door, against which he leaned his weary back. The door, he
noticed, opened from within. In case it opened secretly, Mr. McGraw
would thus fall into the surveyor-general's office, and hardy, indeed,
would be he who could dispute his claim to priority in the line. In
fact, so satisfied was he with this strategic position, and so tired
and drowsy was he withal, that presently he relaxed his determination
to remain wide awake.




CHAPTER XII


The first intimation that Bob received of this laxity came in the shape
of a sharp dig in the ribs from the index finger of a young man who
demanded to know why Mr. McGraw didn't wake up and pay for his lodging.
Bob turned his startled sleepy eyes up at the stranger. He had expected
to confront a janitor, but his first glance informed him that he was
mistaken. The individual before him evidently was a state employee; but
for all that Bob could advance no excuse for his free and easy action
in assaulting him with his index finger. No one except the janitor or
the night watchman had a right to such familiarity with Mr. McGraw's
ribs and he resented being told to wake up before he was ready.

"You'll have to get out of my way, friend" the stranger informed him.

"Not if I know it, old-timer" replied Bob. "I'm first in line, with
orders to stick here and maintain my position at all hazards. I'll
share the suit-case with you, but you mustn't try to crush in in
advance of me."

The stranger eyed him curiously. "I'm an employee of the state land
office" he said coolly. "Please permit me to get into the office."

Bob looked at his watch. It was just eight o'clock, and he knew that
the land office did not open until nine. He wondered who this
industrious individual might be and what reason he had for getting down
to work an hour beforehand; and then; like a bolt from the blue, The
Big Idea flashed into Bob McGraw's brain.

He yawned sleepily. "Great snakes!" he said, "I've been waiting here an
hour for you. I beg your pardon, old-timer. I didn't recognize you at
first, although I should have known you right off by that little mole
on your left cheek."

He scrambled to his feet and picked up his suit-case, while the
stranger looked at him sharply.

"Why are you here so early?" he demanded. Bob McGraw would have liked
to ask him the same question but he refrained.

"There's been an inquisitive stranger investigating the old man and--
well, you know what a fox Carey is? At the last moment it didn't seem
wise to come through on the original programme, so I came up instead.
I'm used to taking chances and I'm going to be well paid for this."

Was it fancy, or did Bob really detect a more friendly light in the
man's eyes? He decided that he had not overplayed his hand, so, fearful
that he might, he remained discreetly silent and waited for the door to
be opened. The stranger inserted the key in the lock and stepped into
the room. Bob followed him uninvited, turned carefully and sprung the
lock on the door. The deputy (for such Bob guessed him to be) passed
through a gate in the counter and on into an inner office. He returned
a moment later, pulling on his office coat. At the counter he paused
and faced Bob. There was still a suspicious look in his alert
intelligent eyes.

Bob drew the fifty applications from his suit-case and passed them over
the counter. "Hurry with them" he said. "There isn't any time to lose.
Did Carey tell you anything about that fellow McGraw, who filed on the
Cottonwood lake water?"

The deputy nodded.

"He's dangerous" warned Mr. McGraw. "He's tumbled to the little
combination and he'll upset the apple-cart if you don't beat him to it.
He may attempt to bully the old man into a consolidation by threatening
to mandamus your chief and force him to accept the filings. McGraw's
dangerous and he's got big influence behind him. The old man's
worried."

The deputy arched his eyebrows cynically. "Where do you come in?" he
queried.

Bob drew back the lapel of his coat and showed the butt of his
automatic gun nestling under his left arm.

"I'm playing a purely professional engagement, my friend. If McGraw
should show up here this morning it is my business to take care of
him."

The deputy's suspicions were allayed at last. He smiled in friendly
fashion.

"Keep him away until nine-thirty and there's no danger" he said. He
scooped up Bob's applications and skimmed through them. "Did you bring
the coin?"

Bob placed twelve hundred and fifty dollars on the counter and shoved
it toward the deputy.

"I won't wait for the receipts. It's too risky. Make them out as fast
as you can and I'll call for them after the office opens." He grinned
knowingly. "I'm going out in the corridor to keep inquisitive people
away and give you time to work."

"You didn't bring the instruments of abandonment for the old filings--"

"I know it. Carey has them. He'll probably bring them over himself
later in the day. Too risky--getting over here so early. There's a
gumshoe man on his trail."

"All right" said the deputy, and hastened to his desk with the bundle
of applications. Bob unlatched the door, peered cautiously up and down
the deserted corridor, and apparently finding the coast clear stepped
out into the hall.

For fifteen minutes he walked up and down the corridor without meeting
any one more formidable than the janitor, and presently the janitor,
having completed the sweeping of the corridor, betook himself and his
brooms elsewhere. He came back a few minutes later, however, and
disappeared in a small room at the end of the corridor, only to
reappear again with a bucket of wet sawdust in his hand.

Bob McGraw walked to the main entrance of the State House and back
again to the door of the land office. Still nobody came. He was
approaching the main entrance to the State House a second time when he
heard an automobile chugging through the capitol grounds and pause
outside the main entrance. Half a minute later a man appeared at the
head of the corridor and approached rapidly. As he came nearer Bob saw
that he was about fifty years old. He wore a carefully trimmed imperial
and a gold pince-nez and seemed to exude a general air of pomposity and
power. He had glittering cold gray eyes and they snapped now with anger
and apprehension as he half walked, half ran, down the corridor. Bob's
keen glance, roving over the man for details, observed that he carried
a small Gladstone bag in his right hand, but inasmuch as the front end
of the bag carried no initials, Bob waited until the man had passed him
and then cast a sidelong glance at the other end of it. In small gold
letters across its base he read the initials: T. M. C.

"T. Morgan Carey!"

In a bound Bob was at the stranger's side and laid a firm detaining
grip on the latter's arm. The man turned angrily and glared at Bob.

"Mr. T. Morgan Carey?" said Bob McGraw quietly, "you're wanted!"

The man trembled. Bob could feel a distinct quiver pass up the arm he
was holding.

"Wha--what--who wants me?" he said.

"Your dear old Uncle Samuel. He'd like to have you explain a delicate
matter in connection with the public domain. Give me the little grip
and come along quietly. I think that would be the better way. If you
make a row about it, of course I'll have to put the bracelets on you;
and I'm sure neither of us wishes that to happen, Mr. Carey."

Bob spoke kindly, almost regretfully, but there was no mistaking the
fact that he meant business. T. Morgan Carey's face was ghastly. He
surrendered the grip without protest, the while he gazed at Bob like a
trapped animal. Presently he managed to pull himself together
sufficiently to demand in a trembling voice:

"But--why--I don't understand. Where's your authority? Have you a
warrant for--this--this outrageous procedure?"

"I have no warrant for you, Mr. Carey. I--"

"Then let me pass about my business, sir. How dare--"

"Easy, easy! You are not arrested in the commonly accepted sense of
that term, but if you play horse with me you will be. I came here this
morning to find you and ask you to come quietly with me and answer a
few questions; also to let me see what you're carrying in this grip.
Come along now, Carey. You only make out a case against yourself by
resisting. I suppose you are aware of the fact that a secret service
agent requires no warrant to make an arrest. (Bob did not know that
such was the case, but he made the statement at any rate.) You are
temporarily--apprehended--upon information and belief. If you are
worried about the publicity that may attach, I give you my word the
newspapers shall not hear of this unless a formal charge is entered
against you. Come with me if you please, Mr. Carey."

He drew Carey's right arm through his own strong left and marched him
down the corridor. It had been his first intention to escort T. Morgan
Carey to the office of the now defunct Desert Development Company and
lock him up there for the good of his soul--but a more convenient means
of marooning his enemy now presented itself. The door to the janitor's
room was open; an electric light burned within, and from the keyhole of
the half open door a bunch of keys was suspended.

Bob's brain worked with the rapidity of a camera-shutter. He threw
Carey's bag into the room, whirled and clamped his right hand over
Carey's mouth, while with his powerful left arm around the land-
grabber's body he gently steered his victim into the room. Carey
struggled desperately, but Bob held him powerless. Finding himself as
helpless as a child in that grizzly-bear grip, he ceased his struggles.
Instantly he was tripped up and laid gently on the floor, on his back,
with Bob McGraw's one hundred and eighty pounds of bone and muscle
camped on his torso, holding him down. With his right hand effectually
silencing Carey's gurgling cries for help, and a knee on each arm to
hold Carey still, with his left hand Bob drew a bandanna handkerchief
from his pocket and gagged his man with as much ease as he would have
muzzled a little dog. Then he searched through his victim's pockets
until he found the land-grabber's handkerchief; whereupon he flopped
Carey on his face and bound his hands behind him. It was but the work
of an instant for Bob to tear off his own suspenders and bind Carey's
ankles together. Next he rooted through a bin of waste paper and found
some stout cord with which he bound Carey at the knees. Then, leaving
his victim helpless on the floor, he picked up the little bag, turned
off the light, stepped softly out, closed and locked the door behind
him, slipped the bunch of keys into his pocket, and returned to the
land office. He knocked, and presently the door of the private office
further down the hall opened gently and the deputy glanced warily out.
Seeing Bob at the main entrance he went around and let him in.

"I took a chance" Bob explained, "and went out after the balance of the
dope. Any sign of the other gang around?"

"Not a soul."

"Good news. I had an idea Carey put those abandonment papers in this
little bag" and he held up the bag in such a manner that the deputy
could not fail to see the initials T. M. C. on one end. This had the
effect of allaying any lingering suspicion which the deputy may have
been entertaining, and without waiting to see the contents of the bag
he hurried back to his desk to complete the work of filing Bob's fifty
applications.

In the meantime Bob had opened the bag. It contained applications for
seventy-odd sections of land in Owens River Valley, together with an
equal number of instruments of abandonment of filings on land
throughout the state.

It was as Bob had suspected. The corrupt deputy had informed Carey
where the loss of school land would occur. Carey's dummy entrymen had
tied up for him these bases of exchange for lieu lands by instantly
applying for _worthless_ lieu lands, and these applications had
been held up in the land office unacted upon, in order that the bases
might show of record as used; then, at the word from Carey, these
filings on worthless land had been abandoned, in order that Carey might
use the bases for the acquisition of the lands he really desired.

"I'm a fool for luck" murmured Bob McGraw, as he counted off fifty of
these instruments of abandonment, closed the bag and set it in the
corner with his suit-case. He approached the counter and tossed the lot
over to the deputy.

"Here are the instruments of abandonment, old-timer," he said casually.
"I had a notion Carey put them in that grip. Better get 'em on record
right away and let those receipts for the filings slide until the
office opens for business. I'll go outside and lean up against the
door. Don't worry. I'll be first in line, and if the other gang should
be at my heels I'll slip you over a bunch of dummies, to throw 'em off
the scent, and you can hand me back the receipts for the real thing."
He winked comically and went out into the corridor again.

Slowly the minutes dragged by. Bob looked at his watch. It was a
quarter of nine. Five minutes passed and still the corridor was
deserted. Two minutes more flitted by and then the janitor came around
the corner from the next corridor, a bucket in one hand and a mop in
the other. Bob grinned as he saw the man try the door of the room where
T. Morgan Carey lay trussed up. He rattled the knob several times, then
searched his pockets for his keys. Not finding them, he went away
grumbling.

It was just nine o'clock when the janitor returned. Bob McGraw was
close enough, to him now to see that he carried a key, which he slipped
into the lock, opened the door and passed into the gloom of the room
beyond. Bob trembled lest he step on T. Morgan Carey's face. While the
janitor was fumbling for the electric switch, Bob stepped softly in
after him, and as softly closed the door behind him, just as the
janitor switched on the light. He turned at the slight sound of the
closing door and found himself gazing down the long blue barrel of an
automatic gun.

"No unnecessary noise, if you please" said Bob McGraw gently. "This is
one of those rare occasions where silence is golden. Observe that man
on the floor, my friend? He tried to make a noise and just see what
happened to him."

The janitor's mouth had opened to emit a yell. He closed it now,
slowly, and licked his lips.

"What do you want?" he demanded, and Bob McGraw realized instantly that
in the janitor he had not met a poltroon.

"The pleasure of your society for half an hour" murmured Bob, and
smiled. "I'm not going to hurt you if I can avoid it, but if you make a
row I'll tap you back of the ear with the butt of this gun. The
individual on the floor has been poking his nose into my business and I
had to put him in storage for a while. Unfortunately you discovered
him, so, much to our mutual displeasure, I must ask you to bear him
company until nine-thirty, after which you may return to your
janitorial labors. Don't worry. I'm not a hold-up man. Have a cigar.
Also a five-spot to pay you in advance for the inconvenience I am
subjecting you to."

The janitor's face became normal at once. He accepted the cigar and the
five-dollar piece, seated himself on an upturned bucket and set himself
patiently to await the moment of his liberation. He sat there grinning
and blowing smoke at Bob McGraw.

At nine-thirty, Bob, judging that the deputy had had ample time in
which to place his affairs in shape, decided to raise the siege. He put
up his gun, unlatched the door and backed out, motioning to the janitor
to accompany him. The latter obeyed with alacrity.

"Come on into the land office with me, old man" Bob invited him. "When
my business is finished there I'll give you back your keys and ask you
to unwrap the gentleman we just left."

They entered the land office together.

"Did that friend o' mine leave something with you for me?" Bob queried
of the deputy, and flashed him a lightning wink.

"Waiting for you" responded the deputy, and handed Bob McGraw a large
manila envelope. "All O. K." he added, and returned the wink.

"Sure you recorded those abandonments?" he queried. The deputy nodded.

"Then we're all O. K. on the matter of designating the basis, are we?"

Again the deputy nodded. Bob turned and handed the keys to the janitor.

"That being the case" he announced cheerfully but in a low tone of
voice, "our friend, the janitor, will immediately proceed to release
Mr. T. Morgan Carey and bring him into court. Permit me to introduce
myself. I am Mr. Robert McGraw, and I have you by the short hair, you
crooked little sneak. You should have looked up and down the corridor
and noticed all the witnesses I had posted to observe you letting me
into your office before it was officially opened. Oh, I'm not worried
about what you can do now. It's only nine-thirty and I can easily prove
that it is a physical impossibility for one man to do the work you've
done this morning, and do it in one short half hour. You have entered
fifty instruments of abandonment, so there are that number of bases
open to permit of the exchange of fifty sections of lieu land, the
filing receipts for which I hold in my hand. Old-timer, I dare you to
attempt the job of falsifying a public record, even at the command of
our esteemed old friend, T. Morgan Carey. By the way, here he is.
Gracious, what a hurry we're in! Howdy, T. Morgan?"

T. Morgan Carey had fairly leaped into the room.

"You--you scoundrel!" he cried, and shook his fist at Bob McGraw. "I'll
get you for this" he said in low trembling tones, "if it takes my last
dollar."

"No, you won't" retorted the smiling Bob, "at least, not after you've
had a heart-to-heart talk with your obliging friend here. I've waited
here to square him with you, Carey. He isn't to blame. I just bluffed
him out of his boots. You mustn't be hard on him, T. Morgan. You know
how easily I bluffed you. Be reasonable. Charity covers a multitude of
sins, and there's a lot of land still left in the lower part of Owens
Valley, although my friends have had their pick of it. There's your
little old bag with your applications still untouched, although I will
admit that I was mean enough to help you file some of those instruments
of abandonment from your dummy entrymen. I must hurry along now. Thank
you so much--"

The janitor entered. In his hand he held Mr. McGraw's suspenders.

"You might need these" he interrupted, "more particular if you're goin'
to do any runnin', an' I'll bet you are."

"Thank you" murmured Mr. McGraw. "You're very thoughtful," and quite
calmly he proceeded to remove his coat and vest and replace the
suspenders. When he was once more arrayed for the street he thrust his
sun-tanned hand through the grilled window to the trembling deputy; he
smiled his gay lazy whimsical inscrutable smile.

"_Buenos dias,_ amigo" he said; and so astounded was the unhappy
deputy that he actually accepted the proffered hand and shook it
limply.

"You scoundrel!" hissed T. Morgan Carey, "you--" and then he applied to
Bob the unpardonable epithet.

The devil leaped to life in Bob McGraw. His right arm shot out, his
open palm landed with a resounding thwack on the side of Carey's head.
As the land-grabber lurched from the impact of that terrific slap,
McGraw's left palm straightened him up on the other ear, and he
subsided incontinently into a corner.

But his natural lust for a fight had now reached high-water mark in Bob
McGraw's soul. He whirled, reached that terrible right arm through the
window and grasped the deputy by the collar. Right over the counter,
through the window, he snaked him, landing him in a heap on the floor
outside. He jerked the frightened official to his feet, cuffed him
across the room and back again to the window.

"That," he said, "for your broken oath of office, and that! for your
cheap office rule that has no foundation in law but serves to frighten
away the weaklings that want to file on lieu land. I must designate the
basis, must I? All right, you little crook. Watch me designate it."

He landed a remarkably accurate kick under the official coat-tails,
picked the deputy up bodily and hurled him in a heap in the same corner
where T. Morgan Carey sprawled, blinking (for his glasses had been
shaken off in the melee) and weeping with fear and impotent rage.

For a moment Bob towered above them like a great avenging red angel.
Then his anger left him as suddenly as it had come. Carey and the
deputy presented such a pitiable sight, although ludicrous withal, that
he was moved to shame to think that he had pitted his strength against
such puny adversaries. He picked T. Morgan Carey out of the corner, set
him on his feet, dusted him off, gave him his hat and restored to him
his gold pince-nez. The deputy needed no aid from Bob McGraw, but
hastened to the protection of his sanctuary back of the counter. Bob
stood looking at Carey, smiling his old bantering debonair smile. He
waited until Carey had recovered his composure.

"Carey," he said, "you will remember hereafter, I trust, that it is the
early bird that gets the worm, that promptness is a virtue and lying in
bed mornings a heinous crime. Now, the next time you run up against a
Reuben like me you want to remember the old saying that a stump-tailed
yellow dog is always the best for coons. An easy conscience is to be
preferred to great riches, Carey. Be honest and you will stay out of
jail. Before I go, permit me to introduce myself. I'm Bob McGraw, of No
Place In Particular, and a lunatic by nature, breed and inclination.
Mr. Man-who-flies-through-the-window, here are duplicate copies of my
power of attorney from my fifty clients, authorizing and instructing
the surveyor-general to transact all of his official business with them
through me. Before I go I want to say that as a usual thing I try to be
a gentleman; which, fact induces the utmost regret that I was forced to
gag you and truss you up in that filthy little room. If I hurt you
physically then I am sorry. I tried to do the unpleasant job gently.
However, this is no parlor game that you and I are playing, and
desperate circumstances sometimes necessitate desperate measures. As
for the blows I struck you--that is too bad, because you're old enough
to be my father, but you displayed excessively bad taste in your choice
of expletive. Even then I merely slapped you. But I'm sorry it had to
come to that."

He paused and gazed calmly about him for a moment.

"I guess that's all" he added innocently. "Good morning."

With a chuckle that mingled triumph, deviltry and the sheer joy of
living, Mr. McGraw picked up his suit-case, backed to the door, opened
it and fled along the corridor. On the driveway in front of the capitol
he saw an automobile standing, throbbing. He ran to it and leaped into
the tonneau.

"This is Carey's car, isn't it?" he demanded.

The chauffeur nodded. He would have saluted any one not so distinctly
rural as Bob McGraw.

"You're to take me over to Stockton right away. Turn her wide open and
fly. Great Scott, we're all in a hurry this morning. Git!
_Vamoose,_ and scorch the gravel."

Now, it is a curious psychological fact that when a robust
authoritative-looking man gives an order with the air of one used to
commanding, ninety-nine per cent of the people to whom he gives his
orders will hasten to obey without pausing to question his authority.
The chauffeur threw in his clutch and the car glided away, while Bob
McGraw, glancing back, saw T. Morgan Carey and a uniformed, watchman
dashing down the capitol steps.

They were too late. T. Morgan Carey shouted to his chauffeur, but it
was not a day of silent motors, and legislation affecting muffler cut-
outs was still in the dim and distant Not-Yet.

The car sped out of the capitol grounds and away into the heart of the
city. Presently the houses grew more scattered, the traffic dwindled
and the car leaped forward at a forty-mile-an-hour clip. They swung
down a wide road that stretched south into the sunny San Joaquin, and
the mellow piping of meadow larks and linnets came pleasantly in Mr.
McGraw's ears; the pungent aroma of tar-weed, the thousand and one
little smells of the wide free spaces that he loved floated across to
him from the fields on each side of the road, as he sat erect in the
tonneau and sniffed the air of freedom.

He had had his fill of cities and he was glad to leave them behind.




CHAPTER XIII


The second event in Donna Corblay's life was about to be consummated.
For the first time since her arrival in San Pasqual, a babe in arms,
she was about to leave it!

All of her uneventful colorless mediocre life Donna had felt a
passionate longing to go up into the country on the other side of the
range. To her, the long strings of passenger coaches came to San
Pasqual as the heralds of another world--poignant pulsations of the
greater life beyond the sky-line, and not as the tools of a whimsical
circumstance, bringing to Donna a daily consignment of hats. From
earliest childhood she had watched the trains disappearing into
Tehachapi Pass, tracing their progress northward long after they had
disappeared by the smoke wafted over the crest of the bare volcanic
range; until with the passage of many trains and many years the desire
to see what lay beyond that grim barrier had developed into an
obsession. Because of the purple distances that mocked her, the land of
sunshine, fruit and flowers was doubly alluring; her desire was as that
of a soul that dwells in limbo and longs for the smile of God.

And to-day she was going out into the world, for this was her wedding
day. She had received Bob's telegram, asking her to meet him in
Bakersfield, and she was going to meet him; alternately she laughed and
wept, for the transcendent joy of two Events in one short day had
filled her heart to overflowing, leaving no room for vague forebodings
of the future.

Donna dressed herself that morning with painstaking detail. Too late
she had discovered that she didn't possess a dress fit to wear at any
one's wedding, not to mention her own. From time to time she had
dreamed of a swagger tailored suit, but the paradox of a swagger
tailored suit in San Pasqual had been so apparent always that Donna
could not bring herself to the point of submitting to a measurement in
the local dry-goods emporium, having the suit made in Chicago and sent
out by express. Instead she had resolutely stuck to wash-dresses, which
were more suited to the climate and environs of San Pasqual, and added
the tailored suit money to her sinking fund in the strong box of the
eating-house safe.

No, Donna was not prepared to obey Bob McGraw's summons. She wept a
little as she reflected how provincial and plebeian she must appear,
stepping down from the train at Bakersfield, clad in a white duck
walking suit, white shoes and stockings and a white sailor hat. She
wanted Bob to be proud of her, and her heart swelled to bursting at the
thought that she must deny him such a simple pleasure. Poor Donna! Once
she had thought that suit so beautiful. It was a drummer's sample which
she had purchased from a commercial traveler who, claiming to own his
own samples, had been prevailed upon to accept a price for the suit
when at length he became convinced that under no circumstances would
Donna permit him to make her a present of it. He had informed her at
the time that it was the very latest Parisian creation and she had
believed him.

If Donna had only known how ravishing that simple costume made her
appear and what a vision she would be to the hungry eyes of Bob McGraw!
Yet, she was ashamed to let even the San Pasqualians see her leaving
town in such a dowdy costume, and as she walked up the tracks from the
Hat Ranch that momentous morning, bearing aloft a parasol that but the
day before had been the joy of her girlish existence, she was fully
convinced that a more commonplace addendum to a feminine wardrobe had
never been devised.

She was certain that all San Pasqual must know her secret--that this
was her wedding day. She shuddered lest the telegraph operator had
suspected something, despite Bob's commendable caution, and had incited
the townspeople to line up at the depot, there to shower her with rice
and hurl antiquated footgear after the train that bore her north. Such
horrible rites were preserved and enacted with religious exactitude in
San Pasqual.

Until that morning Donna never had really known how ardently she longed
to escape from the sordid commonplace lonely little town. With its
inhabitants she had nothing in common, although she noted a mental
exception to this condition as, from afar, she observed Harley P.
Hennage standing in front of the eating-house door, picking his teeth
with his gold toothpick. She felt a sudden desire to go to the worst
man in San Pasqual and pour out to him the whole wonderful story; then
to await his quizzical congratulations and bask for a moment in his
infrequent honest childish smile, for Donna had a very great longing
to-day to permit some human being to bear with her the burden of her
joy.

She was still a block from the center of the town when the train pulled
in from the south, the last car coming to a stop close to where she was
standing. Donna observed that the male entities of her little world had
assembled to see that the train pulled in and out again safely, and had
their attention centered upon the new arrivals who were rushing into
the eating-house for a hurried snack. She saw her opportunity. There
was no necessity for her to brave the crowd at the window in order to
purchase a ticket. Decidedly luck was with her this morning. She took
her suitcase from Sam Singer, the faithful, climbed aboard the last
car, walked through into the next car, which happened to be a sleeper,
found a vacant state-room, entered, pulled down the window shade and
waited until the train started. As her car rolled past the depot she
peered out and saw Harley P. Hennage scratching his head with one hand,
while in the other he held a letter which he was reading. Donna could
not help wondering who had written a letter to the worst man in San
Pasqual.

She was glad of the seclusion of the state-room until the train was a
mile outside San Pasqual, when she went out on the observation car.
Donna knew she ran little risk of meeting a San Pasqualian in first-
class accommodations, and as she sat there, watching the shiny rails
unwinding behind her, her luxurious surroundings imparted a sense of
charm and comfort which she had never felt before. The scenery in the
pass proving uninteresting, she forgot about it and gave herself up to
a day-dream which had become a favorite with her of late--a dream which
had to do with a little Spanish house surrounded by weeping willows and
Lombardy poplars (Donna had once seen a picture of a house so
surrounded); of a piano, which she would learn to play, of a perfectly
appointed table at which she sat with Bob across the way, smiling at
her and assuring her (with his eyes) that he loved her, while his glib
tongue informed her that the soup was by far the best he had ever
tasted.

As Donna dreamed she smiled--unconsciously--a smile intended for Bob
McGraw, and a drummer who sold lace goods for a St. Louis house
appropriated that smile to himself. He leered across the aisle
familiarly and with a vacuous smile inquired:

"Say, sister! Ain't you the little girl that takes cash in the eatin'
house at San Pasqual? I thought your face looked kinder familiar."

Donna suddenly ceased dreaming. She glanced across at her interlocutor,
and by reason of long obedience to the unwritten rule of eating-houses
which requires that one must be pleasant to customers always, she
forgot for a moment that she was on her way to be married. She nodded.

"Goin' up to Bakersfield?"

Again Donna nodded.

"Well, if you ain't got anything on, what's the matter with some lunch
and an automobile ride afterward, sister? What're you goin' to do in
Bakersfield?"

"I am going to meet a young man at the station" replied Donna sweetly.
"A tall young man with a forty-four-inch chest and a pair of hands that
will look as big as picnic hams to you when I tell him that you've been
impertinent to me."

The face of the impertinent one crimsoned with embarrassment. He
mumbled something about not meaning any offense, fussed with his watch-
charm for a minute, coughed and finally fled to the day-coach.

Donna smiled after his retreating figure. How good it was, after three
years of subjection to the vulgar advances of just such fellows as he,
to reflect that at last she was to have a protector! An almost unholy
desire possessed her to see Bob climb aboard at the next station, twine
his lean hands around that drummer's trachea and shake some manhood
into him. This thought suggested reflections upon the present state of
Bob's health, so she took his last letter from her hand-bag and read it
for the forty-second time. But it was unsatisfactory--it dealt entirely
with Donna and his experiences with applicants for lieu land, so she
abstracted, one by one, every letter she had ever received from him and
read them all. So absorbed was she in their perusal that the other side
of the range, which had always been such a matter of primary
importance, was now relegated to oblivion.

The brakeman came through the car shouting: "Bakersfield! The next
station is Bakersfield!" but Donna did not hear him. She was dreaming
of Bob McGraw.

The train came to a stop. Donna dreamed on--and presently a familiar
voice spoke at her side.

"Well--sweetheart! The train pulls out again in two minutes and I've
been looking for you in every car--"

"Bob!"

It was he, looking perfectly splendid in a marvelous blue suit that
must have cost at least eighteen dollars. He held out his hands, drew
her to him and, in the sight of all mankind, he kissed her, and
whispered to her endearing little names. She could not reply to them;
she could only take his hand, like a little lost child, and follow him
through the car, down the steps and into the hotel bus which was to
take them up town. And on the way up town neither spoke to the other,
for it seemed to each that even their most commonplace remarks to-day
must be freighted with something sacred, in which the inquisitive world
at large would be bound to manifest a stupendous interest. And inasmuch
as it was plainly none of the world's business--

The bus had stopped in front of a tremendous hotel. It was four stories
high! All along the front of the first story it was _glass_ and
Donna could look right through it and see everything that was going on
inside! She paused on the top step of the bus to view the marvels of
this town of less than twenty thousand inhabitants, and then a
skeezicks of a boy, very gay in brass buttons, and with a darling
little round cap on his perky head, came and took forcible possession
of her suit-case. He tore it right out of Bob's hand and ran away with
it. Donna was on the point of crying out at the theft, when Bob reached
up and lifted her bodily to the ground.

"Reuben! Reuben!" he breathed tenderly in her ear, "don't stare so at
the great round world. You're so beautiful," he added, "and I'm so
proud of you! Where _did_ you get that marvelous dress?"

She glanced up at him, radiant. He was proud of her! He liked her
dress! It was sufficient. Bob McGraw, man of the world, had set the
stamp of his approval on his bride, and nothing else mattered any more.
She followed him into the hotel, where he checked her suit-case with
the skeezicks who had stolen it, and then led her into the dining-room.

"Let's have lunch, Donna" he said, "or at least pretend to. I couldn't
eat now. I want to talk. The man who can eat on his wedding day is a
vulgarian, and dead to the finer feelings."

They found a secluded table and ordered something, and when the
waitress had taken the order and departed, Bob leaned across the table.

"You're so beautiful!" he repeated. "I love you in that white suit."

"I hadn't anything but this old thing, dear. I hated to come up looking
like a frump--"

"Listen to the girl! Why, you old sweetheart-"

"Do you love me, Bob?"

"More than ever. In the matter of love, Donna, absence really makes the
heart--"

"How much?" She lifted her face toward him adoringly.

"Ten hundred thousand million dollars' worth" he declared, and they
both laughed.

"I don't know whether you're a man or just a big boy" Donna told him.
She sighed. "But then I don't know anything to-day, except that if I am
ever happier than I am this minute I shall die. I shall not be able to
stand it. But, dearie! You haven't told me a word about Donnaville!"

So Bob related to her a minute history of himself from the moment he
had left her until he had leaned over her in the observation car. He
described, with inimitable wit and enjoyment, his experience in the
land office, and together they examined the fifty receipts.

"I'm sorry you had to lock Mr. Carey in the room and gag him and tie
him up" said Donna regretfully. "Maybe he'll have you arrested!"

"I'm sorry, too, dear. But then it was the only thing I could do and I
had to keep him quiet. Oh, I don't care" he added defiantly. "I'd muss
up an old crook like Carey every hour for your sake. But he won't have
me arrested. That would be too dangerous for him."

"Then you can get the land right away?" she queried.

He shook his head. "The cards haven't even been dealt, sweetheart. My
applications will almost certainly be held up six months in the state
land office before they are approved by the surveyor-general and
forwarded to the Commissioner of the General Land Office at Washington
to be passed to patent by the United States. And I shall be very
greatly surprised if Carey hasn't a friend in Washington who will see
that the granting of the patents is delayed for several years. Then,
when the matter cannot be delayed any longer, Carey will induce one of
his dummies to protest the applications, alleging that they are part of
a gigantic land fraud scheme, and a few more years will go by while
this protest is being investigated."

"But you'll win in the long run, will you not?"

He shrugged expressively. "I may. I anticipate that Carey will give me
all the time he can to get my water-right developed and earn thirty-
nine thousand dollars to pay for the land for my Pagans."

"But I thought Mr. Dunstan had promised to loan you that money?"

"Homer Dunstan is an old man, Donna girl. If he should die in the
interim, my name is in the lion's mouth."

"But what are we to do, Bobby?" she quavered, suddenly frightened, as
the enormousness of the man's task loomed before her.

"_Quien sabe_" he said ruefully. "We'll marry first and think of
it afterward--that is, if you still think you want to marry a chap
whose cash assets represent less than thirty dollars of borrowed
money."

She thought swiftly of the boor who had spoken to her on the train that
morning; of her dull lonely changeless life in San Pasqual; and the
longing for protection was very great indeed. She wanted some one on
whom she might lean in the hour of stress and woe, and she had selected
him for that signal honor. Why, then, should they not marry? They would
not always be poor. He had his work to do and she had hers, and their
marriage need not interfere. She wanted to help him, and with her
woman's intuition she realized that his was the nature that yearns for
the accomplishment of great things when spurred to action by the praise
and comfort of a mate in sympathy with his dreams and his ideals. She
almost shuddered to think of what might happen to him should he marry a
girl who did not understand him! It seemed to her that for his sake, if
for no other, she must marry him, and when she raised her brilliant
eyes to his he read her answer in their limpid depths.

"Do you need me?" she queried.

"Very much" he answered humbly, "but not enough to insist upon you
sharing my poverty with me. You're self-supporting and it isn't fair
to you, but rather selfish on my part. And you must realize, Donna
dear, that I cannot remain in San Pasqual. I have my work to do; I must
make money, and I cannot take you to the place where I hope to make
it."

"I expect to be left alone, Bob. But I do not mind that. I've lived
alone at the Hat Ranch a long time, dear, and I can stand it a little
longer. I do not wish to tie you to my apron-strings and hamper you.
What are your plans?"

"Well," he said a little sheepishly, "I thought I'd like to make one
more trip into the desert. I have some claims over by Old Woman
mountain, in San Bernardino county, and they're pockety. I might clean
up a stake in there this winter. It's about the only chance I have to
raise the wind, but even then it's a gambler's chance."

He was a Desert Rat! The lure of the waste places was calling to him
again, tormenting him with the promise of rich reward in the country
just beyond. Donna thought of her own father who had left his bride on
a similar errand, and the thought that Bob, too, might not come back
stabbed her with sudden anguish. But he was a man, and he knew best; in
a desert country some one must do the desert work; he loved it and she
would not say him nay. Yet the big tears trembled on her long lashes as
she thought of what lay before him and her heart ached that it must be
so. He watched her keenly, waiting for the protest which he thought
must come. Presently she spoke.

"We must figure on an outfit for you."

His brown eyes lit with admiration, for he realized the grief that lay
behind that apparently careless acceptance of his plan, and loved her
the more for her courage.

"Yes, I'll need two burros, with packs, and some drills, tools,
dynamite and grub--two hundred dollars will outfit me nicely. I'll have
to scout around and borrow the money somewhere, and to be quite candid,
Donna, I have designs on our gambler friend, Hennage."

She smiled. "Dear, good old Harley P.! He'd grubstake you if it broke
the bank."

"Well, I'm going to figure along that line at any rate. So, if you're
quite ready, Donna, we'll go down to the court-house, procure the
license, hunt up a preacher and take each other for better or for
worse."

"I think it will be for better, dear."

"Well, it can't be for worse, I'm sure, than it is to-day. Nevertheless
I'm a frightened man."

She ignored this subtle hint of procrastination. "I'm ready, Bob. But
before we start, there's one matter that I haven't explained to you. I
do not care to have our marriage known. Those talkative people in San
Pasqual would--talk, under the circumstances--that is, dear, I want to
keep right on at the eating-house until you're ready to take me away
from San Pasqual forever. Now, I know that's going to hurt you--that
thought of your wife working--but nobody need ever know it, and when
you're ready we'll leave the horrible old place and never go back any
more. We have so much to do, Bob, and--"

"You do hurt me, Donna" he protested. "You have exacted from me a
promise and you are forcing me to fulfill it under circumstances which
render it mighty hard. Of course we love each other and I do want to
marry you, but ah, Donna, I don't feel like a man to-day, but a
mendicant. What can I do, sweetheart? If you marry me to-day you'll
have to work if you want to live." There was misery in his glance.
"However, all my life I've been doing things differently--or rather
indifferently--so why should I stop now? It will at least comfort me
out there alone in the desert to know that I have a wife waiting at
home for me. I think the joy of that will outweigh the sting of shame
that a married pauper must feel--"

"No, no, Bob, you mustn't say that. You mustn't feel that way about it.
You are not a pauper." She stood up and he helped her into her coat,
and after paying the waitress they departed together for the city hall.

But Bob was a sad bridegroom. Donna had wired him that she had arranged
for a two-weeks' vacation, and he had been at pains to acquaint her
with the extreme low ebb of his finances, in the hope that she would
voluntarily suggest a delay of their marriage, but to his great
distress she had not seen fit to take his pathetic hint--she who
ordinarily was so quick of comprehension; so, rather than refer to the
matter again, he decided to step into a telegraph station immediately
after the ceremony and send a hurried call for help to Harley P.
Hennage--the gambler being the only man of his acquaintance whom he
knew to be sufficiently good-natured and careless with money to respond
to his appeal.

When at length they reached the city hall Donna waited, blushing,
outside the door of the marriage bureau while Bob entered and parted
with two dollars and fifty cents for the parchment which gave him a
legal right to commit what he called a social and economic crime. Later
he came out and insisted that Donna should return with him to Cupid's
window, there to receive the customary congratulations and handshake
from Bob's acquaintance who had issued him the license, and who,
following the practice of such individuals, felt it incumbent upon him
to offer his felicitations to every customer.

Leaving the court-house Bob and Donna wandered about town until they
came to a church. A gentleman of color, engaged in washing the church
windows, directed them to the pastor's residence in the next block.
They accordingly; proceeded to the rectory and Bob rang the front door
bell. The pastor answered the bell in person. The bridegroom grinned at
him sheepishly while the bride, very much embarrassed, shrunk to the
bridegroom's side and gazed timidly at the reverend gentleman rubbing
his hands so expectantly in the doorway.

"Won't you come in?" he said, in tones most kindly and hospitable.
"Just step right into the parlor and I'll be with you as soon as I can
get my spectacles."

"Thank you" said Bob. They entered. The rector went into his study
while Bob wagged a knowing head at his broad retreating back.

"He knows what we want, you bet" he whispered. "No flies on that
preacher. I like him. I like any man who can do things without a
diagram and directions for using."

Donna nodded. She was quite impressed at the clergyman's perspicacity.
She was quite self-possessed when he returned with his spectacles, a
little black book, his wife and the gardener for witnesses, and a
"here-is-the-job-I-love" expression on his amiable features. He
examined the license, satisfied himself, apparently, that it was not a
forgery, and after standing Bob and Donna up in a corner close to a
terra-cotta umbrella-holder filled with pampas plumes, he proceeded
with the ceremony.




CHAPTER XIV


Now, to the man in whose nature there is a broad streak of sentiment
and who looks upon his marriage as a very sacred, solemn and lasting
ceremony, no speech in life is so provocative of profound emotion as
the beautiful interchange of vows which links him to the woman he
loves. As Bob McGraw stood there, holding Donna's soft warm hand in
his, so hard and tanned, and repeated: "I, Robert, take thee, Donna,
for my lawful wife; to have and to hold, from this day forward, for
better, for worse, for richer, for poorer (Here Bob's voice trembled a
little. Why should this question of finance arise to smite him in the
midst of the marriage ceremony?), in sickness; and in health, until
death us do part," his breast swelled and a mist came into his eyes.
His voice was very low and husky as he took that sacred oath, and it
seemed that he stood swaying in a great fog, while from a great
distance, yet wonderfully clear and firm and sweet, Donna's voice
reached him:

"I, Donna, take thee, Robert, for my lawful husband--" and the minister
was asking him for a ring.

For a ring!

Bob started. The perspiration stood out on his forehead!--there was
agony in his brown eyes. In the sudden reaction caused by that awful
request, he blurted out:

"Oh, Great Grief, Donna! I forgot all about the ring!"

"I didn't" she replied softly. From her hand-bag she produced a worn
old wedding ring (it had been her mother's) and handed it to Bob. At
this he commenced to regain his composure, and by the time he had
slipped the ring on Donna's finger and plighted his troth for aye, all
of his troubles and worries vanished. The minister and his gardener
shook hands with them, and the minister's wife kissed Donna and gave
her a motherly hug--primarily because she looked so sweet and again on
general feminine principles. Bob, not desiring to appear cheap on this,
the greatest day in history, gave the minister a fee of twenty dollars,
and five minutes later found himself on the sidewalk with his wife,
rejoicing in the knowledge that he had at least justified his existence
and joined the ranks o' canny married men--the while he strove to
appear as scornful of the future as he had been fearful of it five
minutes before. He jingled less than three dollars in small change in
his vest pocket, and while he strove to appear jaunty, away inside of
him he was a worried man. He could not help it.

"Mrs. McGraw" he said finally, "on the word of no less a personage than
your husband, you're some bride."

"Mr. McGraw" she retorted, "on the word of no less a personage than
your wife, you are _some_ bridegroom. Why _did_ you forget
the ring?"

Why did he forget the ring? Really, it did seem likely that he must
quarrel with his wife before they had been married ten minutes. How
strangely obtuse she was to-day!

"Why, Donna" he protested, "how should I know? I never was married
before, and besides I was thinking of something else all day." He
slapped his vest pocket and cupped a hand to an ear, in a listening
attitude.

"Did you hear a faint jingle?" he queried solemnly.

She pinched his arm, interrupting his flow of nonsense. Women who
dearly love their husbands delight in teasing them, and as Donna turned
her radiant face to his Bob fancied he could detect a secret jest
peeping at him from the ceiled shelter of her drowsy-lidded eyes. Yes,
without a doubt she was laughing at him--and he as poor as a church-
mouse. He frowned.

"This is no laughing matter, Mrs. McGraw."

The roguish look deepened.

"Now, what else have I done?" he demanded.

"Nothing--yet. But you're contemplating it."

"Contemplating what?"

"Telegraphing Harley P. Hennage."

"Friend wife" said Bob McGraw, "you should hang out your shingle as a
seeress. You forecast coming events so cleverly that perhaps you can
inform me whether or not we are to walk back to San Pasqual, living
like gypsies en route."

"Why, no, stupid. I have money enough for our honeymoon."

"Donna" he began sternly, "if I had thought--"

"You wouldn't have consented to such a hasty marriage. Of course. I
knew that--so I contrived to have my way about it. And I'm going to
have my way about this honeymoon, too. Five minutes ago I couldn't have
offered you money, but I have the right to do so now. But I would not
hurt your feelings for the world. I'll loan you six hundred dollars on
approved security."

He shook his head. "You can't mix sentiment and business, Donna, and I
have no security. Besides, I'm not quite a cad."

"Oh, very well, dear. I know your code and I wouldn't run counter to it
for a--well for a water right in Owens Valley--notwithstanding the fact
that I took you for richer or for poorer. And I did figure on a
honeymoon, Bob."

He threw up his hands in token of submission. "I'll accept" he said,
although he was painfully embarrassed. She was making the happiest day
of his life a little miserable, and for the first time he experienced a
fleeting regret that Donna's ideals were not formed on a more masculine
basis. By the exercise of her compelling power over him she had him in
her toils and he was helpless. Nothing remained for him to do save make
the best of a situation, the acceptance of which filled him with
chagrin.

"Don't pull such a dolorous countenance, Bob. Why, your face is as long
as Friar Tuck's. I promise I will not harass you with the taunt that
you married me for my money. In fact, my husband, it's the other way
around. I might accord you that privilege."

She drew his arm through hers. "I have a little wedding present for
you, Bobby dear" she began. "I'm going to tell you a little story, and
now please don't interrupt. You know all summer you were up in the
mountains, and after that you were rather in jail at the Hat Ranch,
where I didn't bring you any newspapers. Consequently, from being out
of the world so long, you haven't heard the latest news about Owens
Valley. I heard it before you left San Pasqual, but I wouldn't tell
you. I wanted to keep the news for a wedding present.

"For several months something very mysterious has been going on in our
part of the world. There has been a force of surveyors and engineers in
the valley searching for a permanent water supply for some great
purpose, though nobody can guess what it is. But it's a fact that a
pile of money has been spent in Long Valley, above Owens Valley, and
more is to be spent if it can buy water. The chief engineer of the
outfit read in the paper at Independence the account of your filing at
Cottonwood Lake and he has had men searching for you ever since. One of
them called to interview you at San Pasqual, for, like T. Morgan Carey,
they had traced you that far. He came into the eating-house and asked
me if I knew anybody in town by the name of Robert McGraw. I told him I
did not--which wasn't a fib because you weren't in town at the time.
You were in bed at the Hat Ranch. An engineer was with him and while
they were at luncheon I overheard them discussing your water-right. The
engineer declared that the known feature alone made the location worth
a million dollars. Do you like my wedding present, dear?"

He pressed her arm but did not answer. She continued.

"I talked over the matter of water and power rights with Harley P. and
he says they will pay a big price for anything like you have. I didn't
tell him you owned a power and water-right--just mentioned that I knew
a man who owned one. Since then I've been reading up on the subject and
I discovered that you have enough water to develop three times the
acreage you plan to acquire. One miner's inch to the acre will be
sufficient in that country. So you see, Bob, you're a rich man. That
explains why Carey was so anxious to find you. He wanted to buy from
you cheap and sell to those people dear. Why, you're the queerest kind
of a rich man. Bob. You're water poor. Don't you see, now, why you can
take my money? You have three times more water than you need; you can
sell some of it--"

Bob paused, facing his bride. "And you knew all this a month ago and
didn't write me!"

"I was saving it for to-day. I wanted this to be the happiest day of
our lives,"

"Ah, how happy you've made me!" he said. His voice trembled just a
little and Donna, glancing quickly up at him, detected a suspicious
moisture in his eyes.

Until that moment she had never fully realized the intensity of the
man's nature--the extent of worry and suffering that could lie behind
those smiling eyes and never show! She saw that a great burden had
suddenly been lifted from him, and with the necessity for further
dissembling removed, his strong face was for the moment glorified. She
realized now the torture to which she had subjected him by her own
tenderness and repression; while their marriage had been a marvelous--a
wonderful--event to her, to him it had been fraught with terror,
despite his great love, and her thoughts harked back to the night she
and Harley P. Hennage had carried him home to the Hat Ranch. Harley P.
had told her that night that Bob would "stand the acid." How well he
could stand it, only she, who had applied it, would ever know.

"Forgive me, dear" she faltered. "If I had only realized--"

"Isn't it great to be married?" he queried. "And to think I was afraid
to face it without the price of a honeymoon!"

"You won't have to worry any more. You're rich. You can sell half the
water and we will never go back to San Pasqual any more."

His face clouded. "I can't do that" he said doggedly.

"Why not?" she asked, frightened.

"Because I'll need every drop of it. I've started a fight and I'm going
to finish it. You told me once that if I sold out my Pagans for money
to marry you, you'd be disappointed in me--that if I should start
something that was big and noble and worthy of me, I'd have to go
through to the finish. Donna, I'm going through. I may lose on a foul,
but I'm not fighting for a draw decision. I schemed for thirty-two
thousand acres, and if I get that I have the land ring blocked. But
there are hundreds--thousands--of acres further south that I can reach
with my canals, and I cannot rest content with a half-way job. The land
ring cannot grab the desert south of Donnaville, because they haven't
sufficient water, and if they had I wouldn't give them a right of way
through my land for their canals, and I wouldn't sell water to their
dummy entrymen. I want that valley for the men who have never had a
chance. I've got the water and it's mine in trust for posterity. It
belongs to Inyo and I'm going to keep it there."

She did not reply. When they reached the hotel, instead of registering,
as Donna expected he would, Bob went to the baggage-room and secured
her suit-case which he had checked there two hours before. She watched
him with brimming eyes, but with never a word of complaint. He was
right, and if the two weeks' honeymoon that she had planned was not to
be, it was she who had prevented it. She had set her husband a mighty
task and bade him finish it, and despite the pain and disappointment of
a return to San Pasqual the same day she had left it, a secret joy
mingled with her bitterness.

Poor Donna! She was proud and happy in the knowledge that her husband
had proved himself equal to the task, but she found it hard, very hard,
to be a Pagan on her wedding day.

Bob brought their baggage and set it by her side. "Watch it for a few
minutes, Donna, please" he said. "I forgot something."

He found a seat for her and she waited until his return.

"Have you got that six hundred with you, Donna?" he asked gravely.

She opened her hand-bag and showed him a roll of twenty dollar pieces.

"Good," he replied, in the same grave, even tones. "Here is my
promissory note, at seven per cent, for the amount, payable one day
after date, and this other document is an assignment of a one-half
interest in my water-right, to secure the payment of my note."

He handed them to her. In silence she gave him the money.

"Are you quite ready, Donna? I think we had better start now" he said.

She nodded. She could not trust herself to speak for the sobs that
crowded in her throat. He observed the tears and stooped over her
tenderly.

"Why, what's the matter, little wife?"

"It's--it's--a little hard--to have to give up--our honeymoon" she
quavered.

"Why, Mrs. Donna Corblay Robert McGraw! Is that the trouble? Well,
you're a model Pagan and I'm proud of you, but you don't know the Big
Chief Pagan after all! Why, we're not going back to San Pasqual for a
week or ten days. I was so busy thinking of all I have to do that I
must have forgotten to tell you that we're going up to the Yosemite
Valley on our honeymoon. I want to show my wife some mountains with
grass and trees on them--the meadows and the Merced river and the
wonderful waterfalls, the birds and the bees and all the other
wonderful sights she's been dreaming of all her life."

She carefully tore the promissory note and the assignment of interest
into little bits and let them flutter to the floor. The tears were
still quivering on her beautiful lashes, but they were tears of joy,
now, and her sense of humor had come to her rescue.

"Foolish man" she retorted, "don't you realize that one cannot mix
sentiment and business? Be sensible, my tall husband. You're so
impulsive. Please register and have that baggage sent up to our room,
and then let me have a hundred dollars. I want to spend it on a dandy
tailored suit and some other things that I shall require on our
honeymoon. In all my life I have never been shopping, and I want to be
happy to-day--all day."

"Tell you what we'll do" he suggested. "Let's not think of the future
at all. I'm tired of this to-morrow bugaboo."

"I'm not. We're going honeymooning to-morrow."

Harley P. Hennage had at length fallen a victim to the most virulent
disease in San Pasqual. For two days he had been consumed with
curiosity; on the third day he realized that unless the mystery of
Donna Corblay's absence from her job could be satisfactorily explained
by the end of the week, he would furnish a description of Donna to a
host of private detectives, with instructions to spare no expense in
locating her, dead or alive.

Donna's absence from the eating-house the first day had aroused no
suspicion in Mr. Hennage's mind. It was her day off, and he knew this.
But when Mr. Hennage appeared in the eating-house for his meals the day
following, Donna's absence from the cashier's desk impelled him to mild
speculation, and when on the third morning he came in to breakfast
purposely late only to find Donna's substitute still on duty, he
realized that the time for action had arrived.

"That settles it" he murmured into his second cup of coffee. "That poor
girl is sick and nobody in town gives three whoops in a holler. I'll
just run down to the Hat Ranch to-night an' see if I can't do somethin'
for her."

Which, safe under cover of darkness, he accordingly did. At the Hat
Ranch Mr. Hennage was informed by Sam Singer that his young mistress
had boarded the train for Bakersfield three days previous, after
informing Sam and his squaw that she would not return for two weeks.
Under Mr. Hennage's critical cross-examination Soft Wind furnished the
information that Donna had taken her white suit and all of her best
clothes.

"Ah," murmured Mr. Hennage, "as the feller says, I apprehend."

He did, indeed. A great light had suddenly burst upon Mr. Hennage. Both
by nature and training he was possessed of the ability to assimilate a
hint without the accompaniment of a kick, and in the twinkling of an
eye the situation was as plain to him as four aces and a king, with the
entire company standing pat.

He smote his thigh, "Well I'll be ding-swizzled and everlastingly
flabbergasted. Lit out to get married an' never said a word to nobody.
Pulls out o' town, dressed in her best suit o' clothes, like old man
McGinty, an' heads north. Uh-huh! Bob McGraw's at the bottom o' this.
He started south the day before, an' he ain't arrived in San Pasqual
yet."

He sat down at Donna's kitchen table and drew a letter and a telegram
from his pocket.

"Huh! Huh--hum--m--m! Writes me on Monday from Sacramento that he's
busted, an' to send him a money order to San Francisco, General
Delivery. Letter postmarked ten thirty A. M. Then he wires me from
Stockton, the same day, to disregard letter an' telegraph him fifty at
Stockton. Telegram received about one P. M. Well, sir, that tells the
story. The young feller flopped by the wayside an' spent his last blue
chip on this telegram. I wire him the fifty, he wires her to meet him
in Bakersfield, most likely, an' they're goin' to get married on my
fifty dollars. _On my fifty dollars!_"

Mr. Hennage looked up from the telegram and fastened upon Sam Singer an
inquiring look, as if he expected the Indian to inform him what good
reason, if any, existed, why Bob McGraw should not immediately be
apprehended by the proper authorities and confined forthwith in a
padded cell.

"I do wish that dog-gone boy'd took me into his confidence," mourned
the gambler, "but that's always the way. Nobody ever trusts me with
nuthin'. Damn it! _Fifty dollars!_ I'll give that Bob hell for
this--a-marryin' that fine girl on a shoestring an' me a-hangin' around
town with upward o' six thousand iron men in the kitty. It ain't fair.
If they was married in San Pasqual I wouldn't butt in nohow, but bein'
married some place else, where none of us is known, I'd a took a chance
an' butted in. I ain't one o' the presumin' kind, but if I'd a-been
asked I'd a-butted in! You can bet your scalp, Sam, if I'd a-had the
givin' away o' that blushin' bride, I'd 'a shoved across a stack o'
blue chips with her that'd 'a set them young folks on their feet. Oh,
hell's bells! If that ain't plumb removin' the limit! Sam, you'd orter
be right thankful you're only an Injun. If you was a human bein' you'd
know what it is to have your feelin's hurt."

He smote the table with his fist. "Serves me right," he growled. "There
ain't no fun in life for a man that lives off the weaknesses of other
people," and with this self-accusing remark Mr. Hennage, feeling
slighted and neglected, returned to his game in the Silver Dollar
saloon. He was preoccupied and unhappy, and that night he lost five
hundred dollars.

Bright and early next morning, however, the gambler went to the public
telephone station and called up the principal hotel in Bakersfield. He
requested speech with either Mr. or Mrs. Robert McGraw. After some
delay he was informed that Mr. and Mrs. McGraw had left the day before,
without leaving a forwarding address.

"Well, I won't say nothin' about it until they do" was the conclusion
at which Mr. Hennage finally arrived. "Of course it's just possible I
happened across the trail of another family o' McGraws, but I'm layin'
two to one I didn't."

And having thus ferreted out Donna's secret, Harley P., like a true
sport, proceeded to forget it. He moused around the post-office a
little and put forth a few discreet feelers here and there, in order to
discover whether San Pasqual, generally speaking, was at all
interested. He discovered that it was not. In fact, in all San Pasqual
the only interested person was Mrs. Pennycook, who heaved a sigh of
relief at the thought that her Dan was, for the nonce, outside the
sphere of Donna's influence.

In the meantime Donna and Bob, in the beautiful Yosemite, rode and
tramped through ten glorious, blissful days. It would be impossible to
attempt to describe in adequate fashion the delights of that honeymoon.
To Donna, so suddenly transported from the glaring drab lifeless desert
to this great natural park, the first sight of the valley had been a
glimpse into Paradise. She was awed by the sublimity of nature, and all
that first day she hardly spoke, even to Bob. Such happiness was
unbelievable. She was almost afraid to speak, lest she awaken and find
herself back in San Pasqual. As for Bob, he had resolutely set himself
to the task of forgetting the future--at least during their honeymoon.
He forgot about the thirty-nine thousand dollars he required, he forgot
about Donnaville; and had even the most lowly of his Pagans interfered
with his happiness for one single fleeting second, Mr. McGraw would
assuredly have slain him instanter and then laughed at the tragedy.

It was very late in the season and the vivid green which, comes with
spring had departed from the valley. But if it had, so also had the
majority of tourists, and Bob and Donna had the hotel largely to
themselves. Each day they journeyed to some distant portion of the
valley, carrying their luncheon, and returning at nightfall to the
hotel. After dinner they would sit together on the veranda, watching
the moon rise over the rim of that wonderful valley, listening to the
tree-toads in noisy convention or hearkening to the "plunk" of a trout
leaping in the river below. Hardly a breath of air stirred in the
valley. All was peace. It was an Eden.

On the last night of their stay, Bob broached for the first time the
subject of their future.

"We must start for--for home to-morrow, Donna" he said. "At least you
must. You have a home to go to. As for me, I've got to go into the
desert and strike one final blow for Donnaville. I've got to take one
more long chance for a quick little fortune before I give up and sell
my Pagans into bondage."

"Yes" she replied heedlessly. She had him with her now; the shadow of
impending separation had not yet fallen upon her.

"What are your plans, Donna?" he asked.

"My plans?"

"Yes. Is it still your intention to keep on working?"

"Why not? I must do something. I must await you somewhere, so why not
at San Pasqual? It is cheaper there and it will help if I can be self-
supporting until you come back. Besides, I'd rather work than sit idle
around the Hat Ranch."

He made no reply to this. He had already threshed the matter over in
his mind and there was no answer.

"I'll accompany you as far as San Pasqual, Donna. We'll go south to-
morrow and arrive at San Pasqual, shortly after dark. I'll escort you
to the Hat Ranch, change into my desert togs, saddle Friar Tuck and
light out. I'll ride to Keeler and sell horse and saddle and spurs
there. At Keeler I'll buy two burros and outfit for my trip; then
strike east, via Darwin or Coso Springs."

"How long will you be in the desert?"

"About six months, I think. I'll come out late in the spring when it
begins to get real hot. Do you think you can wait that long?"

"I think so. Will it be possible for me to write to you in the
meantime?"

"Perhaps. I'll leave word in the miners' outfitting store at Danby and
you can address me there. Then, if some prospector should be heading
out my way they'll send out my letters. My claims are forty miles from
Danby, over near Old Woman mountain. If I meet any prospectors going
out toward the railroad, I'll write you."

"The days will be very long until you come back, dear, but I'll be
patient. I realize what it means to you, and Donnaville is worth the
sacrifice. You know I told you I wanted to help."

"You are helping--more than you realize. You'll be safe until I get
back?"

"I've always been safe at the Hat Ranch, but if I should need a friend
I can call on Harley P. He isn't one of the presuming kind"--Donna
smiled--"but he will stand the acid."

"And you will not worry if you do not receive any letters from me all
the time I am away?"

"I shall know what to expect, Bob, so I shall not worry--very much."

They left the Yosemite early next morning, staging down to El Portal,
and shortly after dusk the same evening they arrived at San Pasqual.
There were few people at the station when the train pulled in, and none
that Donna knew, except the station agent and his assistants; and as
these worthies were busy up at the baggage car, Bob and Donna alighted
at the rear end and under the friendly cover of darkness made their way
down to the Hat Ranch.

Sam Singer and Soft Wind had not yet retired, and after seeing his
bride safe in her home once more, Bob McGraw prepared to leave her.

She was sorely tempted, at that final test of separation, to plead with
him to abandon his journey, to stay with her and their new-found
happiness and leave to another the gigantic task of reclaiming the
valley. It was such a forlorn hope, after all; she began to question
his right to stake their future against that of persons to whom he owed
no allegiance, until she remembered that a great work must ever require
great sacrifice; that her share in this sacrifice was little, indeed,
compared with his. Moreover, he had set his face to this task before he
had met her--she would not be worthy of him if she asked him to abandon
it now.

"I must go" he said huskily. "The moon will be up by ten o'clock and I
can make better time traveling by moonlight than I can after sun-up."

She clung to him for one breathless second; then, with a final caress
she sent him forth to battle for his Pagans.

She was back at the cashier's counter in the eating-house the next
morning when Harley P. Hennage came in for his breakfast.

"Hello, Miss Donna" the unassuming one greeted her cordially. "Where've
you been an' when did you get back to San Pasqual? Why, I like to 'a
died o' grief. Thought you'd run away an' got married an' left us for
good."

He watched her narrowly and noted the little blush that marked the
landing of his apparently random shot.

"I've been away on my first vacation, went up to Yosemite Valley. I got
back last night."

"Glad of it" replied Mr. Hennage heartily. "Enjoy yourself?"

"It was glorious."

He talked with her for a few minutes, then waddled to his favorite seat
and ordered his ham and eggs.

"Well, she didn't fib to me, at any rate, even if she didn't tell the
whole truth" he soliloquized. "But what's chewin' the soul out o' me is
this: 'How in Sam Hill did they make fifty dollars go that far?' If I
was gettin' married, fifty dollars wouldn't begin to pay for the first
round o' drinks."

It had not escaped the gambler's observing eye that Donna had been
crying, so immediately after breakfast Mr. Hennage strolled over to the
feed corral, leaned his arms on the top rail and carefully scanned the
herd of horses within.

Bob McGraw's little roan cayuse was gone!

"Well, if that don't beat the Dutch!" exclaimed Mr. Hennage
disgustedly. "If that young feller ain't one fool of a bridegroom, a-
runnin' away from his bride like this! For quick moves that feller's
got the California flea faded to a whisper. Two weeks ago he was a-
practicin' law in Sacramento, a-puttin' through a deal in lieu lands;
then he jumps to Stockton an' wires me for fifty dollars; then he hops
to Bakersfield an' gits married, after which he lands in the Yosemite
Valley on his honeymoon. From there he jumps to San Pasqual, an' from
San Pasqual he fades away into the desert an' leaves his bride at home
a-weepin' an' a-cryin'. I don't understand this business nohow, an'
I'll be dog-goned if I'm a-goin' to try. It's too big an order."

Three days later Harley P. Hennage wished that he had not been so
inquisitive. That glance into the feed corral was to cost him many a
pang and many a dollar; for, with rare exceptions, there is no saying
so true as this: that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.




CHAPTER XV


The once prosperous mining camp of Garlock is a name and a memory now.
Were it not that the railroad has been built in from San Pasqual a
hundred and fifty miles up country through the Mojave, Garlock would be
a memory only. But some official of the road, imbued, perhaps, with a
remnant of sentimental regret for the fast-vanishing glories of the
past, has caused to be erected beside the track a white sign carrying
the word Garlock in black letters; otherwise one would scarcely realize
that once a thriving camp stood in the sands back of this sign-board of
the past. Even in the days when the stage line operated between San
Pasqual and Keeler, Garlock had run its race and the Argonauts had
moved on, leaving the rusty wreck of an old stamp-mill, the decayed
fragments of half a dozen pine shanties and a few adobe _casas_
with the sod roofs fallen in.

There are a few deep uncovered wells in this deserted camp, filthy with
the rotting carcasses of desert animals which have crawled down these
wells for life--and remained for death. But no human being resides in
Garlock. It is a sad and lonely place. The hills that rise back of the
ruins are scarlet with oxide of iron; in the sheen of the westering sun
they loom harsh and repellent, provocative of the thought that from the
very inception of Garlock their crests have been the arena of murder--
spattered with the blood of the hardy men who made the camp and then
deserted it.

Therefore, one would not be surprised at anything happening in Garlock
--where it would seem a wanton waste of imagination to look forward to
anything happening--yet at about noon of the day that Harley P. Hennage
looked over the rail fence into the feed corral at San Pasqual and
discovered that Bob McGraw's horse was gone, a man on a tired horse
rode up from the south, turned in through the ruined doorway of one of
the roofless tumble-down adobe houses, and concealed himself and his
horse in the area formed by the four crumbling walls.

He dismounted, unsaddled and rubbed down his dripping horse with
handfuls of the withered grasses that grew within the ruins. Next, the
man hunted through Garlock until he found an old rusty kerosene can
with a wire handle fitted through it, and to this he fastened a long
horsehair hitching rope and drew water from one of the filthy wells.
The horse drank greedily and nickered reproachfully when the man
informed him that he must cool off before being allowed to drink his
fill.

For an hour the man sat on his saddle and smoked; then, after drawing
several cans of water for the horse, he spread the saddle-blanket on
the ground and poured thereon a feed of oats from a meager supply
cached on the saddle. From the saddle-bags he produced a small can of
roast beef and some dry bread, which he "washed down" with water from
his canteen while the horse munched at the oats.

Late in the afternoon the man stepped to the ruined doorway and looked
south. Three miles away a splotch of dust hung high in the still
atmosphere; beneath it a black object was crawling steadily toward
Garlock. It was the up stage from San Pasqual for Keeler, and the
stranger in Garlock had evidently been awaiting its arrival, for he
dodged back into the enclosure, saddled his horse, gathered up his few
belongings and seemed prepared to evacuate at a moment's notice. He
peered out, as the old Concord coach lurched through the sand past the
bones of Garlock, and observed the express messenger nodding a little
wearily, his eyes half closed in protest against the glare of earth and
sky.

Suddenly the express messenger started, and looked up. He had a
haunting impression that somebody was watching him--and he was not
mistaken. Over the crest of an adobe wall he saw the head and shoulders
of a man. Also he saw one of the man's hands. It contained a long blue-
barreled automatic pistol, which was pointed at him. From behind a mask
fashioned from a blue bandanna handkerchief came the expected summons:

"Hands up!"

The driver pulled up his horses and jammed down the brake. The express
messenger, surprised, hesitated a moment between an impulse to obey the
stern command and a desire to argue the matter with his sawed-off
shotgun. The man behind the wall, instantly realizing that he must be
impressive at all cost, promptly fired and lifted the pipe out of the
messenger's mouth. The latter swore, and his arms went over his head in
a twinkling.

"Don't do that again" he growled. "I know when a man's got the drop on
me."

"I was afraid your education had been neglected" the hold-up man
retorted pleasantly. "Throw out the box! No, not you. The driver will
throw it out. You keep your hands up."

The express box dropped into the greasewood beside the trail with a
heavy metallic thud that augured a neat profit for the man behind the
wall.

"The passengers will please alight on this side of the stage, turn
their pockets inside out and deposit their coin on top of the box"
continued the road agent. "My friend with the spike beard and the gold
eye-glasses! You dropped something on the bed of the stage. Pick it up,
if you're anxious to retain a whole hide. Thank you! That pocketbook
looks fat. Now, one at a time and no crowding. Omit the jewelry. I want
cash."

The highwayman continued to discourse affably with his victims while
the little pile of coin and bills on top of the box grew steadily. When
it was evident that the job was complete he ordered the passengers back
into the stage and addressed the driver.

"Drive right along now and remember that it's a sure sign of bad luck
to look back. I have a rifle with me and I'm considered a very fair
shot up to five hundred yards. Remember that--you with the sawed-off
shotgun!"

"Good-by" replied the messenger. "See you later, I hope."

The horses sprang to the crack of the driver's whip, and the stage
rolled north on its journey. When it was a quarter of a mile away the
man behind the wall came out into the road and shot the padlock off the
express box, transferred the fruits of his industry to his saddle-bags,
mounted and rode out of Garlock across the desert valley, headed
northeast for Johannesburg.

As he rode out into the open a rifle cracked and a bullet whined over
him. He glanced in the direction whence the sound of the shot came and
observed a man on a white horse riding rapidly toward him. The bandit
suddenly remembered that the off leader on the stage team was white.

"Old man, you're as clever as you are brave" muttered the bandit
admiringly. "You unhook the off leader while I'm monkeying with the
box, dig up a rifle and come for me riding bareback. Well, I'm not out
to kill anybody if I can help it, and my horse has had a nice rest.
I'll run for it."

He did. The rifle cracked again and the bandit's wide-brimmed hat rose
from his head and sailed away into the sage. He looked back at it a
trifle dubiously, but he knew better than to stop to recover that hat,
in the face of such close snap-shooting. That express messenger was too
deadly--and too game; so the bandit merely spurred his horse, lay low
on his neck and swept across the desert. When he came to a little swale
between some sandhills he dipped into it, pulled up, dismounted and
waited. The sun was setting behind the gory hills now, and glinted on a
rifle which the bandit drew from a gun-boot which a broad sweat leather
half concealed. It was better shooting-light now; distances were not
quite so deceptive.

Suddenly the man on the white horse appeared on the crest of a distant
sand-hill. The outlaw, leaning his rifle across his horse's back,
sighted carefully and fired; the white horse went to his knees and his
rider leaped clear. Instantly the pursued man vaulted into his saddle
and rode furiously away. A dozen shots whipped the sage around him; one
of them notched the ear of his straining mount, but in the end the
bullets dropped short, the sun set, and through the gathering gloom the
outlaw jogged easily up the long sandy slope toward Johannesburg. It
was quite dark when he rode around the town to the north, circled
through the range back of Fremont's Peak and headed out across Miller's
Dry Lake, bound for Barstow.

As for the express messenger, he removed the bridle from his dead horse
and trudged back to the waiting coach. On the way he back-tracked the
outlaw's trail until he came to the man's hat, which he appropriated.

Donna Corblay was at the eating-house when the first down stage from
Keeler came into San Pasqual with the news of the hold-up at Garlock
the day before. The town was abuzz with excitement for an hour, when
the news became stale. After all, stage hold-ups were not infrequent in
that country, and Donna paid no particular heed to the commonplace
occurrence until the return to San Pasqual two days later of the stage
which had been robbed.

The express messenger told her the story when he came to the counter to
pay for his rib steak and coffee. He had with him at the time a broad-
brimmed gray sombrero, pinched to a peak, with a ragged hole close to
the apex of the peak.

"I wanted to show you this, Miss Corblay" he said, as he exhibited this
battered relic of the fray. "You do a pretty good trade in hats, and
it's just possible you might have handled this sombrero in the line o'
business. Ever recollect sellin' a hat to this fellow--his name's--
lemme see--his name's Robert McGraw? It's written inside the sweat-
band."

He drew the band back and displayed the name in indelible pencil.

"I lifted it off'n his head with my second shot" the messenger
explained. "He was goin' like a streak an' it was snap-shootin', or
he'd never 'a got away from me. As it was, I sent him on his way
bareheaded, and a bareheaded man is easily traced in the desert. We
sent word over to Johannesburg and Randsburg, an' somebody reported
seein' a bareheaded man ridin' around the town after dark. We have him
headed off at Barstow, and if he can't get through there, he'll have to
head up into the Virginia Dale district--and he'll last about a day up
there, unless he knows the waterholes. We'll get him, sooner or later,
dead or alive. Remember sellin' anybody by that name a hat? It might
help if you had an' could describe him. All I could see was his eyes.
He was behind a wall when he stuck us up." "No" said Donna quietly,
"I--" She paused. She could not articulate another word. Had the express
messenger been watching her instead of the hat, he might have noticed
her agitation. Her eyes were closed in sudden, violent pain, and she
leaned forward heavily against the counter.

"Don't remember him, eh? Well, perhaps he wasn't from San Pasqual. But
I thought I'd ask you, anyhow, because if he was from this town it was
a good chance he bought this hat from you. Much obliged, just the
same," and gathering up his change the express messenger departed to
make room for Harley P. Hennage, who was standing next in line to pay
his meal-check.

Donna opened her eyes and sighed--a little gasping sob, and turned her
quivering face to the gambler. He smiled at her, striving pathetically
to do it naturally. Instead, it was a grimace, and there was the look
of a thousand devils In his baleful eyes. For an instant their glances
met--and there were no secrets between them now. Donna moaned in her
wretchedness; she placed her arm on the cash register and bowed her
head on it, while the other little trembling hand stole across the
counter, seeking for his and the comfort which the strong seem able to
impart ito the weak by the mere sense of touch.

"Oh, Harley, Harley" she whispered brokenly, "the light's--gone out--of
the world--and I can't--cry. I--I--I can't. I can--only--suffer."

Harley P.'s great freckled hand closed over hers and held it fast,
while with his other hand he touched her beautiful head with paternal
tenderness.

"Donnie" he said hoarsely. She did not look up. "I'm sorry you're not
feelin' well, Donnie. You're all upset about somethin', an' you ought
to go home an' take a good rest. You don't--you don't look well. I
noticed it last night. You looked a mite peaked."

"Yes, yes" she whispered, clutching at this straw which he held out to
her, "I'm ill. I want to go home--oh, Mr. Hennage, please--take me--
home."

Mr. Hennage turned and beckoned to one of the waitresses whose duty it
was, on Donna's days off, to take her place at the cash counter. As the
waitress started to obey his summons, the gambler turned and spoke to
Donna.

"Buck up and beat it. I can't take you home, an' neither can anybody
else. You've got to make it alone. When you get to the Hat Ranch, send
Sam Singer up to me. Remember, Donnie. Send Sam Singer up."

He turned again to the waitress. "You'd better take charge here" he
said. "Miss Corblay's been took sick an' the pain's somethin' terrible.
I've been a-tellin' her she ought to have Doc Taylor in to look at her.
If I had the pain that girl's a-sufferin' right now I'd be in bed,
that's what I would. I'll bet a stack o' blues she got this here
potomaine poisonin'. Better run right along, Miss Donnie, before the
pain gets worse, an' I'll see Doc Taylor an' tell him to bring you down
some medicine or somethin'."

Donna replied in monosyllables to the excited queries of the waitress,
pinned on her hat and left the eating-house as quickly as she could.
She was dry-eyed, white-lipped, sunk in an abyss of misery; for there
are agonies of grief and terror so profound that their very intensity
dams the fount of tears, and it was thus with Donna. Harley P.
accompanied her to the door of the eating-house, but he would go no
further. He realized that Donna wanted to talk with him; in a vague way
he gathered that she looked to him for some words of comfort in her
terrible predicament. Not for worlds, however, would he be seen walking
with her in public, thereby laying the foundation for "talk"; and under
the circumstances he realized the danger to her, should he even be seen
conversing with her from now on. She pleaded with him with her eyes,
but he shook his head resolutely. He had heard the news. Inadvertently
he had stumbled upon her secret, and she knew this. But she knew also
that never by word or sign or deed would Harley P. Hennage indicate
that he had heard it. It was like him to ascribe her agitation to
illness, and as she turned her heavy footsteps toward the Hat Ranch the
memory of that loving lie brought the laggard tears at last, and she
wept aloud. In her agony she was conscious of a feeling of gratitude to
the Almighty for His perfect workmanship in fashioning a man who was
not one of the presuming kind.

It seemed to Donna that she must have wandered long in the border-lands
of hell before eventually she reached the shelter of the adobe walls of
the Hat Ranch. Soft Wind heard her sobbing and fumbling with the
recalcitrant lock on the iron gate, and hurried toward her.

"My little one! My nestling!" she said in the Cahuilla tongue, and
forthwith Donna collapsed in the old squaw's arms. It was the first
time she had ever fainted.

When she recovered consciousness she found that she was lying fully
dressed, on her bed, at the foot of which Soft Wind and Sam Singer were
standing, gazing at her owlishly. She commenced to sob immediately, and
Sam Singer pussy-footed out of the room and fled up town to lay the
matter before Harley P. Hennage. For the second time there was a crisis
at the Hat Ranch, and Sam yielded to his first impulse, which was to
seek help where something told him help would never be withheld.

In the meantime, Harley P. Hennage had fled to the seclusion of his
room in the eating-house hotel. The disclosure of the identity of the
stage-robber had overwhelmed the gambler with anguish, and he wanted to
be alone to think the terrible affair over calmly. In the language of
his profession, the buck was clearly up to Mr. Hennage.

Twice during his eventful career the gambler had sat in poker games
where an opponent had held the dead man's hand and paid the penalty. He
recalled now the quick look of terror that had flitted across the face
of each of these men when it came to the show-down and the pot was lost
in the smoke; he endeavored to compare it with the sudden despair and
suffering that came into Donna's eyes when the express messenger drew
back the sweat-band of the outlaw's hat and showed her Bob McGraw's
private brand of ownership.

"No," moaned Mr. Hennage, "there ain't no comparison. Them two tin-
horns was frightened o' death, but poor little Donnie is plumb fearful
o' life, an' there ain't a soul in the world can help her but me. She's
got hers, just like her mother did, an' there ain't never goin' to be
no joy in them eyes no more, unless I act, an' act lively."

He sat down on his bed and bowed his bald head in his trembling hands,
for once more Harley P. Hennage was face to face with a great issue.
He, too, was experiencing some of the agony of a grief that could find
no outlet in tears--a three-year-old grief that could have no ending
until the end should come for Harley P.

Presently he roused and looked at his watch. He was horrified to
discover that he had just forty minutes left in which to arrange his
affairs and leave San Pasqual.

He went to the window, parted the curtains cautiously and looked out.
At the door of the post-office, a half a block down on the other side
of the street, the express messenger, with the hat still in his hand,
stood conversing with Miss Molly Pickett.

"You--miserable--old--mischief-maker" he muttered slowly, and with hate
and emphasis in every word. "You're tellin' him to see me for
information concernin' Bob McGraw, ain't you? You're tellin' him this
road agent's a friend o' mine, because I called for a registered letter
for him once, ain't you? An' now you're takin' him inside to show him
the written order Bob McGraw give me for that registered letter, ain't
you? You're quite a nice little old maid detective, ain't you, Miss
Molly? You're tellin' him that I knew the man that saved Donnie
Corblay, an' that _he_ was a friend o' mine, too, because I led
his roan horse up into the feed corral an' guaranteed the feed bill.
An' everybody knows, or if they don't they soon will, that the initials
'R. McG.' was on that fool boy's saddle. All right, Miss Pickett! Let
'er flicker. Only them Wells Fargo detectives don't get to ask me no
questions regardin' that girl's husband. Not a dog-gone question! If I
stay in this town they'll subpeeny me an' make me testify under oath,
an' then I'll perjure myself an' get caught at it, an' I'm too old a
gambler to get caught bluffin' on no pair. No, indeed, folks, I can't
afford it, so I'm just a-goin' to fold my tent like the Arab an'
silently fade away."

Thus reasoned Mr. Hennage. Both by nature and professional training he
was more adept in the science of deduction than most men, and while he
had never seen Donna's marriage license he firmly believed that she had
been married. He had looked for the publication of the license in the
Bakersfield papers. Not having seen it, Mr. Hennage was not disturbed.
He understood that Donna, planning to keep on at the eating-house,
desired her marriage to remain a secret for the present, and Bob had
doubtless arranged to have the record of the issuance of the license
"buried." The fact that Friar Tuck had disappeared from the feed corral
on the very night of Donna's return to San Pasqual was to Mr. Hennage
prima facie evidence that Bob McGraw had returned with her. Donna had
gone to the Hat Ranch while Bob had saddled and ridden north. At least,
since he had come from the north, Mr. Hennage deduced that to the north
he would return. Garlock lay a hard thirty-five miles from San Pasqual,
and it seemed reasonable to presume that Bob had stopped there for
water, rested until the stage came along and then robbed it.

However, there was one weak link in this apparently powerful chain of
evidence. The stage driver and the express messenger both reported the
bandit to be mounted on a bay mustang. At close quarters the horse had
been, concealed behind the wall with the upper half of his face
showing. Well, Bob McGraw's horse was a light roan--a very light
roan, with almost bay ears and head, and at a distance, and in certain
lights and in the excitement of the hold-up, he might very easily have
been mistaken for a bay. Many a bay horse, when covered with alkali
dust and dried sweat, has been mistaken for a roan.

In addition there was the evidence of the automatic pistol! Few men in
that country carried automatics, for an automatic was a weapon too new
in those days to be popular, and the residents of the Mojave still
clung to tradition and a Colt's.45. The bandit had shown himself
peculiarly expert in the use of his weapon, having shot the pipe out of
the messenger's mouth, merely to impress that unimpressionable
functionary. It would have been like Bob McGraw, who carried an
automatic and was a dead shot, to show off a little!

However, an alibi might very easily discount all this circumstantial
evidence, were it not for the fact that there could be no alibi for Bob
McGraw, for beyond doubt he must have been in the neighborhood of
Garlock that very day. Then there was the hat, with his name in it;
also the report that one of the passengers who knew him had recognized
the bandit as Bob McGraw.

"Alibi or no alibi, he'll get twenty years in San Quentin on that
evidence" mourned Harley P. "Oh, Bob, you infernal young rip, if you
was as hard up as all that, why didn't you come to me? Why didn't you
trust old Harley P. Hennage with your worries! I'd 'a seen you through.
But you wouldn't trust me--just went to work an' married that good
girl, an' then pulled off a job o' road work to support her. Oh, Bob,
you dog, you've broke her heart an' she'll go like her mother went."

He clenched his big fists and punched the air viciously, in unconscious
exemplification of the chastisement he would mete to Bob McGraw when he
met him again.

"It ain't often I make a mistake judgin' a man" he muttered piteously,
"but I've sure been taken in on this feller. I thought he'd stand the
acid--by God! I thought he'd stand it. An' at that there's heaps o'
good in the boy! He must 'a been just desperate for money, an' the
notion to rob the stage come on him all in a heap an' downed him
before he knew. Great Grief! That misfortunate girl! He'll never come
back, an' if they trace him to her she'll die o' shame. Whiskered bob-
cats, I never thought o' that. She'll have to get out too!"

The gambler had a sudden thought. Donna could do two things. She could
leave San Pasqual, or she could stand pat! If she said nothing, not a
soul could befoul her by linking her name to that of a stage-robber,
She _must_ stand pat! There was but one channel through which the
news that Bob McGraw had been harbored at the Hat Ranch could possibly
filter. People might _think_ what they pleased, but they could
never _prove,_ provided Doc Taylor remained discreet. Therefore it
behooved Mr. Hennage to see Doc Taylor immediately. That possible leak
must be plugged at once.

Three minutes later the gambler strolled into the drugstore.

"How" he saluted.

"Hello, Hennage."

"What's new?"

"Nothing much. What do you think about that hold-up at Garlock?"

"Pretty bold piece o' work, Doc. Do they know who did it?"

"Fellow named McGraw. And as near as I can make out, Hennage, it's the
same fellow I attended that time down at the Hat Ranch."

"It is" Mr. Hennage agreed quietly. "At least, I believe it is. That's
what I called to see you about, Doc. Have you said anything to
anybody?"

"No--not yet. I wasn't quite certain, and I figured on talking it over
with you before I gave Wells Fargo & Company the quiet tip to watch the
Hat Ranch for their man."

"Good enough! But they'll be around asking you questions, Doc. Don't
worry about that. They won't wait for you to come to them. Ah' when
they come to you, Doc, you don't know nothin'. _Comprende?_"

"But McGraw robbed the stage--"

"He didn't kill nobody, Doc. He wasn't blood-thirsty. He shot the horse
when he might have shot the messenger. Now, let's be sensible, Doc.
Sometimes a feller can accomplish more in this world by keepin' his
mouth shut than he can by tellin' every durned thing he knows. Now, as
near as I can learn, this outlaw gets away with about four thousand
dollars. If the passengers an' the express company get their money
back, they'll be glad to let it go at that, an' I'll buy 'em a new
padlock for the express box. This is the young feller's first job, Doc
--I'm certain o' that. He ain't _bad_--an' besides, I've got a
special interest in him. Now, listen here, Doc; I've got a pretty good
idea where he's gone to hole up until the noise dies down, an' I'm
goin' after him myself. I'll make him give up the swag an' send it
back; then I'll get him out of the country an' let him start life all
over again somewhere else. He's a young feller, Doc, an' it ain't right
to kick him when he's down. He oughter be lifted up an' given a chance
to make good."

Doc Taylor shook his head dubiously. He realized that Harley P.'s plan
was best, and in his innermost soul he commended it as a proper
Christian course. But he also remembered to have heard somewhere that
godless men like Harley P. Hennage and the outlaw McGraw had a habit of
being friendly and faithful to each other in just such emergencies--a
sort of "honor among thieves" arrangement, and despite Mr. Hennage's
kindly words, Doc Taylor doubted their sincerity. In fact, the whole
thing was irregular, for even after the return of the stolen money the
bandit would still owe a debt to society--and moreover, the worthy
doctor was the joint possessor, with Harley P. Hennage, of an
astounding secret, the disclosure of which would make him the hero of
San Pasqual for a day at least.

"I can't agree to that, Hennage" he began soberly.

"It doesn't look right to me to let a stage-robber go scot-free--"

"Well, I tell you, Doc," drawled Mr. Hennage serenely, "it'd better
look right to you, an' damned quick at that. You seem to think I'm here
a-askin' a favor o' you. Not much. I never ask favors o' no man. I'm
just as independent as a hog on ice; if I don't stand up I can set
down. I run a square game myself an' I want a square game from the
other fellow. Now, Doc, you just so much as say 'Boo' about this thing,
an' by the Nine Gods o' War I'll kill you. D'ye understand, Doc? I'll
kill you like I would a tarantula. An' when they come to ask you the
name o' the man you 'tended at the Hat Ranch you tell 'em his name is--
lemme see, now--yes, his name is Roland McGuire. That's a nice name,
an' it corresponds to the initials on the saddle."

Doc Taylor looked into the gambler's hard face, which was thrust close
to his. The mouth of the worst man in San Pasqual was drawn back in a
half snarl that was almost coyote-like; his small deep-set eyes bespoke
only too truly the firmness of purpose that lay behind their blazing
menace. For fully thirty seconds those terrible eyes flamed,
unblinking, on Doc Taylor; then Mr. Hennage spoke.

"Now, what is his name goin' to be, Doc?"

"Roland McGuire" said Doc Taylor, and swallowed his Adam's apple twice.

"Bright boy. Go to the head o' the class an' don't forget to remember
to stick there."




CHAPTER XVI


Mr. Hennage turned slowly and walked out of the drug-store, for he had
accomplished his mission. Once again, without recourse to violence, he
had maintained his reputation as the worst man in San Pasqual, for his
power lay, not in a clever bluff, but in his all-too-evident downright
honesty of purpose. Had Doc Taylor presumed to fly in the face of
Providence, after that warning, Mr. Hennage felt that the
responsibility must very properly rest on the doctor, for the gambler
would have killed him as surely as he had the strength to work his
trigger finger.

"Well, _that's_ over" he muttered as he returned to his room.
"She's woman enough to cover the rest o' the trail herself now, poor
girl, an' in about a week I'll pull the big sting that's hurtin' her
most."

Hastily he packed a suit-case with his few simple belongings, for in
his haste he was forced to abandon his old rawhide trunk that had
accompanied him in his wanderings for twenty years. But one article did
Mr. Hennage remove from his trunk. It was an old magazine. He opened it
tenderly, satisfied himself that the faded old rose that lay between
the leaves was still intact, and packed this treasure into the suit-
case; then, while waiting for the north-bound train to whistle for San
Pasqual, he sat down at a little table and wrote a note to Donna:

_Dear Miss Donnie:_

I am sending you a thousand by Sam Singer. You might need it. Am in
trouble and must get out quick. Will stay away until things blow over.
Hoping these few lines will find you feeling well, as they leave me at
present, I am,

Respect. yrs.

H. P. HENNAGE.

P. S. I came to say good-by a little while ago and was sorry you wasn't
feeling well.

This note Mr. Hennage sealed carefully in an envelope, together with a
compact little roll of bills, just as the train whistled for San
Pasqual. He seized his suit-case and hurried down stairs, and on the
way down he met Sam Singer coming up.

"Give this to Miss Donna" said Mr. Hennage, and thrust the envelope
into the Indian's hand. "Ain't got no time to talk to you, Sam. This is
my busy day," and then, for the last time, he gave Sam Singer the
inevitable half dollar and a cigar.

"Good-by, Sam" he called as he descended the stairs. "Be a good Injun
till I see you again."

He went to the ticket window, purchased a ticket to San Francisco and
climbed aboard the train. Two minutes later it pulled out. As it
plunged into Tehachapi Pass, Mr. Hennage, standing on the platform of
the rear car, glanced back across the desert at San Pasqual.

"Nothin' like mystery to keep that rotten little camp up on its toes"
he muttered. "I'll just leave that mess to stew in its own juices for a
while."

He went into the smoker and lit a cigar. His plans were well matured
now and he was content; in this comfortable frame of mind he glanced
idly around at his fellow-passengers.

Seated two seats in front of him and on the opposite side of the coach,
Mr. Hennage observed a gray-haired man reading a newspaper. The gambler
decided that there was something vaguely familiar about the back of
this passenger's head, and on the pretense of going to the front of the
car for a drink of water he contrived, on his way back to his seat, to
catch a glimpse of the stranger's face. At the same instant the man
glanced up from his paper and nodded to Mr. Hennage.

"How" said Harley P., and paused beside the other's seat. "Mr. T.
Morgan Carey, if I ain't mistaken?"

"The same" replied Carey in his dry, precise tones. "And you are--Mr.--
Mr.--Mr. Hammage."

"Hennage" corrected the gambler.

"I beg your pardon. Mr. Hennage. Quite so. Pray be seated, Mr. Hennage.
You're the very man I wanted to see."

He moved over and made room for Mr. Hennage beside him. The gambler sat
down and sighed.

"Hot, ain't it?" he remarked, rather inanely.

"Rather. By the way, Mr. Hennage, have you, by any chance, seen that
young man for whom I was inquiring on the day I first had the pleasure
of making your acquaintance? His name is McGraw--Robert McGraw. You
will recollect that I left with you one of my cards, with the request
that you give it to McGraw, should you meet him, and inform him that I
desired to communicate with him."

"Yes" replied Mr. Hennage calmly. "I met him one day in San Pasqual an'
gave him your card."

"You gave him my registered letter, also?"

So Carey had been talking with Miss Pickett again! Mr. Hennage nodded.

"Tell me, Mr. Hennage" purred Carey. "Why did the man, McGraw, send you
to the post-office with an order for that registered letter?"

"Oh, he was in a little trouble at the time an' didn't care to show in
public" lied Mr. Hennage glibly.

"I perceive. I believe you mentioned something about his reputation as
a hard citizen when I first spoke to you about him."

"Tougher'n a bob-cat" Mr. Hennage assured him, for no earthly reason
except a desire to be perverse and not contradict his former
statements.

"Hu-u-m-m! I presume you know where Mr. McGraw may be found at present.
Is he liable to communicate with you?"

Mr. Hennage was on guard. "Well, I ain't sayin' nothin'" he replied
evasively. It was in his mind to discover, if possible, the details of
the business which this man of vast emprise could have with a penniless
desert rat like Bob McGraw.

"Is this McGraw a friend of yours, Mr. Hennage?" pursued Carey.

"Well," the gambler fenced, "I've loaned him money."

"Ever get it back?" Carey smiled a thin sword-fish smile.

"Certainly. Why do you ask?"

"You consider McGraw honest?"

"Sure shot--between friends. Yes."

Carey turned his head slowly and gazed at the gambler in mean triumph.
"Well, I'm sorry I can't agree with you" he said. "Your friend McGraw
robbed me of fifteen hundred dollars on the San Pasqual-Keeler stage a
few days ago."

The fact that Carey had been a victim of Bob McGraw's felonious
activities was news to Mr. Hennage, but he would not permit Carey to
suspect it.

"Yes" he replied calmly, "I heard he'd taken to road work."

"He held up the stage" Carey repeated, in the flat tone of finality
which the foreman of a jury might have employed when repeating the
verbal formula: "We, the jury, find the defendant guilty, as charged."

"Then you recognized McGraw" ventured the gambler.

"The moment I saw him."

"That's funny" echoed Harley P. "I gathered from what you told me in
San Pasqual that you two'd never met up, an' they tell me that durin'
the hold-up McGraw was behind a wall an' wearin' a mask. You're sure
some recognizer, Mr. Carey."

"We had met prior to the hold-up and subsequent to my conversation with
you in San Pasqual."

"Still the bet goes as she lays" repeated Mr. Hennage. "For a near-
sighted gent you're sure some recognizer."

"I recognized his voice."

Mr. Hennage was silent for a minute. Carey continued.

"If the sheriff gets him, I'll see to it that McGraw doesn't rob
another stage for some time to come."

Still Mr. Hennage was silent. He was digesting the conversation, and
this much he gathered:

There was some mysterious business afoot wherein Carey and Bob McGraw
were jointly interested, and they had met and quarreled over it, as
evidenced by T. Morgan Carey's all too apparent animosity. Mr. Hennage
had a haunting suspicion that Carey's animus did not arise from the
fact that McGraw had robbed him of fifteen hundred dollars. He felt
that there was a deeper, more vital reason than that. All of his days
Mr. Hennage had lived close to the primitive; he was a shrewd judge of
human impulses and it had been his experience that men quarrel over two
things--women and money. The possible hypothesis of a woman, in the
suspected quarrel between Bob McGraw and T. Morgan Carey, Harley P.
dismissed as untenable. Remained then, only money--and Bob McGraw had
no money. His finances were at so low an ebb as to be beneath the
notice of such a palpable commercial wolf as T. Morgan Carey;
consequently, and in the final analysis, Mr. Hennage concluded that Bob
McGraw possessed something which Carey coveted. Whether his spiteful
attitude toward the unfortunate Bob arose from this, or the loss of the
fifteen hundred dollars, Mr. Hennage now purposed discovering. He
leaned toward Carey confidentially and lowered his voice.

"Say, looky-here, Mr. Carey. This boy, McGraw, is a friend o' mine. A
little wild? Yes. But what young feller now-a-days ain't? I know he's
robbed you o' fifteen hundred dollars, an' I'm sorry for that, but I
can fix you up all right. I'm goin' to get into communication with our
young friend before long, if he ain't beefed by the sheriff first, or
captured alive--but it's ten to one they get him, an' he'll be brought
to trial. Well, now, here's what I'm drivin' at. If the boy's nabbed,
an' you'll agree to sorter, as the feller says, tangle the woof o'
memory an' refuse to swear that you recognize the said defendant as the
hereinbefore mentioned stage-robber, I'll see that you get your fifteen
hundred back. This is his first serious job, Mr. Carey, an' I wish
you'd go easy on him. He ain't really bad."

T. Morgan Carey pounded the back of the seat in front of him.

"Not for fifty thousand dollars" he said. "The suggestion is
preposterous. The man is a menace to society and it is my duty to
testify against him if he is apprehended."

"Then it ain't a question with you o' money back an' no questions
asked?"

Carey shook his head emphatically. "It's principle" he said.

Mr. Hennage appeared chopfallen. In reality he was amused. Never before
had Mr. Hennage met a man to whom the abandonment of such "principle"
would have been impossible under the terms suggested. Clearly there was
something wrong here. Mr. Hennage had met men to whom vengeance would
have been cheap at fifty thousand, but principle--the gambler shook his
head. He had lived long enough to learn that principle is a marketable
commodity, and he was not deceived in T. Morgan Carey's attitude of
civic righteousness.

"Well, it's too bad you won't listen to reason, Mr. Carey" he said
regretfully. "I thought you might be willin' to go easy on the young
feller. It's too durned bad," and he rose abruptly and returned to his
own seat. Carey resumed the perusal of his newspaper. He was not
anxious to continue the conversation, and he believed he had Mr.
Hennage intimidated, and for reasons of his own he was desirous of
permitting the gambler to think matters over.

Mr. Hennage proceeded at once to think matters over. "Now, I wonder
what that kid-glove crook has against the boy!" he mused. "I can see
right off that Bob has an ace coppered, an' this sweet-scented burglar
would like to see Bob tucked away in the calaboose while he goes
huntin' for the ace. What in Sam Hill can them two fellers have between
them? Here's Bob, just a plain young desert rat, a-dreamin' an' a-
romancin' over the country, while this Carey is a solid citizen. He's
president o' the Inyo Land & Irrigation Company, according to his card.
Bob ain't got no money--Carey has a carload of it. Bob ain't got no
water--Carey's in the irrigation business. Bob ain't got no real
estate, 'ceptin' what he accumulates on his person wanderin' around,
and Carey's got land--"

Mr. Hennage emitted a low soft whistle through the slit between two of
his gold teeth.

Land! That was it. Land! And government land at that!

Mr. Hennage suddenly recollected the letter which Bob McGraw had
written him from Sacramento, requesting a loan of fifty dollars, and
enclosing, without comment, a typewritten contract form for the
acquisition of state lieu lands. Mr. Hennage had read this contract at
the time of its receipt, little thinking that Bob was wholly
unconscious of the fact that he had enclosed it with his letter. Mr.
Hennage had marveled at the time that Bob should have made no reference
to it in his letter.

He took Bob's letter from his breast pocket now, and carefully perused
once more this typewritten contract form. To him it conveyed little
information, save that Bob had been endeavoring to induce Tom, Dick and
Harry to acquire state lieu lands by engaging him as their attorney,
and without the disagreeable necessity putting up any money. A very
queer proceeding, concluded Mr. Hennage, in view of the fact that Bob
apprehended litigation in order to establish the rights of his clients.
At the first reading of this document two weeks previous, the gambler
had merely looked upon it as evidence of another of Bob McGraw's
harebrained schemes for acquiring a quick fortune--a scheme founded on
optimism and predestined to failure; but in the light of recent events
the meager information gleaned from the contract form had now a deeper,
a more significant meaning.

Here was a conundrum. Carey (according to his card, at any rate) had
the water, while Bob McGraw (according to this contract form) was
endeavoring to acquire the land. Both were operating in Owens valley.
Mr. Hennage smiled. No wonder they had quarreled, for without the land,
of what use was the water to Carey? and without the water, of what
value could the land be to Bob McGraw?

"I wouldn't give a white chip for a hull county o' such land" mused the
gambler, "unless I could set in the game with the chap that had the
water, an' Carey bein' a human hog, it stands to reason Bob's a chump
to tie up with Him, unless--unless--_he's got water of his own!_"

Mr. Hennage slapped his fat thigh. "By Jupiter," he murmured, "he's got
the water! He must have it. He might be fool enough to hold up a stage,
but he ain't fool enough to face a lawsuit, without a dollar in the
world, tryin' to make people take up land so he can sell 'em water for
irrigation, unless he has the water. The boy ain't plumb crazy by no
means. _That's the ace he's got coppered!_ He's got the water, and
if Carey can put him across for that hold-up job, who's to protect the
boy's bet? Not a soul, unless it's me, an' I'm only shootin' at the
moon. Bob ain't the man to put up a fight for worthless land, an'
besides, wasn't Donnie askin' me a lot o' questions about water an'
water rights, an' showin' a whole lot of interest, now that I come to
think on't? By the Nine Gods o' War! I smell a rat as big as a
kangaroo. Bob's been buttin' in on Carey's game; Carey's been tryin' to
buy him out, but Bob has Carey on the floor with his shoulders
touchin', so he won't sell an' he won't consolidate. If she don't 'tack
up that-a-way, I'm an Injun. Carey wouldn't compromise with me an' take
back his fifteen hundred. Why! There's a reason. He'd sooner see young
Bob in the penitentiary because it'd mean more money to him. He wants
Bob out o' the way, so he won't be on hand to draw cards, an' then this
Carey person 'll just reach out his soft little mitt and rake in the
jack-pot. All right, T. Morgan Carey! Bob's out of it, but even if he
is a crook I'll string a bet with him, for Donnie's sake, an' I'll deal
you a brace game an' you'll never know that the deck's been sanded."

And having thus, to his entire satisfaction, solved the mystery of the
hitherto unaccountable actions of T. Morgan Carey and Bob McGraw, Mr.
Hennage dismissed the matter from his mind, lit a fresh cigar and
permitted the peanut butcher to inveigle him into a friendly little
game of whist with three traveling salesmen.

Harley P. Hennage had purchased a ticket for San Francisco, but when
the train reached Bakersfield and he observed T. Morgan Carey leaving
the car, bag in hand, the gambler suddenly decided that he, also, would
honor Bakersfield with his presence. He excused himself, hastily
quitted his innocent game of whist, seized his suit-case and rode up
town in the same hotel bus with Carey.

Carey registered first, sent his bag and overcoat up to his room, and
then walked over to the telegraph desk. Harley P. Hennage, standing in
line to register, noticed that Carey had filed a telegram;
consequently, when he had registered and T. Morgan Carey had
disappeared into the barber shop, Mr. Hennage, following up a strong
winning "hunch," walked over to the telegraph desk and laid a ten-
dollar piece on the railing.

"I'm goin' to open a book, young lady" he announced. "I'm willin' to
bet ten dollars that the respectable old party that just give you a
telegram signed Carey is wirin' about a friend o' mine. If I don't
guess right, you get the ten bucks. Fair?"

The young lady operator dimpled and admitted that it was eminently
fair. She had no illusions (although her position required her to have
them) regarding the sacredness of privacy in a telegram, and Mr.
Hennage had not as yet asked her to violate a confidence.

"I'm a-bettin' ten bucks" repeated Mr. Hennage, "that the name McGraw
occurs in that telegram."

"You win" the operator replied. "How did you guess it?"

"I was born with a veil" he replied. "I got the gift o' second sight,
an' I'm just a-tryin' it out. The ten is yours for a copy o' that
telegram."

The operator seized a scratch-pad, copied the telegram and cautiously
"slipped" it to Mr. Hennage, who as cautiously "slipped" her the ten-
dollar bill. He was rewarded for his prodigality by the following:

R. P. McKeon, Mills Building, Sacramento, Calif.

Advise our friend approve McGraw applications at once. Letter follows.

CAREY.

The gambler smiled his thanks and walked across the hotel lobby to the
public-telephone operator. On this young lady's desk he laid a five-
dollar bill.

"I want you to call up Sacramento on the long distance an' ask the
central there to find out who Mr. R. P. McKeon is an' what he does for
a livin'."

"We have copies of the telephone directories of the principal cities in
the state" came the quick reply. "It makes it easier if we ask for the
number direct."

"Five bucks for a look in the book" announced Mr. Hennage. He got the
book, with the information that he might have his look for nothing, but
being a generous soul he declined. He ascertained that R. P. McKeon was
an attorney-at-law.

"As the feller says, I believe I see the light" murmured the gambler.
"Now please get me the agent for Wells Fargo & Company at San Pasqual."

When the operator informed him that San Pasqual was on the line, Mr.
Hennage went into a sound-proof booth and told a lie. He informed the
agent at San Pasqual that he was the Bakersfield representative of the
Associated Press, and demanded the latest information regarding the
hunt for the Garlock bandit. He was informed that there was no news.

"I gotta get some news" he bellowed into the receiver. "What's the
exact loss o' your company?"

"Twenty-one hundred eighty-three forty."

"Serves you right. How about the passengers? Got their names an'
addresses an' the amounts they lost?"

"No, but the express messenger has and he's in town. Hold the line a
minute and I'll go call him."

So Mr. Hennage waited. Five minutes later, when he hung up, he had
secured the information and made careful note of it, after which he
sought an arm-chair in the hotel window, planted his feet on the window
sill and gave himself up to reflection. He was occupied thus when T.
Morgan Carey came out of the barber shop, and seeing Mr. Hennage, came
over and sat down beside him. Mr. Hennage decided that the financier
must have something on his mind, and he was not wrong.

"Mr. Hennage" said Carey unctuously, "I have been thinking over the
proposition which you made me coming up from San Pasqual this
afternoon, and if you still feel inclined to act as intermediary in
this unfortunate affair, I will submit a proposition. Mr. McGraw may
retain the fifteen hundred dollars which he stole from me, and I will
agree to give him, say, five thousand more, through you, for a
relinquishment to me of a water right which he has filed upon in the
Sierra overlooking Owens valley. There is also another matter of which
McGraw has cognizance, and he must agree to drop that too. His money
will be delivered to you, for delivery to him. In return, I will agree
to be absent when his case comes to trial, should he be captured. I
will agree not to recognize him."

"But suppose he refuses this programme, Mr. Carey. Then what?"

"In that event, my dear Mr. Hennage" replied Carey coldly, "you may
tell him from me that I will spend a hundred thousand dollars to run
him down. I will have this state combed by Pinkertons, and when I land
Mr. Robert McGraw I'll land him high and dry and it will be too late
for him to make _me_ a proposition then. I have the power and the
money necessary to get him--and I know how."

"Well, what a long tail our cat's developing!" drawled Mr. Hennage.
"Carey, you give me a pain where I never knew it to ache me before.
Now, you just sit still while I submit _you_ a little proposition.
An' remember I ain't pleadin' with you to accept it. No, indeed. I'm
just a-orderin' you to. Bob McGraw can't prove that he didn't rob that
stage, but a child could make a monkey out o' you on the witness stand.
Talked to him once an' recognized his voice, eh? Pooh! Met him once an'
recognized him masked. Rats! I happen to know, Carey, that you didn't
recognize the stage robber _until after the messenger returned to the
stage with his hat an' showed you his name on the sweat-band._ Then
you remembered, because the wish was father to the thought, an' you
wanted the boy in jail. Now, looky here. I happen to be mighty heavily
interested in this here water right you're plannin' to blackmail McGraw
out of. But you ain't got nothin' on me, an' you can't buy me out for a
million dollars, an' you ain't got money enough--there ain't money
enough in the world--to make me double-cross Bob McGraw just because
he's a outlaw from justice."

He tapped Carey on the knee with his fat forefinger. "I'm playin' look-
out on this game, an' it's hands off for you. You can't make a bet. You
don't get that water right an' you won't get the land; if Bob McGraw
ain't on hand to sue for his rights, by the Nine Gods o' War, I'll sue
for him, an' I'll put up the money, an' I'll match you an' your gang
for your shoe-strings, and you're whipped to a frazzle, an' get that
into your head--understand? You're figurin' now on gettin' them
applications approved, eh? Well, you just cut it out. If them
applications are approved before I'm ready to have 'em approved, you
know what I'll do to you, Carey. I'll cut your heart out. Don't you
figure for a minute that there ain't somebody protectin' that boy's
bet. You scatter his chips an' see what happens to you. Understand? You
try upsettin' the Hennage apple-cart one o' these bright days, an'
there'll be a rush order for a new tombstone. The motto o' the Hennage
family has allers been 'Hands Off Or Take The Consequences.' Of course,
if you insist, you can go to it with your private detectives, but you
won't get far. You're up against a double-jointed play, Carey. Look out
for snags."

T. Morgan Carey stared hard at Harley P. Hennage while the worst man in
San Pasqual was delivering his ultimatum. He continued to stare when
Mr. Hennage had finished, smiling, for to Carey that golden smile was
more deadly than a scowl. Carey knew too well the kind of eyes that
were gazing into his; they were the eyes of an honest man, and by the
cut of Mr. Hennage's jaw Carey knew that here was a man who would "stay
put."

Mr. Hennage laughed boldly, as he realized on what a slender foundation
his gigantic bluff was resting, and what an impression his words had
made upon Carey. The latter pulled himself together and favored the
gambler with a wintry grin.

"Kinder game little pup, after all" thought Mr. Hennage. "He thinks
he's licked, but he's goin' to bluff it out to the finish. I believe if
this feller was on the level I'd like him. He's no slouch at whatever
he tackles, you bet."

"Very well, Mr. Hennage" said Carey quietly, "I think I understand you.
See that you understand me, in order that we may both understand each
other. You've declared war, on behalf of your felon of a partner. Very
well, I accept. It's war."

In turn, T. Morgan Carey tapped Mr. Hennage on the knee with _his_
forefinger.

"I'll keep my hands off your business in the state land office. Your
applications can pass through for approval, for all I care, but I'll
enter a contest, alleging fraud, against you in the General Land Office
at Washington, and I'll hold you up for ten years in a mass of red
tape. Hennage, you and McGraw have brains, I'll admit, but you can't
play my game and beat me at it. If I'm not in on this melon-cutting,
I'll spend a million dollars to delay the banquet. Let me tell
_you_ something. The day will come when you'll come scraping your
feet at my office door, begging for a compromise. I'm a business man,
and I tell you before you're half through with this fight, you'll come
to the conclusion that half a loaf is better than none at all--
particularly in the matter of extra large loaves. You'll come to me and
compromise."

"Gosh, I'm dry with argument" taunted Mr. Hennage. "Now that we
understand each other, let's be friends. We _can_ be friends out
o' business hours, can't we, Carey? Come an' have a drink."

"With all my heart" Carey retorted, with genuine pleasure. "I must
confess to a liking for you, Mr. Hennage. I could kill you and then
weep at your funeral, for upon my word you are the most amusing and
philosophical opponent I have ever met. I really have hopes that
ultimately you will listen to reason."

"There is no hope" said Mr. Hennage, as he took T. Morgan Carey by the
arm--almost, as Mrs. Dan Pennycook would have expressed it, "friendly
like," and escorted him to the hotel bar. Here Mr. Hennage produced a
thousand-dollar bill from his vest pocket (he had carried that bill
for ten years and always used it as a flash during his peregrinations
outside San Pasqual) and calmly laid it on the bar.

"Wine" he said. Mr. Hennage's order, when doing the handsome thing, was
always "wine." The barkeeper set out a pint of champagne and filled
both glasses. The gambler raised his to the light, eyed it critically
and then flashed his three gold teeth at T. Morgan Carey.

"Here's damnation to you, Mr. Carey" he said. "May you live unhappily
and die in jail."

"The sentiment, my dear Hennage, is entirely reciprocal" Carey flashed
back at him. They drank, gazing at each other over the rims of their
glasses.

Despite the knock-out which Harley P. had given him, T. Morgan Carey
was enjoying the gambler's society. Mr. Hennage was a new note in life.
Carey had never met his kind before, and he was irresistibly attracted
toward the man from San Pasqual.

"Upon my word, Hennage" he said, as he set down his glass, "if your
liquor could only be metamorphosed into prussic acid, I'd gladly
shoulder your funeral expenses. You're a thorn in my side."

"We understand each other, Carey. Any time you're meditatin' suicide
drop around to San Pasqual an' I'll buy you a pistol."

Carey laughed long and loud. "Hennage" he said, "do you know I think I
should grow to like you? By George, I think I should. If you should
ever come to Los Angeles, look me up," and he presented the gambler
with his card.

Mr. Hennage smiled, tore the card into little bits and dropped them to
the floor.

"Do I look like a tin-horn?" he queried.

A momentary frown crossed Carey's face; then he, too, smiled. He was
finding it hard to take offense at the gambler's bluntness.

"I think you're a dead-game sport, Hennage" he said, and there was no
doubt that he meant it. "But I shall not despair. You have brains. Some
day, I feel assured, we shall sit down together like sensible men and
do business."

"And in the meantime" replied Mr. Hennage, raising an admonitory
forefinger, "our motto is 'Keep off the grass.'"

"Oh, I won't walk on your darned old grass" Carey retorted. "I'll just
step between it."

They shook hands in friendly fashion, and Carey hurried away. Mr.
Hennage stared after him.

"Sassy as a badger" he murmured. "I can't bluff that _hombre._
He'll go as far as he can, an' be ready to jump in the first chance he
sees. Bob, my boy, you're up against it."

Mr. Hennage's business in Bakersfield was now completed. He felt
certain that a battle between Bob McGraw and T. Morgan Carey was
inevitable, should Bob decide to remain in the background and send an
ally out to fight for him. However, despite his horror of Bob's crime,
the gambler unconsciously extended him his sympathy, and if there was
to be a battle, either its commencement had been delayed or its
duration prolonged by the little bluff which he had just worked on T.
Morgan Carey, and that was all Mr. Hennage was striving for.

"I must find Bob" mused the gambler, "an' I must have time to find him
before these people euchre him out o' that valuable water right o' his.
An' when I find that young man, I'll bet six-bits he sells that water
right to me; then I'll sell it to my friend Carey an' the proceeds o'
that sale 'll go to Donnie. A woman can get along without a man, if
she's got the price to get along on."

The gambler's line of reasoning was a wise one. In the chain of
powerful circumstantial evidence that linked Donna Corblay to Bob
McGraw, Mr. Hennage was the most powerful link, and if he was to remove
himself beyond the jurisdiction of a subpoena from the Superior Court
of Kern county, and thus evade answering embarrassing questions when
Bob should be brought to trial (as the gambler felt certain he would
be), it behooved Mr. Hennage to travel far and fast.

He went down to the station and purchased a ticket for Goldfield,
Nevada. Goldfield was in the zenith of her glory about that time and
Harley P. felt certain of a plethora of easy money in any booming
mining camp. Indeed, it behooved him to seek pastures where the grass
was long and green, for in the removal from Donna's heart of what he
termed "the big sting," Harley P. planned to play havoc with his bank-
roll.

He proceeded about this delicate task as befits one who has a horror of
appearing presumptuous. A week after his arrival in Goldfield he rented
a typewriter for a day, took it to his room in the Goldfield hotel and
battled manfully with it for several hours. After much toil he evolved
the following form letter:

_Dear Friend:_

A short time ago I robbed the San Pasqual stage at Garlock. I took
------ dollars of your money, which I return to you now; with many
thanks, for the reason that I don't need it no more and am sorry I took
it.

I notice by the papers that they found my hat with my name in it, which
serves me right. I did not have no business doing that job in the first
place. It was my first and it will be my last. I am going to start
fresh again and hope you won't bear me no grudge for what I done.

Trusting that the same has not caused you any inconvenience, and with
best wishes I am

Respectfully,

ROBERT MCGRAW.

In the blank space left for the purpose Mr. Hennage inserted in
lead-pencil the figures representing the exact amount of coin which he
had been informed by the express agent had been taken from each
passenger. Next he inserted the exact amount in paper money, together
with his letters, in envelopes which he also addressed on the
typewriter, stamped them and walked down to the post-office.

"Now, that fixes everything up lovely" he soliloquized, as he watched
the envelopes disappear down the main chute. "Wells Fargo & Co. get
theirs back, so they'll pull off their detective force an' withdraw the
reward; every passenger gets his back, an' if he's called to testify
it's a cinch he'll ask the judge to be merciful on the defendant,
because he made restitution an' showed sorrer for what he went an'
done. Everybody gets fixed up except T. Morgan Carey, an' I work too
dog-gone hard for my money to throw it away on _him._ When folks
find Bob has sent back the money he stole he won't be anything like the
evil cuss he is now an' the whole thing 'll simmer down to a big joke.
When that poor broken-hearted little wife o' his hears about it she'll
think it ain't so bad after all. She'll figure that they can go
somewhere else an' live it down an' that'll ease the ache a heap.
Suppose she does meet some o' them San Pasqual cattle in the years to
come? What's the odds? Nobody in San Pasqual knows him or ever seen
him, 'ceptin' Doc Taylor--an' what's in a name? Nothin'. There's
hundreds o' McGraws in California right now, an' more arrivin' on every
train."

Thus reasoned the artful Harley P. When his task was completed he stood
outside the door of the post-office whimsically surveying the ruin of
his fortune. Less than two thousand dollars was all he had to show for
a life-time of endeavor, and one thousand of that was contained in a
single bill and was Mr. Hennage's pocket-piece. He must never change
that bill. It was his little nest-egg against a rainy day, and
hereafter he would have to carry it where it could not readily be
reached when under the spell of sudden temptation.

He returned to his room, wrapped the bill into a compact little wad and
tucked it far into the toe of one of his congress gaiters.

"It's a blessin'" he muttered plaintively, as he replaced his shoe,
"that the lives us gamblers leads generally tends to choke off our wind
around the fifty-mark at the latest. I'm forty-five an' here in the
mere shank o' old age, after runnin' my own game for twenty years, I
got to go to work for somebody else."




CHAPTER XVII


It is one of the compensating laws of existence that the crisis of
human despair and grief is reached on the instant that the reason for
it becomes apparent; thereafter it occupies itself for a season in the
gradual process of wearing itself out. Time is the great healer of
human woe, and if in the darkness of despair one tiny ray of hope can
filter through, an automatic rebound to the normal conditions of life
quickly follows. The death of a loved one would not be endurable, were
it not that Hope dares to reach beyond the grave.

For three days following her discovery of Bob McGraw's name written
beneath the sweat-band of the outlaw's hat, Donna Corblay lay on her
bed at the Hat Ranch, battling with herself in an effort to refrain
from thinking the terrible thoughts that persisted in obtruding
themselves upon her tortured brain. For three days, and the greater
portion of two nights, she had cried aloud to the four dumb walls of
the Hat Ranch:

"He didn't do it. He couldn't do it. My Bob couldn't do such a thing.
It's some terrible mistake. Oh, my husband! My dear, thoughtless,
impulsive husband! Oh, Bob! Bob! Come back and face them and tell them
you didn't do it. Only tell me, and I'll believe you and stick by you
through everything."

And then the horrible thought that he was guilty; that even now he was
being hunted, hatless, hungry, weary and thirsty--a pariah with every
honest man's hand raised against him--reminded her that the limit of
her wretchedness lay, not in the fact that her faith in him had been
shattered, but in the more appalling consciousness that he would not
come back to her! Wild herald of woe and death, he had flitted into her
life--as carelessly as he came he had departed, and she knew he would
not come back.

Yes, Bob was too shrewd a man not to realize that in abandoning his hat
he had left behind him the evidence that must send him to the
penitentiary should he ever return to his old haunts in Inyo and Mono
counties. He loved his liberty too well to sacrifice it, and he knew
her code. It did not seem possible to Donna that he would have the
audacity to face her again; so, man-like, he would not try.

And then she would think of him as she had seen him that first night,
leaning on Friar Tuck's neck and gazing at her in the dim ghostly light
of a green switch-lantern--telling her with his eyes that he loved
her. She recalled his little mocking inscrutable smile, the manhood
that had won her to him when first they met, and against all this she
remembered that she had presented him with the hat which the express
messenger had showed her--she had seen him write his name in indelible
pencil under the leathern sweat-band!

She knew he had ridden north from San Pasqual the night before the
hold-up--and thirty-five miles was as much as one small tough horse
could do in the desert between the hour at which Bob had left her and
his presumable arrival at Garlock, where he lay in wait for the stage.
The automatic gun, the hat, the khaki clothing, the blue bandanna
handkerchief which the bandit had used for a mask, the fact that he was
mounted--all had pointed to her husband as the bandit. But the
description of the horse was at variance with the facts, and moreover--
Donna thought of this on the third day--where had Bob gotten that rifle
with which he killed the express messenger's horse?

He had no rifle when he entered San Pasqual that first night, and he
had had none when he left. The hardware store always closed at eight
o'clock, and it had been ten o'clock when Bob left the Hat Ranch--so he
could not have purchased a rifle in San Pasqual. He could not have
gotten it in the desert between San Pasqual and Garlock, for in the
desert men do not sell their guns, and if Bob had taken the gun by
force from some lone prospector, news of his act would have drifted
into San Pasqual next day.

It was then that Donna ceased sobbing and commenced to think, for even
if her head inclined her to weigh the evidence and render a verdict,
her heart was too loyal to accept it. The memory of Bob McGraw was
always with her--his humorous brown eyes, the swing to his big body as
he walked beside her, big gentleness, his unfailing courtesy, his
almost bombastic belief in himself--no, it was not possible that he
could be a hypocrite. That perverse streak in him, the heritage of his
Irish forebears, would not have permitted him to run from the
messenger. The man with courage enough to turn outlaw and rob a stage
had courage enough to kill his man, and Bob McGraw would have fought it
out in the open, He would never have taken to the shelter of a sand-
dune and fired from ambush. _Bob McGraw, having brains, would have
killed the messenger and gone back for his hat!_ He was too cunning
a frontiersman to leave a trail like that behind him and it was no part
of his nature to do a half-way job. Still, the man who had robbed that
stage had had no hobbles on his courage. Why, if he--he must have had a
reason for not caring to recover that hat--When the desert-bred
think, they think quickly; their conclusions are logical. They always
search for the reason. The man whose desperate courage had been equal
to that robbery--who had accomplished his task with the calm ease and
urbanity which proclaimed him a finished product of his profession,
should have argued the question with the messenger at greater length!
_He should have disputed with him possession of the hat,_ for in
the desert a hat is more than a hat. It is a matter of life and death,
and when the outlaw had abandoned his hat it must have been because he
knew where he could secure another before day should dawn and find him
bareheaded in the open. Had Bob been the robber he would have
remembered that his name was in the hat, and rescued it, even at the
price of the express messenger's life, for self-preservation is ever
the first law of nature. On the other hand, if the bandit had known
that the name was in the hat--

The mistress of the Hat Ranch rose from her bed, while a wild hope beat
in her breast and beamed in her tear-dimmed eyes. She went into the
room where she kept her stock of hats and began a careful examination
of each hat. Nearly all bore some insignia of ownership. Derby hats
invariably carried the owner's initials in fancy gilt letters pasted
inside the crown, while others had the initials neatly punched in the
sweat-band by a perforating machine. Half a dozen hats, apparently
unbranded, had initials or names in full written in indelible pencil
inside their sweat-bands.

Donna, considered an authority on male headgear, was for the first time
learning something of the habits of men--the too frequent necessity
for quickly identifying one's hat from a row of similar hats from the
hat-hooks in crowded restaurants. Outwardly the hats of all mankind
resemble each other, and for the first time Donna realized that it was
the habit of men to mark them. She pondered.

"Now, here is a hat bearing the name of James Purdy. Suppose I should
sell this hat to Dan Pennycook (unconsciously she mentioned Mr.
Pennycook, who dared not buy a hat from her) and he should hold up the
stage and have the hat shot off his head. The express messenger who
picked it up would go looking for a man named James Purdy. Perhaps--"

Donna sat down and commenced to laugh hysterically. She had just
remembered that Bob McGraw had lost a hat the night he came to San
Pasqual!

Donna ceased laughing presently and commenced to cry again--with
bitterness and shame at the thought of her disloyalty to her husband.
Why, she hadn't sold a hat like Bob's for a year. He had lost his hat
the night he saved her from the attack of the hoboes, and somebody had
picked it up. She remembered Bob's complaint at the loss of his hat,
because it was new and had cost him twenty dollars! Some one in San
Pasqual had found it, realized its value and decided to keep it. It
followed, then, that the man who had found that hat the night Bob lost
it had held up the stage at Garlock. And knowing of the name under the
sweat-band (for evidently it was Bob's habit to brand all of his hats
thus) and realizing that the finding of the hat would divert suspicion
from him, the outlaw had abandoned the hat without a fight!

As Harley P. Hennage would have put it, the entire situation was now as
clear as mud!

"And to think that I even suspected him for a moment!" Donna wailed.
"Oh, Bob, what will you think of me! I'm a bad, worthless, disloyal
wife. Oh, Bob, I'm so sorry and ashamed!"

She was, indeed. But sorrow and shame under such circumstances may
exist, at the outset, for about ten minutes. The resurgent wave of joy
which her discovery induced quickly routed the last vestige of her
distress, and womanlike her first impulse, as a wife, was to wreak
summary vengeance on the man who had asserted that her husband had
robbed the stage! The idea! She would ascertain the name of this
passenger who declared that he had recognized the bandit as Bob McGraw,
and force him to make a public apology--

No, she would not do that. To do so would be to presume that her Bob
was not, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion, and besides, it would
spoil Harley P.'s little joke on San Pasqual. And there was really no
danger of Bob's arrest. The sheriff's posse was trailing the other man
out across the San Bernardino desert, while Bob, serenely unconscious
of the furor created by the finding of his lost hat, was trudging
through the range, miles to the north, headed east from Coso Springs
with his two burros, circling across country to the Colorado desert and
prospecting as he went. Her defense of him when he needed none would
merely serve to invite the query: "Why are you so interested in him!"
and until the day of Bob's return, she did not wish to answer "Because
he is my husband."

No, it would be far better to sit calmly by and enjoy the industry of
the man-hunters; then, when Bob returned, he would defend himself in
his own vigorous fashion, much to the chagrin of his accusers and the
consequent delight of Harley P. Hennage.

Thinking of Mr. Hennage reminded her that he had sent a note by Sam
Singer. In her distress she had forgotten about it until now; so, after
bathing her eyes, she opened the envelope and acquainted herself with
its remarkable contents.

Poor old Harley P.! She read the distress between the lines of that
kindly lie that he was in trouble and had to get out of San Pasqual--
and as she fingered the little roll of bills she discovered no paradox
in Harley P.'s hard face and still harder reputation and the oft-
repeated biblical quotation that God makes man to His own image and
likeness.

 A thousand dollars! How well she knew why he had sent it! He feared
that she, like him, would have to leave San Pasqual to avoid answering
questions, and fearing that she was but indifferently equipped to face
the world, he had refrained from asking questions. Instead he had
equipped her, and in his unassuming way had departed without waiting
for her thanks or leaving an address--infallible evidence that he
desired neither her gratitude nor the return of the money.

"Poor fellow!" she murmured. "How terrible he'll feel when he discovers
it's all a mistake. He'll be ashamed to speak to me. Still, why should
he feel chagrined at all? He hasn't said a word."

Foxy Mr. Hennage! It was quite true. He hadn't said a word! Ah, money
talks; despite his precautions, Harley P.'s thousand dollars were very
eloquent.

The next day Donna took up her life where it had left off. She had
scarcely cached Harley P.'s thousand dollars in her private compartment
in the eating-house safe when the irrepressible Miss Molly Pickett
dropped in to express her sympathy at Donna's three-day illness,
casually mentioned the stage robbery, the name in the hat and the
sudden exit from San Pasqual of Harley P. Hennage. Incidentally she
mentioned the fact that Mr. Hennage had once presented her with an
order for a registered letter for a man by the name of Robert McGraw,
and taking into consideration this fact and the further fact that birds
of a feather always flock together, Miss Pickett opined that the hold-
up man was doubtless a bosom friend of Mr. Hennage.

A hearty dinner the evening before, and twelve hours of uninterrupted
slumber, had driven from Donna's face every trace of her three days of
purgatory. She was alert, smiling and happy; and able to cross swords
with Miss Pickett with something more than a gossamer hope of foiling
her. She discussed the affair so calmly and with such apparent interest
that Miss Pickett was completely mystified, and in a last desperate
effort to satiate her curiosity she cast aside all pretense and came
boldly into the open.

"Folks do say, Donna, that the man who was shot saving you from those
tramps and was nursed at the Hat Ranch is the same man that held up the
stage."

"Indeed! Miss Pickett, folks don't know what they are talking about.
Have you asked Doctor Taylor?"

Miss Pickett commenced to spar. As a matter of fact she _had_
asked Doc Taylor, and been informed that his late patient responded to
the name of Roland McGuire. But there was a hang-dog look in the
doctor's eyes which had not escaped Miss Pickett, and intuitively she
knew that the worthy _medico_ had lied. Donna's question convinced
her that she was not mistaken. Her bright little eyes gleamed archly.

"Why, we never did learn who it was that saved you, Donna. Is it a
secret?"

"Why, no."

Miss Pickett waited in agony for ten seconds, but Donna, having replied
fully to her query, volunteered no further information. In desperation
the post-mistress demanded:

"Well, then, why do you keep it to yourself?"

"Is that any of your business, Miss Pickett?"

"No, of course not. But then--"

"Well?"

Miss Pickett was non-plussed, but only for an instant. Like all old
maids when bested in a battle of wits by an opponent of their own sex,
younger, more attractive and known to be popular with the males of
their acquaintance, Miss Pickett was quick to take the high ground of a
tactful consideration of circumstances which Donna apparently had
overlooked; circumstances which, while savoring slightly of girlish
indiscretion, might, nevertheless, be construed as a distinct slip from
virtue. An attack, whether by innuendo or direct assertion, on a
sister's virtue is ever the first weapon of a mean and disappointed
woman, and having no other charms to speak of, Miss Pickett chose to
assume that of superior virtue; so, with the subtle sting of her
species, she sunk her poison home.

"Well, Donna, if you won't protect your own good name, I'm sure you
shouldn't be surprised if your friends endeavor to protect it for you.
Everybody in town knows you kept that man at your home for a month--"

"I haven't denied it, or attempted to conceal the fact. In what manner
does that reflect on my good name, Miss Pickett?"

"Well, folks _will_ talk--you know that."

"Of course I know they will. That's their privilege, Miss Pickett, and
I'm not at all interested, I assure you." She smiled patronizingly at
the postmistress. "When I want somebody to protect my good name, Miss
Pickett, I'll send for a man. Until then you may consider yourself
relieved of the task."

"Well, when people know you've kept a desperate character--"

"Who knows it, Miss Pickett? Do you?"

Miss Pickett was forced to acknowledge that she did not, and under a
hot volley of questions from Donna admitted further that not a soul in
San Pasqual had even hinted to her of such a contingency. Too late the
spinster realized that she had, figuratively speaking, placed all of
her eggs in one bucket and scrambled them.

Donna realized it too. For the first time in her life she was angry,
although not for worlds would she permit Miss Pickett to realize it.
She had the postmistress on the defensive now, and she was determined
to keep her there; so, in calm gentle commiserating tones Donna read
the riot act to the embarrassed gossip. Mentally, morally, physically
and socially, she was Miss Pickett's superior and Miss Pickett knew
this; her instinctive knowledge of it placed her at a disadvantage and
forced her to listen to a few elegantly worded remarks on charity, the
folly of playing the part of guardian of a sister's morals and the
innate nastiness of throwing mud. It was a rare grueling that Donna
gave Miss Pickett; the pity of it was that Mr. Hennage could not have
been there to listen to it.

The postmistress was confounded. She could think of nothing to say in
reply until the right moment for saying it had fled; and her pride
forbade her acknowledging defeat by tossing her head and walking out
with a grand air of injured innocence. In the end she lost her
composure entirely, for while Donna's remarks had seemed designed for
the "folks" whom Miss Pickett seemed to fear might "talk," the latter
knew that in reality they were directed at her.

To be forced to listen to an almost motherly castigation from Donna
Corblay was too great a tax upon Miss Pickett's limited powers of
endurance. She flew into a rage, all the more pitiful because it was
impotent, murmured something about the ingratitude of some people--"not
mentionin' any names, but not exceptin' present company," and swept out
of the eating-house; not, however, until she had commenced to cry, thus
acknowledging her defeat and humiliation and presenting to San Pasqual
that meanest of all mean sights, a mean old maid, in a rage, weeping
until her eyes and nose are red.

In the afternoon Donna had a visit from a Wells Fargo & Company
detective. He was a large fatherly person, who might have had girls of
his own as old as Donna, and he stated his mission without
embarrassment of preliminary verbal skirmishing. "From various sources
around town, Miss Corblay, I gather that it is quite possible you are
acquainted with the man McGraw who is suspected of the recent stage
robbery at Garlock."

Donna admitted, smiling, that it was quite possible.

"Have you any objection to telling me all you know about him?"

"Not the slightest. It is your business to investigate this matter, and
I have refrained from telling others whose business it is not. If I
have your word of honor that what I tell you is for the company you
represent and not for the gossips of San Pasqual, I can save you time
and trouble and expense."

"Thank you. It is a rare pleasure, I assure you, Miss Corblay, for a
man in my line of work to receive such a prompt, courteous and
businesslike answer from a woman. You have my word that anything you
tell me is in confidence."

"Did Miss Pickett send you here?"

"Indirectly. She gave some information to our express messenger who in
turn gave it to me. I might add that the interest of our messenger
ceased when I took up this case."

"Very well" replied Donna, and proceeded to tell him with infinite
detail, everything she knew concerning Bob McGraw, excepting the fact
that he was her husband. In five minutes she had tightened the web of
circumstantial evidence around him, and then unloosened it, and at the
finish of her recital the detective had no questions to ask. He held
out his hand and shook hers warmly.

"I think you have solved this case for me, Miss Corblay. However, there
is one matter that will be hard to overcome, and that is the
identification of McGraw by the passenger, Carey."

"Who?"

"A passenger. His name is T. Morgan Carey, of Los Angeles. He is rather
prominent in business circles--a pretty sane, careful man, and his
testimony would have considerable evidence with a jury."

"Find out from the messenger if Carey identified Bob--I mean Mr.
McGraw (the detective smiled slightly) before the messenger gave chase
to the hold-up man, or after he returned with the hat. If the latter, I
can explode his testimony. I happen to know that Mr. Carey is a
business rival of Mr. McGraw's and very unfriendly to him. It would be
to Carey's great financial advantage to see Bob (again the detective
smiled) in jail. Then ask your agent at Keeler to make inquiry and
learn if a tall young man with auburn hair didn't ride into town the
day following the hold-up, mounted on a roan horse. If he sold the
horse, saddle and spurs, purchased two burros and outfitted in Keeler
for a prospecting trip, that man was Mr. Robert McGraw and he didn't
arrive bareheaded. I think you'll discover that you're following a
false lead."

The detective could guess a thing or two; otherwise he would not have
been a detective. He guessed something of Donna's more than friendly
interest in the man he was after; an interest which he felt to be
greater than a mere feeling of gratitude for what McGraw had saved her
from, and his sympathies wore with her. She had been "open and above
board with him" and he appreciated the embarrassment that might attend
should the matter be given publicity.

"Whatever I discover will not be made public, Miss Corblay. Thank you."

He lifted his hat and walked out, while Donna, selecting one of the
late magazines from the news-stand, sat down and read for the rest of
the afternoon.

Eight days passed before the detective appeared again at the counter.

"Miss Corblay," he reported smiling, "you're a better detective than I.
McGraw didn't do the job--that is, your--Bob. But some other McGraw
did. The fact is, he's sent back the money he lifted from the company
and the passengers. At least, a number of them have reported the
return of their cash. Here's a note the agent here received a little
while ago."

He passed a type-written sheet across the counter to her. Donna read it
carefully.

"The plot thickens. However, this is only added proof that my line of
reasoning is correct. This line, 'I didn't have no business to do it in
the first place,' clinches the testimony. The Robert McGraw of my
acquaintance never uses double negatives."

"And he couldn't have arrived in Goldfield with a burro train in less
than six weeks. You say this man uses double negatives. There's a clew.
Who, among your acquaintances, Miss Corblay, uses double negatives?"

"Every soul with the exception of Mr. McGraw" replied Donna. "Following
a clew like that in San Pasqual would be like looking for a needle in a
haystack. But I think I could name the man who wrote that note."

"Who is he?"

Donna favored the detective with a mocking little smile.

"He's a friend of mine" she said, "and I never go back on a friend."

"Well," he replied jokingly, "I can't imagine a friend going back on
you. However, I'll not be curious about this chap. He appears contrite,
and the incident is closed. But all the same, this is one of the
queerest cases I've had in all my experience," and he went out, still
puzzled.




CHAPTER XVIII


Thanksgiving came and went, and with, the approach of Christmas came
the knowledge to Donna that her tour of duty behind the cash-counter of
the eating-house was rapidly drawing to a close--for the very sweetest
reason in all this sad old world; a reason as yet apparent to no one in
San Pasqual but Donna herself; a very tiny reason against whose coming
Donna had commenced to plan and sew in the lonely hours of her vigil at
the Hat Ranch, waiting for Bob to come back, that she might impart to
him the secret. Yes, indeed, a most valid reason. Donna hoped it would
be a man-baby, with wavy auburn hair like Bob's.

On the first of February she gave notice of her intention to resign her
position on the first of the following month. Bob had left with her a
hundred and fifty dollars, the balance of her little capital having
been expended during their honeymoon trip and in outfitting Bob for his
trip into the desert, and but for the fact that the thousand dollars so
thoughtfully provided by Harley P. was still in the eating-house safe,
Donna would have been placed in a most embarrassing position. With the
knowledge that she had ample funds with which to maintain herself and
her dependents at the Hat Ranch until the birth of her child, however,
Donna decided to remove herself from the prying gaze of the San
Pasqualians by resigning her position. The fact that her marriage to
Bob was not known in the little town was now an added embarrassment,
and the necessity of conveying to the world the news that she had been
married since October was imperative. She decided to go up to
Bakersfield, visit the city hall and request the clerk who had issued
the license to Bob and herself to give the news of its issuance to the
papers. She was aware that Bob knew this clerk and for that reason they
had been enabled to keep the matter secret.

But the news that Donna Corblay had resigned the best position
obtainable for a woman in San Pasqual--and that, without assigning any
reason for her extraordinary action--spread quickly, and Mrs.
Pennycook, with envious eyes on the position for her eldest daughter,
visited the hotel manager and tried her persuasive personality to that
end.

After that visit, there was no need for explanation. Mrs. Pennycook,
with horrified mien and many repetitions of "But for heaven's sake
don't mention my name," furnished the explanation--and to a lady of
Mrs. Pennycook's large experience in matters of maternity, there was no
heretic in San Pasqual who doubted the authenticity of her verdict.

Of the whisperings, the interchange of gossip and eager speculation as
to the identity of the man in the case, the haughty stare of the women
and the covert smiles of the men. Donna was not long kept in ignorance.
On the fifteenth of the month the manager came to her, announced that
he had already been fortunate enough to secure her successor, paid her
a full month's salary, and with a few perfunctory remarks touching on
his regret at losing her services, indicated that she might forthwith
retire to that seclusion which awaited her at the Hat Ranch. Donna,
proud, scornful, unafraid in the knowledge that she was an honorable
wife, deemed it beneath her dignity to reply. She removed her little
capital from the safe, balanced her cash and walked out of the eating-
house forever.

She had come to the parting of the ways. Her condition demanded the
immediate presence of her husband, notwithstanding the fact that to
call him in from his wanderings now might mean the abandonment of his
great dreams of Donnaville. All her life she had needed a protector;
more than ever she needed one now, and she was torn between a desire
for the comfort of his presence and an equal desire to sacrifice that
comfort to his great work, by refraining from sending Sam Singer into
the desert with a message to him. She knew she could send Sam over the
Santa Fe to Danby, and in the miner's outfitting store there Sam would
be directed to the country where Bob's claims lay. For two days she
wrestled with this problem, deciding finally to prove herself worthy of
him and face the issue alone.

But the time had come when San Pasqual, representing Society, must be
accorded the right which Society very justly demands--the right to know
whether its members are conforming to all of the law, moral and legal.
Donna realized that her silence in the matter of her marriage had
placed her in an unenviable light, and while she was striving to
formulate a plan to make the announcement gracefully. Mrs. Pennycook,
emboldened by the absence of Harley P. Hennage, gathered about her a
committee of five other ladies and swooped down on the Hat Ranch.

Donna was standing at her front gate when this purity squad approached.
She guessed their mission instantly, and welcomed it. Whether
gracefully or ungracefully, the matter would soon be over now, and it
pleased her a little to note that all six ladies were leading matrons
of the little town. Each member of Mrs. Pennycook's committee reflected
in her face mingled sadness, embarrassment and curiosity. For three of
them Donna felt a genuine regard; she realized that their visit was
actuated by a desire to help her, if she required help, to lend her
their moral support in the face of suspicion, whether just or
otherwise. The other three, including Mrs. Pennycook, Donna knew for
that detestable type of womankind best known and described as "catty."
Some one of these three who knew would fire the first gun in this most
embarrassing campaign, and in order to nullify their fire as much as
possible, Donna decided not to wait for that opening broadside, but to
sweep them off their feet by a wave of candor and frankness, leaving
them stunned with surprise and ashamed of their own suspicions.

Upon its arrival, therefore, Donna greeted the delegation cordially,
receiving an equally cordial return of the greeting from all except
Mrs. Pennycook, who swept into the Hat Ranch in dignified silence, head
up and nose in the air, after the manner of one who scents a moral
stench and is resolved to eradicate it at all hazard.

"This _is_ an unexpected pleasure" Donna said hospitably. "Do come
in out of this dreadful heat. I've just finished baking a lovely layer
cake and you're all just in time to sample my cooking. I'll have Soft
Wind make some lemonade. We scarcely require ice here, the water from
my artesian well is so remarkably cool."

Graciously she herded them all into the shady patio, brought out chairs
and ordered Soft Wind to prepare a huge pitcher of lemonade, while she
herself carried out a small table, spread a tablecloth over it and
crowned it with a layer cake, seven plates, and the accessories.

The delegation squirmed uneasily. The cordiality of this reception and
Donna's apparent pleasure at the visit, together with her total lack of
embarrassment, placed the ladies at a decided disadvantage. Even Mrs.
Pennycook found it a tax on her ingenuity to solve tactfully the
problem of accepting Donna's layer cake and cool lemonade in one breath
and questioning her morals in the other--if this phraseology may be
employed to designate the problem without casting opprobrium on Mrs.
Pennycook's table manners.

There was a silence as Donna poured the lemonade and helped each
visitor to a section of the layer cake. When she had finished, however,
she leaned her elbows on the little table, gazed calmly and a little
roguishly at each guest in turn, and stole their thunder with a single
question:

"How did you all discover that I am married?"

The silence was painful, until Mrs. Pennycook choked on a cake crumb.
It was a question none of them could answer, and this very fact made
the silence more appalling! Even Mrs. Pennycook, who had organized the
expedition, blushed. Finally she stammered:

"We--we--well, to tell the truth, we hadn't heard."

Donna's eyes were wide with simulated amazement.

"You hadn't heard!"

"No" snapped Mrs. Pennycook, quick to see her opening, "but we were all
hoping to hear--for your sake."

"But you guessed something when I resigned my position at the eating-
house?"

Donna could scarce restrain a smile as she saw the eagerness with which
Mrs. Pennycook showed in her true colors by walking blindly into this
verbal trap. A slight sardonic smile flickered across her stern
features.

"We didn't suspect. Everybody in town _knew._ And, not to beat
about the bush, Miss Corblay, we came here to-day to find out. We're
old enough to be your mother and we have daughters of our own, and in a
certain sense, havin' known you from a baby, we felt sort o'
responsible-like."

"Ah, I see" Donna almost breathed. "You were suspicious-like."

Two of the committee showed signs of inward disturbance, but, having
fixed bayonets, Mrs. Pennycook was now prepared to charge.

"We came to find out if you're an honorable married woman, or--"

"Quite right, Mrs. Pennycook. That is information which you, and in
fact every person in San Pasqual, is entitled to know. I am an
honorable married woman. I was married in Bakersfield on the
seventeenth day of last October."

"Well, then, where's your husband?"

"That is a question which you are not privileged to ask, Mrs.
Pennycook. However, I will answer it. My husband is about his lawful
business somewhere in the Colorado desert."

"Who is this man?"

"My husband's name is Robert McGraw."

Six separate and distinct gasps greeted this announcement
extraordinary. A tear trembled on the eyelid of one of the ladies of
whom Donna was really fond and whom she had reason to believe was fond
of her.

"Well, dearie" replied Mrs. Pennycook unctuously, "it's kind o' hard-
like to tell whether, in your present--er--delicate condition, you're
better off unmarried-like, or the wife of a man accused of holdin' up a
stage at Garlock."

"It is embarrassing, isn't it?" Donna laughed. She was not in the least
angry with Mrs. Pennycook. In fact, the gossip amused her very much,
and in the knowledge of the day of reckoning coming to Mrs. Pennycook
she could afford to laugh. "What does Dan think about it?"

"Mr. Pennycook, _if_ you please" corrected his wife. "We will not
mention his name in this matter."

"Well, then, what do you think of it, Mrs. Pennycook?"

"To be perfectly frank-like, an' not meanin' any offense, I think, Miss
Corblay, that you drove your pigs to a mighty poor market."

"It does look that way" Donna acquiesced good-naturedly. "I'll admit
that appearances are against my husband. However, since I know that the
charge is ridiculous, I shall not dishonor him by making a defense
where none is necessary. He will be in San Pasqual about the first of
April, Mrs. Pennycook, and if at that time you desire to learn the
circumstances, he will be charmed, I know, to relate them to you."

"I am not interested" retorted the gossip.

"Judging by this unexpected visit and your pointed remarks, dear Mrs.
Pennycook, I think I might be pardoned for presuming that you were."

Mrs. Pennycook made no reply, for obvious reasons. The sortie for
information had been too successful to please her, and in Donna's
present mood the elder woman knew that she would fare but poorly in a
battle of wits. Indeed, she already stood in a most unenviable position
in San Pasqual society, as the leader of an unwarranted attack against
a virtuous woman, and her busy brain was already at work, mending her
fences. In the interview with Donna she had expected tears and anguish.
Instead she had been met with smiles and good-natured raillery; and she
had an uncomfortable feeling that her fellow committeewomen were
already enraged at her and preparing to turn against her. She drank her
lemonade hastily and explained that their visit had been for the
purpose of setting at rest certain unpleasant rumors in San Pasqual,
wherein Donna's reputation had suffered. If the rumors had proved to be
without foundation they would have felt it their business to nip the
scandal in the bud. If, on the contrary, the rumors were based on
truth, they had planned to give her a Christian helping hand toward
regeneration.

"I am very glad you did me the honor to call" Donna told the committee.
"I had kept my marriage secret, for reason of my own, and I am glad now
that my friends will brand these rumors as malicious and untrue."

The committee left in almost as deep sorrow as it had come. Donna
walked with them to the front gate, and at parting two of the women
kissed her, whispering hurried words of faith in her, and from the
bottom of their truly generous womanly souls they meant it. Donna knew
they did, and was deeply grateful. In the case of Mrs. Pennycook,
however, she had no such illusion. She knew that disappointed vengeance
had served to sharpen Mrs. Pennycook's unaccountable and unnatural
dislike for her, and it was with secret relief that she watched the
members of the committee on social purity return to their respective
homes.

The following morning Mrs. Pennycook departed on a journey to
Bakersfield, the county-seat. Here she invaded the marriage license
bureau and requested an inspection of the record of the marriage
license issued to Robert McGraw and Donna Corblay on October
seventeenth.

To Mrs. Pennycook's profound satisfaction there was no record of such a
license available. Business in the marriage bureau was dull that day,
and the license clerk turned over to Mrs. Pennycook the bound book of
affidavit blanks, which constitutes the record of the county clerk's
office and from which the deputy clerk fills in the marriage license
when he issues it. She searched through the records from August up to
that very day--searched painstakingly and thrice in succession, while
the deputy looked on covertly from a nearby desk and smiled at her
activities. He might have informed Mrs. Pennycook that the record of
the issuance of a license to his friend Bob McGraw and Donna Corblay
could be found in the back of the book, where it would not be
discovered by the newspaper reporters who came each day to make
notations of the licenses issued. It is an old trick, this; to fill in
the affidavit blank toward the back of the book, where the record will
not be reached in the regular course of business until a year or more
shall have elapsed. The deputy county clerk was a friend of Bob
McGraw's and as he had promised not to give him away, he would keep his
word; so he snickered to himself and wondered if this acidulous lady
could, by any chance, be McGraw's mother-in-law. If so, he felt sorry
for McGraw. He sniffed a quick divorce.

Mrs. Pennycook could not find the record she sought, and demanded
further information. The clerk informed her gravely that, aside from
personal experience, all the information on marriages in Kern county
was contained in the book before her; so Mrs. Pennycook returned to San
Pasqual, vindicated in the eyes of the committee on individual morals.

The following day Mrs. Pennycook called a meeting in her front parlor,
and to the credit of San Pasqual's womanhood be it said that two of the
committee failed to respond. However, Miss Molly Pickett volunteered to
enlist for the cause, and a quorum being present Mrs. Pennycook
announced that Donna Corblay's statement that she was a wife had not
been substantiated by the records of the county clerk's office. Having
examined the records personally, Mrs. Pennycook felt safe in assuming
responsibility for the statement that Donna Corblay was not married,
despite her claims to the contrary.

"Then," murmured Miss Pickett sadly, "she is not an honest woman!"

"_Decidedly_ not."

"I expected this--for years" Miss Pickett continued, and wiped away a
furtive tear. "Poor girl. After all, we shouldn't be surprised. I'm
afraid she comes by it naturally. There was a mystery about her
mother."

"Well, there's no mystery about Donna" retorted Mrs. Pennycook
triumphantly. "She's a disgrace to the community."

"What can be done about it?" one of the committee inquired.

"I believe," another volunteered, "that in San Francisco and Los
Angeles they have homes for unfortunate girls. If we can induce her to
go to one of these institutions, it seems to me it is our duty to do
so."

"I wash my hands of the whole affair" protested Mrs. Pennycook. "I went
down there, as you all know, an' did all the talking and acted
sympathetic-like, an' got insulted for my pains. I'll not go again."

"Perhaps you didn't approach the subject just right, Mrs. Pennycook--
not meanin' any offense--but you know Donna's one of the high an'
mighty kind, an' you an' her ain't been any too friendly. I think,
maybe, if _I_ was to talk to her, now--"

"I'm sure you're welcome, Miss Pickett. Somebody ought to reason with
her like before the thing gets too public, an' I don't seem to have the
right influence with the girl."

"I'll go call on her, if one or two others will go with me" Miss
Pickett volunteered. She omitted to mention the fact that company or no
company, she would not have missed the opportunity of taunting Donna
for a farm. However, two other ladies decided to go with Miss Pickett,
and forthwith the three set out for the Hat Ranch.

There was no layer cake and lemonade reception awaiting _them_ at
the Hat Ranch. Donna, upon being informed by Soft Wind that three
ladies desired to interview her, met the delegation in her kitchen,
which they had entered uninvited. She surveyed the nervous trio coldly.

"Is this another investigating committee?" she demanded bluntly.

"Well, in view o' the fact that there never was any marriage license
issued to you an' that--that stage-robber--"

"Miss Pickett--and you other two shining examples of Christian charity!
Please leave my home at once. Do you hear? At once! I have no
explanations or apologies to make, and if I had I would not make them
to a soul in San Pasqual. Leave my home instantly."

The three ladies stood up. Two of them scurried toward the door, but
Miss Pickett lingered, showing a disposition to argue the question. She
had "walled" her eyes and pulled her mouth down in the most approved
facial expression of one who, proffering help to the unfortunate,
realizes that ingratitude is to be her portion.

Through the aboriginal brain of Soft Wind, however, some hint of the
situation had by this time managed to sift. The presence of two
delegations of female visitors in one week was unprecedented; and in
her slow dumb way she realized that the condition of her mistress was
probably being questioned by these white women.

Now, Soft Wind had been Donna's nurse, and since the squaw was
untroubled by the finer question of morality in a lady (the mere trifle
of a marriage license had been no bar to her own primitive alliance
with Sam Singer) it irked her to stand idly by while these white women
offered insult to her adored one. She could not understand what was
being said (Donna always spoke to her in the language of her tribe, a
language learned in her babyhood from Soft Wind herself) but she did
know by the pale face and flashing eyes that Donna was angry.

"I came to tell--" began Miss Pickett.

Donna pointed toward the door. "Go" she commanded.

Still Miss Pickett lingered; so Soft Wind, whose forty years of life
had been spent in arduous toil that had made her muscles as hard and
firm as those of most men, picked Miss Pickett up in her arms, carried
her out kicking and screaming and tossed the spinster incontinently
over the gate. Sam Singer saw the exit and favored his squaw with the
first grunt of approval in many years. Donna, after first ascertaining
that Miss Pickett had lit in the sand and was uninjured, leaned over
the gate and almost laughed herself into hysterics.

That was the last effort made to reform Donna Corblay. In a covert way
Miss Pickett and Mrs. Pennycook conspired to publicly disgrace her and,
branded as a scarlet woman, drive her out of San Pasqual, if possible.
Donna had declared war, and they were prepared to accept the challenge.

Borax O'Rourke, with six months' wages coming to him from his chosen
occupation of skinning mules up Keeler way, had been sighing for the
delights of San Pasqual and an opportunity to spend his money after the
fashion of the country. This was not possible in Keeler--at least not
on the extravagant scale which obtained regularly in San Pasqual;
hence, when he learned quite by chance that Harley P. Hennage was no
longer in that thriving hive of desert iniquity, Borax commenced to
pine for some society more ameliorating than that of twelve mules
driven with a jerk-line. In a word, Mr. O'Rourke decided to quit his
job, go down to San Pasqual and enter upon a butterfly existence until
his six months' pay should be dissipated.

Accordingly Borax O'Rourke descended, via the stage line, on San
Pasqual. He heralded his arrival and his intentions by inviting San
Pasqual to drink with him, and after visiting each of its many saloons
and spending impartially the while, he decided, along toward dusk, that
he had partaken of sufficient squirrel whisky to give him an appetite
for his dinner, and forthwith shaped his somewhat faltering course for
the eating-house.

Here he discovered that Donna Corblay was no longer employed at the
cashier's counter--which disappointed him. He ate his dinner in
silence, and upon his return to the Silver Dollar saloon he was
informed, with many a low jest and rude guffaw, the reason for his
disappointment. Whereat he laughed himself.

Now, Borax O'Rourke, while a low, vulgar, border ruffian, had what even
the lowest of his kind generally appear to possess: a lingering sense
of respect for a good woman. Until the night of the attack upon her by
the hoboes in the railroad yard, he had never dared to presume to the
extent of speaking to Donna Corblay, even when paying for his meals,
although the democracy of San Pasqual would not have construed speech
at such a time as a breach of convention. For there were no angels in
San Pasqual; the town was merely sunk in a moral lethargy, and the line
of demarcation in matters of rectitude was drawn between those who
stole and had killed their man, and those who had not. All the lesser
sins were looked upon tolerantly as indigenous to the soil, and as
Borax O'Rourke had never been accused of theft and had never killed his
man (he had been in two arguments, however, and had winged his man both
times, the winger and the wingee subsequently shaking hands and
declaring a truce), he was not considered beyond the pale. Had he
spoken to Donna she readily would have comprehended that he merely
desired to be neighborly; she would have inquired the latest news from
the borax works at Keeler and doubtless would have sold him a hat.

Nevertheless, for a long time, Borax O'Rourke had nursed a secret
passion for the eating-house cashier, a passion, that never could have
been dignified by the term "love" (Borax was not equal to that) but
rather an animal-like desire for possession. There was considerable of
the abysmal brute in Borax. He would have been voted quite a Lochinvar
in the days when men procured their wives by right of discovery and the
ability to retain possession, and had he dared, he would have made love
to Donna in his bearlike way. Hence, as in the case of all pure women
in frontier towns, where rough men foregather, Donna's easily
discernible purity had been her most salient protection, and beyond
such bulwarks Borax O'Rourke had never dared to venture.

It had been a shock, therefore, to Mr. O'Rourke, when he discovered her
that August night, crying over a stranger and kissing him. Borax
himself was not a bad-looking fellow, in a rough out-o'-doors sort of
way, and while he had not been privileged to a close scrutiny of the
man whom Donna had kissed, still he believed him to be a rough-and-
ready individual like himself, and quite naturally the thought occurred
to Borax that he, too, might not have been unwelcome, had he but
possessed sufficient courage to make a cautious advance.

He was confirmed in this thought now at the news which he heard upon
the first night of his return to San Pasqual, and with the thought that
he had been worshiping an idol with feet of clay, Mr. O'Rourke cursed
himself for an unmitigated jackass in thus leaving to some other roving
rascal the prize which he had so earnestly desired for himself. With
the receipt of the information about Donna, Mr. O'Rourke unconsciously
felt himself instantly on the same social level with her, and since
convention was something alien to his soul, and possession his sole
inspiration, he decided that he could make his advances now in full
confidence that he might be successful; and if not, there would be no
necessity for feeling sheepish over his rebuff.

"I'll ask her to marry me, an' damn the odds" he decided. "There's
worse places than the Hat Ranch to live in, with a few dollars always
comin' in. She'll be glad enough of the offer, like as not--considerin'
the circumstances, an' she can send the kid to an orphan asylum."

By morning this crafty idea had taken full possession of Borax, so
after fortifying himself with a half dozen drinks, he set forth for the
Hat Ranch. Also, under the influence of the liquor and his overweening
pride in his bright idea, he had taken pains to announce his
destination and the object of his visit. A crowd of male observers
stood on the porch of the Silver Dollar saloon and watched him depart,
the while they spurred him on his way with many a jeer and jibe.

Sam Singer was seated in the kitchen at the Hat Ranch, enjoying an
after-breakfast cigarette, when O'Rourke came to the kitchen door,
hiccoughed and made rough demand for the mistress of the house. Donna,
from an adjoining room, heard him and came into the kitchen.

"Well, Borax" she demanded, "what do you want? A hat?"

She saw that he had been drinking, and a sudden fear took possession of
her. With the exception of her Indian retainer, Bob McGraw, Harley P.
Hennage and Doc Taylor, no male foot had profaned the Hat Ranch in
twenty years, and the presence of O'Rourke was a distinct menace.

"Not on your life, sweetheart" he began pertly, "I want you."

Donna spoke to the Indian in the Cahuilla tongue, and Sam Singer sprang
at the mule-skinner like a panther on an unsuspecting deer. The lean
mahogany-colored hands closed around the ruffian's throat, and the two
bodies crashed to the floor together. O'Rourke, taken unaware by the
suddenness and ferocity of the attack, was no match. for the Indian. He
endeavored to free his arm and reach for his gun, but Sam Singer had
anticipated him. Already the big blue gun was in the Indian's
possession; he raised it, brought the butt down on O'Rourke's head, and
the battle was over, almost before it had fairly started.

"Drag him outside" Donna commanded. The Indian grasped O'Rourke by his
legs and dragged him outside the compound. Then he returned to the
kitchen, secured a bucket, filled it at the artesian well, and
returning, dashed it over the still dazed enemy.

The water did its work, and presently O'Rourke sat up.

"I'll kill you for this" he said; whereat Sam Singer struck him in the
face and rolled him over in the dirt. Incidentally, he retained Mr.
O'Rourke's big blue gun as a souvenir of the fray.

Half an hour later a very dejected, bedraggled mule-skinner, bruised,
bleeding and covered with sand which clung to his dripping person,
returned to San Pasqual, to be heartily jeered at for the result of his
pilgrimage; for the San Pasqualians noticed that not only had Mr.
O'Rourke suffered defeat, but in the melee his gun had been taken from
him, and to suffer such humiliation at the hands of a mere Indian was
considered in San Pasqual the very dregs and drainings of downright
disgrace.

For two days Borax O'Rourke drowned his chagrin in the lethal waters of
the Silver Dollar saloon, and presently to him here there came an
anonymous letter, containing, by some devil's devising, a unique scheme
for revenge on Donna, and on Sam Singer, who depended on her bounty. At
one stroke he could destroy them both, and cast them forth into the
wide reaches of the Mojave desert, homeless.

The unknown writer of this anonymous note desired to advise Borax
O'Rourke that Donna Corblay had no title to the lands on which the Hat
Ranch stood; that the desert was still part of the public domain and
subject to entry; that he, Borax O'Rourke, might file on forty acres
surrounding the Hat Ranch, and by demonstrating that he had an
artesian well on the forty, which would irrigate one-eighth of his
entry, he could obtain title to the land. In any event, after filing
his application, he would then be in a position to evict his enemies.

This seemed to the brute O'Rourke such a very novel idea that he
decided to follow it out immediately. He spent that day sobering up,
and the next few days in a trip to the land office one hundred and
fifty miles up the valley; at Independence. Upon his return to San
Pasqual he had old Judge Kenny, the local justice of the peace, serve
formal written notice upon Donna Corblay to evacuate immediately;
otherwise he would commence suit.

The news was over San Pasqual in an hour, and formed the basis of much
discussion in the Silver Dollar when Borax Somebody hailed him.

"Well, Borax, I see you're goin' to play even. D'ye think you'll be
able to oust the girl from the Hat Ranch? The boys have been discussin'
it, and it looks like she might put up a fight on squatter's rights."

"I'll git her out all right" rumbled O'Rourke, "an' when I do, I'll
chuck the old lady's bones after her. I'll teach her an' that Indian o'
hers--"

Borax O'Rourke paused. His tongue clicked drily against the roof of his
mouth.

Seated at a card-table across the room, idly shuffling a deck of cards,
sat Harley P. Hennage, and he was staring at Borax O'Rourke. At the
latter's sudden pause, a silence fell upon the Silver Dollar, and every
man lined up at the long bar turned and followed O'Rourke's glance.

For fully a minute Mr. Hennage's small baleful eyes flicked murder
lights as their glance burned into O'Rourke's wolfish soul. Then, quite
calmly, he commenced placing his cards for a game of solitaire, and
when he had carefully disposed of them he spoke:

"O'Rourke!"

The word was deep, throaty, almost a growl. Simultaneously the men
nearest O'Rourke drifted quickly away from him.

"Well?"

"I don't like your game. Stop it. Hand me an assignment o' that desert
entry o' yours by three o'clock, an' get out o' town by four o'clock.
Hear me?"

"An' if I don't?" demanded O'Rourke.

"If you don't," repeated Mr. Hennage calmly, "I shall cancel the entry
at one minute after four o'clock."

"You can't bluff me."

"I'm not bluffin' this time, you dog. Do I get that assignment of
entry?"

Borax O'Rourke knew that his life might be the price of a refusal, but
in the presence of that crowd where men were measured by their courage
the remnants of his manhood forbade him to answer "yes." He was not a
coward.

"I'll be in the middle o' the street at four o'clock" he answered.

"Got a gun?"

"No."

The gambler threw him over a twenty-dollar piece.

"Go get one."

Borax O'Rourke picked the coin off the floor and shuffled out of the
Silver Dollar saloon.

Until one minute past four o'clock, then, the incident was closed, and
Mr. Hennage returned to his interrupted game of solitaire.




CHAPTER XIX


Why Harley P. Hennage should elect to return to San Pasqual on the very
day that Borax O'Rourke issued formal written notice through old Judge
Kenny for Donna to vacate the Hat Ranch, which stood upon the desert
land whereon he had filed, is one of the mysteries of retributive
justice with which this story has nothing to do. Suffice the fact that
Mr. Hennage had stayed away from San Pasqual six months, and six months
is a sufficient lapse of time for any ordinary public excitement to
wear off, particularly in the desert. He had not intended returning so
soon, but a letter from Dan Pennycook, to whom Mr. Hennage had
communicated his whereabouts, charging the yardmaster to keep him in
touch with affairs at the Hat Ranch, had precipitated his descent upon
San Pasqual. He had dropped off the Limited at daylight that very
morning, and by nine o'clock was in possession of all the facts
regarding the mistress of the Hat Ranch.

"It's a nasty mix-up, Harley" Dan Pennycook informed him, when Mr.
Hennage sought the yardmaster out in his desire for explicit
information touching the hint of trouble to Donna conveyed in the
letter which Pennycook had sent him. "Her husband ain't never showed
up, an' there ain't no record of her marriage license in the county
clerk's office."

"How d'ye know there ain't?" the gambler demanded.

"Ee--er--well, the fact is, Harley, Mrs. Pennycook--"

"She went an' looked, eh?"

"Well, she was concerned about the girl's reputation--"

"Huh-huh. I see. Dan, do _you_ believe this scandal?"

"Not a damned word of it" said honest Dan firmly. "There's some
mistake. The girl's good. I've seen her grow up in this town since she
was a baby, an' girls like Donna Corblay don't go wrong."

Mr. Hennage extended his freckled, hairy hand. "Dan" he said, "I thank
you for that. But your missus ain't playin' fair."

Pennycook threw up his hands deprecatingly. "I know it" he said, "an' I
can't help it."

Harley P. laid his hand on the yardmaster's shoulder. "Dan" he said,
"me an' you've been good friends, man to man, an' there's just a chance
that after to-day we ain't a-goin' to meet no more. You take my
compliments to Mrs. Pennycook, Dan, an' tell her that I've kept my
word, even if she didn't keep hers. That worthless convict brother-in-
law o' yours is dead, Dan. You can quit worryin'. He'll never blackmail
you again. He's as dead as a mackerel an' I seen him buried. Dan, old
friend, _adios._"

He shook hands warmly with the yardmaster and walked over to the Silver
Dollar saloon, where, in order to smother his distress, he played game
after game of solitaire. Here, shortly after his arrival, he had
learned of Borax O'Rourke's latest move, and when the latter entered
the saloon an hour later, Harley P. had delivered his ultimatum.

For an hour after O'Rourke had left the Silver Dollar for the
ostensible purpose of purchasing a gun, the gambler continued to play
solitaire. At three o'clock he arose, kicked back his chair, sighed,
and glanced at the crowd which had been hanging around, watching him.

"Twenty games to-day an' never beat it once" he complained. "No use
talkin', boys, my luck's changed." He walked to the bar, laid a handful
of gold thereon and gave his order.

"Wine."

He turned to the crowd. "It happens that there ain't no officer o' the
law in San Pasqual to-day to interfere in the forthcoming festivities
between me an' O'Rourke. I do hope that none o' you boys'll feel called
on to interfere. I take it for granted you won't, out o' compliment to
me, an' as a further compliment I'd be obliged if you-all'd honor me to
the extent o' havin' a little nip."

The crowd shuffled to the bar, and a lanky prospector in from the dry
diggings at Coolgardie spoke up.

"I'm a stranger here, but I'll help pull a rope tight around that mule-
skinner's neck. It looks to me like a community job, an' if you say the
word, friend, I'll head a movement to relieve you o' the resk o'
cancelin' that entry."

"Thank you, old-timer" replied Mr. Hennage kindly, "but this is a
personal matter, an' it's been the custom in this town to let every man
kill his own skunks. All set, boys. Smoke up!"

Each of his guests half turned, facing the gambler. As one man they
spoke.

"How."

"How" replied Harley P., and tossed off his wine with evident relish.
He pocketed his change and left the saloon; five minutes later he was
bending over a show-case in the hardware department of the general
store, and when his purchase was completed he sat down on a keg of
nails, laid his watch on the counter before him, lit a cigar and smoked
until four o 'clock; then he arose.

He handed his watch to the proprietor.

"I'd be obliged if you was to give that watch to Dan Pennycook" he
said, and walked out.

On the threshold he paused. A train, brown with the dust of the
hundreds of miles of desert across which it had traveled, was just
pulling in to the depot, and while Mr. Hennage realized that any delay
in his programme would be a distinct strain on the idlers who had
gathered in the porch of the Silver Dollar and adjacent deadfalls to
watch the worst man in San Pasqual finally make good on his reputation,
still he was not one of the presuming kind, and he declined to make a
spectacle of himself for the edification of the travelers peering
curiously from the windows of the train.

So he waited until the train pulled out before stepping briskly into
the middle of the street, gun in hand. He crossed diagonally toward the
eating-house, watching for O'Rourke.

Suddenly a man appeared around the corner of the eating-house, a long-
barreled Colt's in his hand. Mr. Hennage raised his gun, but lowered it
again instantly, for the man was Sam Singer. The Indian ran to Mr.
Hennage's side.

"_Vamose, amigo mio_" he said in mingled Spanish and English, "me
fixum plenty good."

"Sam" said Mr. Hennage, "get out. You're interferin'. This is the white
man's burden." With a sudden sweep of his arm he tore the gun from the
Indian's hand, and waved him imperiously away, just as the crowd on the
porch of the Silver Dollar parted and Borax O'Rourke leaped into the
street.

"Git--you Injun" yelled Mr. Hennage. "If he beefs me first you take a
hack at him."

Sam Singer, weaponless, sprang around the corner of the eating-house,
just as O'Rourke, having gained the center of the street, turned, drew
his gun down on Harley P. and fired. A suppressed "A-a-h-h" went up
from the crowd as the worst man in San Pasqual sprawled forward on his
hands and knees.

O'Rourke brought his gun up, swiftly, dropped it again. Mr. Hennage's
left arm buckled under him suddenly and he slid forward on his face,
while two more bullets from the mule-skinner's gun threw the sand in
his eyes, blinding him, before ricochetting against the eating-house
wall.

Sam Singer, peering around the corner of the eating-house, saw the
gambler pick himself up slowly. There was a surprised look on his face.
He was staggering in circles and as yet he had not fired a shot.

"No luck" he muttered thickly, "no luck," and reeled toward the eating-
house. A fifth bullet scored his shoulder and crashed through the wall;
the sixth--and last--was a clean miss, and in the middle of San
Pasqual's single street Borax O'Rourke stood wonderingly, an empty
smoking gun in his hand, staring at the man reeling blindly along the
eating-house wall.

Mr. Hennage paused with his broad back against the wall. "The sand" he
muttered, blinking, and brushed his eyes with the back of his good
right hand, as Sam Singer made a quick scuttering rush around the
corner and retrieved the loaded gun which the gambler had taken from
him and which Harley P. had dropped when O'Rourke's second bullet had
shattered his left arm.

Mr. Hennage saw the Indian stooping, and flapped his broken arm in
feeble protest. Then he raised his gun.

"Borax" he said aloud, "I've got a full house," and pulled away,
O'Rourke pitched forward, and Harley P. advanced uncertainly toward
him, firing as he came, and when the gun was empty and Borax O'Rourke
as dead as Cheops, the gambler stood over his man and hurled the gun at
the still twitching body.

"Well, I've canceled that entry" he said. He stood there, swaying a
little, and a strong arm came around his fat waist. He half turned and
gazed into the sun-scorched, red-bearded face of a tall young man clad
in a ruin of weather-beaten rags.

It was Bob McGraw. He had come back. Sam Singer, reaching Mr. Hennage's
side at that moment, recognized the stranger, and realizing that Mr.
Hennage was in safe hands, the Indian dropped his gun (the one he had
taken from O'Rourke at the Hat Ranch) and fled to Donna with the news.

Mr. Hennage fixed his fading glance upon the wanderer. He wanted to say
something severe, but for the life of him--even the little he had
left--he could not; there was a puzzled look in his sand-clogged eyes
as he whispered.

"Bob, they've got the goods--on you. There's a warrant--out; you--know
--that stage hold-up--at Garlock--"

He lurched forward into Bob McGraw's arms.

"Oh, Harley, Harley, old man" said Bob McGraw in a choking voice.

"Vamose" panted Mr. Hennage. "I'm dyin', son. You can't do no good
here."

"My friend, my friend" whispered the wanderer, "don't die believing I'm
an outlaw. I didn't do it. On my word of honor, I didn't."

"I'm dyin', Bob. Give me the straight of it."

"I can't. I don't know what you're driving at, Harley. It's a mistake--"

"Everything's a mistake--I'm a mistake" muttered the gambler. "Son,
take me--to my--room--in the hotel. I'm a dog with a bad--name, but I--
don't want to--die in--the street."

Dan Pennycook, at his work among the strings of empty box-cars across
the track, had heard the shooting; had seen the crowd leave the porch
of the Silver Dollar saloon and surge out into the street. He came
running now, and upon hearing the details of the duel he pressed
through the circle of curious men who had gathered to see Harley P.
Hennage die. He found Mr. Hennage seated in the sand with his head and
shoulders supported by a stranger.

Mr. Hennage smiled his rare, trustful, childish smile as the yardmaster
approached.

"Good old Dan!" he mumbled. "He can only--think of one--thing at a--
time--like a horse--but--by God--he thinks--straight. Hello, Dan. I'm
beefed. Help Bob--carry me in--Dan. I'm so--damned--heavy an' I don't
want--any but real friends--to touch me--now."

They picked him up and carried him into the hotel, up the narrow heat-
warped stairs and down the corridor to his room. On the way down the
corridor, Mr. Hennage sniffed curiously.

"They got--new mattin' in the rooms" he gasped. "Business--must be--
lookin' up."

The crowd followed into the room, and watched Bob McGraw and Dan
Pennycook lay Mr. Hennage on his old bed. Dan Pennycook hurried for Doc
Taylor, while Bob cleared the room of the curious and locked the door.
Mr. Hennage beckoned him to his bedside.

"I ain't paid--for this bed yet" he said, "but there's money--in my
pants pocket--an' you square up--for the damage--an' the annoyance--"

The tears came into Bob McGraw's eyes as he knelt beside the bed and
took the hand of the worst man in San Pasqual in his. He could not
speak. The simplicity, the honesty of this dying stray dog had filled
his heart to overflowing; for he was young and he could weep at the
passing of a man.

"Sho," said Mr. Hennage softly, "sho, Bob. It was low down--o' me to
figure you--a crook, but the evidence--man, it was awful--but you--
when did you--marry Donnie"

"Last October--in Bakersfield."

"I know--wisht you'd invited me--give the bride away, Bob. This
wouldn't--have happened. Damn dogs! They--say--little Donnie--belongs
--east o' the tracks. I killed--O'Rourke for--thinkin' it."

A knock sounded on the door, and Bob opened it, to admit Dan Pennycook.

"Doc Taylor's in Bakersfield" he said.

Mr. Hennage grinned. "I knew it--no luck to-day" he said. "Just wipe
the--sand out--o' my eyes, Bob--an' let me kick the bucket--without
disturbin' nobody. Dan'l, good-by. As the feller says--we shall meet--
on that beautiful--shore."

Pennycook wet a towel in the wash-bowl and wiped Mr. Hennage's eyes.
Then he wiped his own, squeezed his friend's hand and departed. He had
taken Mr. Hennage's gentle hint to leave him alone with Bob McGraw.

For nearly half an hour Bob and Mr. Hennage talked, and when the
gambler had learned all he wished to know he closed his eyes and was
silent until another knock came on the door. Again Bob opened it. Donna
stood on the threshold.

"Oh, sweetheart!" she cried, and her arms went around his neck, while
Sam Singer softly closed the door and stood guard outside. At the sound
of her voice Mr. Hennage opened his eyes, but since he was not one of
the presuming kind he quickly closed them again and feigned
unconsciousness until he felt Donna's soft hand resting on his cold
forehead.

"You oughtn't to a-come here, Donnie" he said, making a brave show to
speak easily despite his terrible wounds. "There ain't--no fun in this
--visit--for nobody--but me--"

He turned wearily to hide his face from her, and looked thoughtfully
out the window, across the level reaches of the Mojave desert, to where
the sun hung low over the Tehachapis. In the fading light the little
dust-devils were beginning to caper and obscure the landscape, much as
the dark shadows were already trooping athwart the horizon of Mr.
Hennage's wasted life. The night--the eternal night--was coming on
apace, and it came to Mr. Hennage that he, too, would depart with the
sunset, and he had no regrets.

"Don't cry" he said gently. "I ain't worth it. Just hold--my hand. I
want you--near--when I can't see you--no more--an' it's gettin' dark--
already. You're so much--like your mother--an' she--she trusted me. I
was born with--a hard--face--an' nobody ever--trusted me--but you an'
--your mother--an' I--wanted to be trusted--all my worthless life--I
wanted it--"

He sighed and held out his hands to them. Thereafter for an hour he did
not speak. He was thinking of many things now, and the time was short.
Presently he opened his eyes and looked out the window again.

"It's--dark" he whispered. "The sun ain't set, has it?"

"It's just setting" Donna answered him. He nodded slightly, and a flush
of embarrassment lit up his pale features. For the first and last time
in life, Harley P. Hennage was going to appear presumptuous.

"If it's--a boy" he whispered, "would you--you wouldn't mind--would
you--callin' him--Harley? Just--his middle name, Donnie--an' he could
--sign it--Robert H.--McGraw."

Donna's hot tears fell fast on his face as she leaned over and kissed
the death-damp from his brow.

"Oh-thank you" he gasped. "Bob--take off my--shoes--I don't--want--to
--die--with--my boots--on. New--gaiters--too--give 'em--to Sam--Singer.
Good--Injun--that."

The sun had set behind the Tehachapis now, and twilight was stealing
over San Pasqual. It was time for Mr. Hennage to be on his way. He
clung to the hands of his friends convulsively, and whatever thoughts
came to him in that supreme moment were for the first time reflected in
his face. Indeed, one tiny hint of the desolation in his big heart--the
agony of a lifetime of misunderstanding and repression, trickled across
his hard face; then something seemed to strike him very funny, for the
infrequent, trustful, childish smile flickered across his face, the
three gold teeth flashed for an instant ere the worst man in San
Pasqual slipped off into the shadows.

And whatever the joke was, he took it with him.

In his unassuming way Harley P. Hennage had been sufficient of a
personage, and the manner of his death sufficiently spectacular, to
entitle him to one hundred and fifty words of posthumous publicity.
Within an hour after the street duel the local representative of the
Associated Press had his story on the wire, and at eight-thirty next
morning T. Morgan Carey, in his club at Los Angeles, read the glad
tidings. By nine o'clock a cipher telegram from Carey was being clicked
off to his tool in the General Land Office at Washington, instructing
him to expedite the listing of the applications of Bob McGraw's clients
for lieu land in Owens Valley.

To T. Morgan Carey's way of thinking that inconspicuous paragraph in
the morning paper meant as much to him as the receipt of a certified
check for a million dollars. Under his instructions, the applications
of McGraw's clients had, with the judicious aid of the deputy in the
State Land Office, been approved by the surveyor-general and forwarded
to Washington for the approval of the Commissioner of the General Land
Office. Here, Carey's long arm, reaching out, had stayed their progress
until now. Within a week after Mr. Hennage's death the lands would be
passed to patent, under the interested attentions of Carey's man in the
General Land Office, the State Land Office would notify Bob McGraw at
his address furnished them that the lands were ready for him, and to
call and pay the balance due. It would then be incumbent upon McGraw to
visit the State Land Office, pay the balance of thirty-nine thousand
dollars due on the lands and close the transaction.

The way had been nicely smoothed for Carey by the death of Mr. Hennage,
who had warned him so earnestly to "keep off the grass." Of course,
McGraw, being to Carey's way of thinking an outlaw from justice, would
not dare to appear to claim the lands, and if he did, T. Morgan Carey
planned to have a hale and hearty gentleman in a blue uniform with
brass buttons, waiting at the Land Office to receive him _before he
paid for the lands._ With the providential removal of McGraw's queer
partner, Carey saw very clearly that, after waiting a reasonable period
after due notice of the approval of the applications had been mailed to
McGraw, the filings would eventually lapse, the state would claim the
forfeit of the preliminary payment of one thousand dollars and the
lands would be reopened for entry--whereupon Carey would step in with
his own dummy entrymen. He could then proceed with his own system of
irrigation, in the meanwhile keeping a watchful eye on McGraw's water
right, ready to grab it when the title should lapse through McGraw's
failure to develop it.

Harley P. Hennage died on the fifth day of March. On the seventh there
were two funerals in San Pasqual. The coroner and two Mexican laborers
tucked Borax O'Rourke away in the potter's field in the morning. In the
afternoon every business establishment in San Pasqual closed, every
male citizen in San Pasqual arrayed himself in his "other" clothes and
attended the funeral of Harley P. Hennage, testifying, by his presence
at least, his masculine appreciation of a dead-game sport.

That was a historic day in San Pasqual. Harley P. lay in state in the
long gambling hall of the Silver Dollar which, for so many years, he
had ruled by the mystic power of his terrible eyes. Dan Pennycook had
made all of the funeral arrangements, and when the crowd had passed
slowly around the casket, viewing Harley P.'s placid face for the last
time, a strange young man, clad in the garb of a prospector, mounted
the little dais, so long occupied by the lookout for Harley P.'s faro
game, and delivered a funeral oration. It was not a panegyric of hope,
and it dwelt not with the promise of a haven for the gambler's soul in
one of his Father's many mansions. He told them merely the story of one
who had dwelt amongst them--the story of a man they had never known--
and he told it in such simple, eloquent words that the men of San
Pasqual wondered what dark tragedy underlay his own life, that he must
needs descend to mingle with such as they. And wondering, they wept.

They asked each other who this red stranger might be, but none could
answer. But when Harley P. Hennage was finally consigned to the desert
they watched the stranger and saw him walk down the tracks to the Hat
Ranch. Then they understood, and the word was passed that the man was
Bob McGraw, the father of Donna Corblay's unborn child.

Strange to relate, nobody considered it worth while to telephone the
sheriff of Kern county. Even Miss Pickett, who since the shooting had
been strangely subdued, was not attracted by the recollection of the
offer of a reward of five hundred dollars for Bob McGraw, dead or
alive; and ten days after the funeral, when a registered letter came to
Robert McGraw, she sent for Dan Pennycook, gave him the letter and the
registry receipt and asked him to take it down to the Hat Ranch.

Pennycook leaned his greasy elbows on the delivery window and gazed
long and sternly at Miss Pickett.

"Miss Pickett" he said presently, "we found a 'nononymous letter on
Borax O'Rourke after he was killed. There's folks in San Pasqual that
says the letter's in your handwritin'."

"'Tain't so!" shrilled the spinster.

"Well, this man McGraw says it is so, an' he's goin' to get an expert
to prove it. He says it's a felony to send a 'nonymous letter through
the United States mails. I'm just a-tellin' you to give you fair
warnin'."

Miss Pickett, although greatly agitated, pursed her mouth
contemptuously and closed the delivery window. Mr. Pennycook left for
the Hat Ranch.

"Donna," said Bob McGraw, when Dan Pennycook had departed, after
delivering the letter from the State Land Office, "the applications of
my clients are approved and ready to be passed to patent. I have been
called upon to pay the balance of thirty-nine thousand dollars due on
the land, and if there are thirty-nine cents real money in this world,
I do act possess them. Will you loan me a hundred dollars, dear, from
that thousand Harley P. gave you? I must go to San Francisco on
business."

He smiled his old bantering smile. "I'm always broke, sweetheart. I'm
an unfortunate cuss, am I not? Those claims of mine didn't yield wages
and I was forced to sell my outfit at Danby to get railroad fare back
to San Pasqual. And if the train hadn't been ten minutes late--if I
hadn't gone into the eating-house looking for you--I would, have
arrived in time to have saved poor Hennage. It was my fight, after all,
and poor Harley wasn't used to firearms."

They were sitting together in the patio. Donna leaned her head on his
broad shoulder. She had suffered much of late. She had fought the good
fight for his sake, for the sake of his great dream of Donnaville, and
she had fought alone. She was weary of it all and she longed to leave
San Pasqual as quickly as possible.

"Are you going to ask Mr. Dunstan for the thirty-nine thousand dollars
he promised to loan you, when the lands were ready for you?" she asked
dully.

"No" he answered. "It's no use. I need more money, and Dunstan's check
wouldn't even get me started. If I'm whipped, there is no sense in
dragging my friends down with me. I'm going to Los Angeles and
compromise with Carey."

She drew his rough cheek down to hers and patted his brown hands. She
knew then the bitterness of his defeat, and she made no comment. She
was tired of the fight. A compromise with Carey or a sale of the water
right was their only hope, and when Bob spoke of compromise she was too
listless to dissuade him. Since that eventful night when he had first
ridden into San Pasqual she had been more or less of a stormy petrel;
woe and death and suffering had followed his coming, and if Donnaville
was to be purchased at such a price, the land was dear, indeed.

She gave him gladly of her slender hoard and that night Bob McGraw went
up to San Francisco. Two days later he returned, stopping off at
Bakersfield, and the following morning he returned to San Pasqual.

He went at once to the post-office, and after receiving permission from
Miss Pickett, screwed into the wall of the post-office lobby what
appeared to Miss Pickett to be two pictures, framed. When he had left,
she came out of her sanctum and discovered that one of the frames
contained a certified copy of a marriage license issued to Robert
McGraw and Donna Corblay on October 17th,----, together with a neat
typewritten statement of the reasons why interested parties had not
been able to discover the record of the issuance of the license at the
county seat. It appeared that the minister who had performed the
ceremony, after forwarding the license to the State Board of Health for
registration, had neglected to return it thereafter to the two most
interested parties, which, coupled with Mrs. McGraw's ignorance of the
procedure to be followed under the circumstances, had resulted in more
or less embarrassment.

The other frame contained a typewritten invitation to the public to
earn five hundred dollars by convicting the undersigned of stage
robbery. The "undersigned" was Robert McGraw, who would remain in San
Pasqual all day long and would be delighted to answer questions.

From the post-office Bob went to the public telephone station and
called up T. Morgan Carey in Los Angeles. He requested an interview at
ten o'clock the following morning for the purpose of adjusting a
compromise with him.

Needless to state, Mr. T. Morgan Carey granted the request with
cheerful alacrity.

"I'm coming to do business" Bob warned him. "No third parties around--
understand!"

"Certainly, certainly" responded Carey. "And in order to save time, Mr.
McGraw, I'll have the assignment of your water right made out, ready
for your signature. I'll have a notary within hailing distance."

Bob could hear him chuckling as he hung up, for to Carey the thought of
his revenge on the man who had cuffed him in the State Land Office was
very sweet, indeed. His amiable smile had not yet worn off when his
office boy ushered Bob McGraw into his private office at ten o'clock
next morning. He waved Bob to a chair and looked him over curiously.

"Been too busy lately to dress up, eh?" he queried, as he noted Bob's
corduroy trousers tucked into his miner's boots.

"Pretty busy" assented Bob, and smiled.

"Rather spectacular removal--that of our friend Hennage" Carey
continued. "From what I learn he was a little slow on the draw."

"O'Rourke beat him to it."

"If I may judge by the single exhibition of your proficiency with a gun
which I was privileged to observe, Mr. McGraw, the issue would have
been different had you been in Hennage's boots."

"Possibly. But I didn't come here to gossip with you, Carey. I don't
like you well enough for that. I want to finish my business and get
back to San Pasqual to-night."

"Certainly, certainly. But you're such an extraordinary young man,
McGraw, that in spite of our former differences I must own to a desire
to know more about you. I could use a man with your brains and ability,
McGraw. You're the kind of a fellow I've been looking for--for a great
many years, in fact. If you think you could manage to divorce yourself
from your ambitions to supersede me in the State Land Office, I could
afford to pay you a fat salary to attend to my land matters. I would
have to be the boss, however. It has been a rule of my life, McGraw, to
gather about me men with more brains than I possess myself. That is the
secret of my--er--rather modest success."

Bob smiled. "No use" he answered. "I couldn't wear your collar, Carey.
I Ve been a white man all my life and I'm too old to change."

"It's a pity" Carey replied with genuine sincerity. "I can see
remarkable possibilities in you, McGraw. I can, indeed. It's a shame to
see you waste your opportunities."

"Play ball" commanded Bob sharply.

"Very well, since you desire it. In the matter of those applications
for fifty sections of Owens Valley: you have received a notification
from the Registrar of the State Land Office, advising you to call and
pay thirty-nine thousand dollars. You cannot pay it; neither can your
clients. What are you going to do about it?"

Bob shrugged. "_Quien sabe?_" he said.

"Well, Mr. McGraw, I'll tell you. Your applications are going to lapse
through non-payment, and I'm going to get the land. So enough of that.
You own a valuable water right. I'm going to get that also. Do you wish
me to explain why?"

"No, it is not necessary. I think I follow your line of reasoning."

"I am not disappointed in my estimate of your common sense" Carey
retorted, and favored his visitor with a cold, quizzical smile. "Here
is the assignment of that water right to me. In return I will give you
--let me see. I will give you just fifteen hundred dollars for that
water right, McGraw, and I am surprised at myself for exhibiting such
generosity. And inasmuch as you collected that sum in advance last
autumn at Garlock, your signature to the assignment, before a notary
who is waiting in the next room, is all that we require to terminate
this interview."

"But I told you I came here to compromise."

"I understand fully. Those are my terms. Your water right on Cottonwood
lake in return for your freedom. Stage-robbers cannot be choosers, Mr.
McGraw. I recognized you that day at Garlock and I am prepared to so
testify."

The land-grabber rose from his swivel chair. His polished suave manner
had disappeared now and his cold eyes flashed with anger and hatred.

"I haven't forgotten that day in the State Land Office, McGraw. A
slight pressure on this button"--he placed his manicured finger on an
ivory push button--"and two plain-clothes men in my outer office will
attend to your case, McGraw."

"So those are your final terms, Carey?"

"Absolutely."

Bob crossed his right leg over his left knee, pulled out a five-cent
cigar and thoughtfully bit off the end.

"Press the button, old man" he murmured presently. "Confound this
cigar, I've busted the blamed wrapper. Got another cigar handy, Carey?
Thanks. By George, that's a two-bitter, isn't it? Well, it's none too
good for the last of the McGraw family. I'll be in the two-bit class;
myself in half an hour. But proceed, Carey. Press the button and call
in your plain-clothes men."

He pulled back the lapel of his coat, and the land-grabber saw the butt
of a gun nestling under his left arm. From his inner coat pocket Bob
drew a cylindrical roll of paper about eight inches long.

Carey eyed him scornfully. "This is the city of Los Angeles, my friend,
not the open desert at Garlock. A gunplay would be most ill-advised, I
assure you."

"Oh, that's just part of my wardrobe" Bob retorted. "I wouldn't think
of using that on a man unless he was real dangerous--and men like you
are beneath my notice. Come now, Carey. Which is it to be? Compromise
or the penitentiary?"

"Certainly not compromise--on any terms but mine."

"Well, press the button and call them in--_Boston!_"

Carey whirled in his chair, jerked open a drawer in his desk and
reached his hand inside. Before he could withdraw it Bob McGraw's big
automatic was covering him.

"Take your hand out of that drawer--_Boston._ Out, you dog, or
I'll drill you!"

Carey's hand came out of the drawer slowly, very slowly, grasping a
small pearl-handled revolver.

"This is the city of Los Angeles, my friend, and not the open desert. A
gun-play would be most ill-advised, I assure you" Bob mocked the land-
grabber. "You'd better let me have that pop-gun."

He gently removed the little weapon from Carey's trembling hand.

"Now, go over in that corner and sit down--no, not on the floor. Take a
chair with you. I'll occupy the arsenal. You might have all kinds of
push buttons, burglar alarms and deadly weapons around this desk."

He ran his hands lightly over Carey's person in search of weapons,
shoved him into the corner indicated, then turned and snapped the
spring lock on the door leading out to the general office; after which
he laid his gun on Carey's desk, sat down in Carey's swivel chair,
tilted himself back and lifted his hob-nailed miner's boots to the top
of Carey's rosewood table close by. And as he gazed, almost
sorrowfully, at the land-grabber, he puffed enjoyably at Carey's cigar.
Evidently he foresaw a lengthy argument and meant to make himself
comfortable before proceeding.

"Well, now, Boston, since we have definitely located you as the
murderer of Oliver Corblay in the Colorado desert on the night of May
17th, 188-, I'll give you five minutes to get your nerve back and then
we'll get down to business. You will recall that I came here to
compromise."

He reached over and placed a brown calloused finger on the push button,
and waited.

"Well" he said presently, "what's the answer!"

"Compromise" Carey managed to articulate. Bob removed his finger.

"The court will now listen to any new testimony that may be adduced in
the case of The People versus Carey. Fire away, Boston."

"What are you?" panted Carey. "A man or a devil?"

"Just a plain human being, so flat busted, Boston, that I rattle when I
walk. What would you suggest to cure me of that horrible ailment?"

"Silence--on both sides--and a hundred thousand for your water right."

"Well, from your point of view, that offer is truly generous. It is now
my turn to be surprised at your generosity. But you're shy on
imagination, Boston--and I'm--a greedy rascal. You'll have to raise the
ante."

"Two hundred thousand."

"Still too low. The power rights alone are worth a million."

"A million, then--you to leave the United States and not return during
my lifetime."

Bob laughed. "You don't understand, Boston. Why should I sell you my
water right? You must have water on the brain."

"Then, why have you called to see me? Is it blackmail? Why, this
interview is degenerating into a ease of the pot calling the kettle
black! I'm a fool, McGraw. I shall offer you nothing at all. You can be
convicted of stage robbery and you haven't a dollar in the world to
make your defense--while I--it takes _evidence_ to convict a man
like me"

"Yes, I know your kind. You think you're above the law. I notice,
however, that you fear it a little. I sprung a good one on you that
time, didn't I, Boston? Imagine the self-possessed T. Morgan Carey
practically confessing to a murder on a mere accusation."

He wagged his head at Carey sorrowfully, and continued. "You said a
minute ago, Carey, that I had brains. You did not underestimate me. I
have. I would not have come to you this morning if I did not have the
goods on you. Not much. I don't hold you that cheap, Boston--"

"Don't call me that name" snarled Carey.

"All right, Boston, I won't, since you object. Sit quiet, now, and I'll
tell you a very wonderful story--profusely illustrated, as the book
agents say. It's rather a long story, so please do not interrupt me."

He unrolled the paper which he had taken from his pocket and held it up
before his cringing victim. It was an enlargement from a kodak picture
of a desert scene. In the foreground lay two human skeletons. Bob
picked a pencil off Carey's desk and lightly indicated one of these
skeletons.

"That bundle of bones was once Oliver Corblay. Notice those footprints
over to the right! See how plainly they loom up in the picture? And
over there--see that little message, Bos--I mean, Mr. Carey. It says:

    'Friend, look in my canteen and see that I get justice.'

"Behold the friend who looked in the canteen, and who is now here for
justice for that skeleton. He's waited twenty years for it, Carey, but
he's going to get it to-day. Don't squirm so. You distract my mind from
my story.

"Two months ago I was heading up from the Colorado river toward
Chuckwalla Tanks. Passing the mouth of a box canyon I observed the
footprints of a man in some old rotten lava formation. I could tell
that the man who made those footprints was dying of thirst when he made
them. He was traveling in circles, every twenty yards, and they always
do that toward the finish.

"Well, I hustled up that box canyon with my canteen, hoping I'd arrive
in time. Judge of my surprise when I found this heap of bones. I
investigated and discovered that owing to the peculiar formation in the
box canyon the footprints were practically imperishable. A detailed
explanation of the reason why they loom up so white would be
interesting, but technical--so let it pass. Suffice the fact that
Oliver Corblay made the same discovery when he drifted into that box
canyon twenty years ago, and it gave him an idea. He had a message to
leave to posterity and he left it in his empty canteen. However, unless
attention could be called to the canteen, the man who found the
skeleton would merely bury it and never think of looking in the
canteen. So Oliver Corblay wrote that message in the lava; really the
most ingenious piece of inlaid work I have ever seen.

"I was the first man to travel that way in twenty years. I read the
message in the lava and I looked in the canteen. Here is a copy of the
story I found there. The original is in a safe deposit box in San
Francisco. It is a diary of a trip which you made with Oliver Corblay
and his _mozo_ when you first came out to this country from--well,
never mind the name. It seems to annoy you. This diary tells all about
the discovery of the Baby Mine, your attack upon him with a stone and
your flight with the gold--in fact, a condensed history of that trip
right down to the very day he died in that box canyon.

"I was so tremendously interested in that remarkable story, Carey, that
as soon as I had refilled my water kegs at Chuckwalla Tanks, I headed
south again for Ehrenburg. Here, after much inquiry, I learned from two
of the oldest inhabitants that a tenderfoot with a train of four burros
had arrived there twenty years ago. They remembered you quite well,
because you were so new to the country and so frightened after your
experience in the desert. You told a tale of a sandstorm and of having
been separated from two Indians you had employed. It seems you lay over
in Ehrenburg for a week and put in your time working up a lot of rich
ore. You gave a deputy United States marshal five hundred dollars to
act as your bodyguard that week, and when your bullion was ready you
shipped it by express to the mint in San Francisco. In the express
office at Ehrenburg I found a record of that shipment. You shipped it
under the name 'T. C. Morgan,' a reversal of your real name.

"From Ehrenburg I made my way back up through Riverside county and
across San Bernardino county, to the box canyon. I had purchased a
little camera in Ehrenburg, and I fizzled a lot of my films owing to
the strong light and the fact that I had to stand on one of my jacks
when I took the picture, and the little rascal wouldn't stand still.
However, I managed to get one good picture out of the lot, and as
you will observe, it all shows up very well in the enlargement.

"I left everything in that box canyon just as I found it. It occurred
to me that you might fight and ask to be shown; so might a coroner's
jury. They could get out there in three days with an automobile now.
Leaving the box canyon I pushed north to Danby, where I sold my outfit
and bought a ticket for San Pasqual, where I arrived just in time to
see my friend, Harley P. Hennage, lay down his life in defense of
Oliver Corblay's daughter, who, by the way, happens to be my wife.

"If you are not too frightened, Carey, you will readily diagnose my
extreme interest in this case. Oliver Corblay left a will, which I
shall not bother to file for probate, for the reason that his entire
estate consisted of the gold that you stole from him, and it is my
intention to secure his estate for his heir without recourse to law.
Oliver Corblay's wife is dead, and his daughter, Donna, is my wife and
next in succession.

"By consulting the old records of the United States Mint at San
Francisco, I discover that on June 2, 18--, a cashier's check was
issued to a man named T. C. Morgan, in the sum of $157,432.55, in
payment of bullion received. This check was endorsed by T. C. Morgan to
Thomas M. Carey, and deposited by Thomas M. Carey in the Traders
National Bank.

"Now, Carey, $157,432.55, at seven per cent per annum, compounded
annually for twenty annums, aggregates a heap of money. I wore myself
out trying to figure the exact sum, and finally concluded to call it
square at half a million. That original sum that you stole from Oliver
Corblay gave you your start in the west, and as you are reputed to be
worth five or six millions now, I am going to assess you half a million
dollars for my wife--money which justly belongs to her--and another
half million for my services as your attorney, wherein I agree to
prevail upon my wife not to prosecute you for murder and highway
robbery, but to permit you to live on and await the retributive justice
that is bound to overtake you. I think this is perfectly fair and
square. You have used your money and your power for evil. I am going to
use mine for good. Have the kindness, my dear T. Morgan Carey, to dig
me up a million dollars, P. D. Q."




CHAPTER XX


Carey sat huddled dejectedly in his chair. Old age seemed to have
descended upon him within the hour; with sagging shoulders, mouth half
open in terror, and the wrinkled skin around his thin jaws and the
corners of his eyes hanging in greenish-white folds, he looked very
tired and very pitiful. Despite his terror, however, he was not yet
daunted; for with the picture of _two skeletons_ before him he saw
a gleam of hope and tried to fight back.

"Twenty years is a long time, McGraw," he quavered, "and it's hard to
trace a man by a mere similarity of names."

"You can be traced through the Traders National, where you banked that
check, and your identity established beyond a doubt. I can trace your
career in this state, step by step, from the day you arrived in it."

Carey smiled--a very weak sickly smile, but bespeaking awakened
confidence.

"In the face of which, McGraw, your knowledge of our United States' law
will convince you that you cannot convict a man with money enough to
fight indefinitely, on such flimsy twenty-year-old evidence found in an
abandoned canteen. You cannot identify that skeleton, and you will have
to prove that--that--well, you'll have to produce oral testimony, or
I'll be given the benefit of the doubt."

"I must prove that the man who killed and robbed Oliver Corblay is T.
Morgan Carey, and not a stranger masquerading under your name, eh? All
right, T. Morgan. I told you I had this story profusely illustrated."

Bob stepped to the door of the private office which led into the hall.
He opened it and Sam Singer stepped inside. Bob turned to Carey.

"Permit me to present Oliver Corblay's Indian servant, Mr. Carey. He is
a little older and more stolid since you saw him last, but his memory--"

Sam Singer moved forward a few feet and glanced sharply at Carey.

"I think he recognizes you in spite of your beard" said Bob
sorrowfully, "and I see no reason--"

"Take him away" panted Carey, on the instant that Sam Singer, with a
peculiar low guttural cry, sprang upon the land-grabber. Bob came
behind the Indian, grasped him by the chin, and with his knee in the
small of the Cahuilla's back as a fulcrum, gently pried him away from
his victim and held him fast. Carey lay quivering on the floor, and Bob
looked down at him.

"Are you satisfied?" he asked.

Carey nodded feebly, and Bob marched Sam Singer to the door, opened it
and gently propelled him out into the hall. He locked the door and
returned to the desk.

"I knew the sight of two skeletons would hearten you up, Carey, until
you'd be as saucy as a badger. But you're as tame as a pet fox now, so
let's get down to business. Don't argue with me. I've got you where the
hair is short; I want a million dollars, and if I do not get it within
half an hour I won't take it at all and I will no longer protect you
from that Indian."

Carey climbed back into his chair. "If I accept your terms" he said
huskily, "how am I to know that you will keep your word?"

"You will not know it. You'll just have to guess. When you do what I
want you to do I will surrender to you the original document found in
the canteen. Is that satisfactory?"

"I guess so. But I cannot give you a million dollars on five minutes'
notice, McGraw."

"It's quite a chunk of cash to have on hand, I'll admit. How much can
you give me?"

"Five hundred thousand, and even then I'll have to overdraw my accounts
with three banks."

"I wish my credit was as good as yours, Carey. Your banks will stand
for the overdraft, of course. You'll have to arrange it some other way
if they will not."

"I can't give you a cent over half a million to-day, no matter what you
do" pleaded Carey piteously, and Bob realized that he was speaking the
truth.

"Do not worry, Carey," he replied, "we're going to do business without
getting nasty with each other. I'll take your promissory note, at seven
per cent, and you can secure me with a little mortgage on your Spring-
street-business block. It's worth a million and a half. I am not so
unreasonable as to imagine even a rich man like you can produce a
million dollars cash on such notice, so during the past week I took the
liberty of having the title searched and an instrument of first
mortgage drawn up by myself. All we have to do is to insert the figures
and then you can sign it. I understand you have a notary within hailing
distance. Your own thoughtfulness in having this transfer of my water
right ready for my signature suggested this course to me. It occurred
to me that I could sell this mortgage to any Los Angeles bank."

Carey covered his face with his hands and quivered.

"What bank do you anticipate selling it to?" he mumbled presently.

"I didn't have any particular choice. If you have enemies I will not
sell you into their hands, and you can make the mortgage for as long a
period as you please, up to three years. Give me a list of banks to
keep away from. I don't want to hurt you unnecessarily, I assure you."

"Thank you, McGraw" quavered his victim. "If you'll let me sit at my
desk I'll draw those checks."

"Certainly. Only I want the checks certified, Carey. You understand, of
course, that I shall not surrender the evidence I have against you
until those checks are paid. I will not risk your telephoning the
banks, the moment I leave your office, telling them the checks were
secured by force and threats of bodily harm, and for them to decline
payment."

Carey wrote the checks, called in a clerk and instructed him to take
them to the various banks and arrange for the overdraft and
certification--a comparatively easy task, since Carey was a heavy
stockholder in all three banks. Within half an hour, while Bob and
Carey sat glaring at each other, the checks were returned, and Carey
handed them to Bob, who examined them and found them correct. The
mortgage was next filled out, the notary called in, and Carey signed
and swore to his signature.

"Now, in order to be perfectly legal about this matter, Carey," began
Bob, when the notary had departed, "we should show some consideration
for all this money. I have here the papers showing I have filed on
twenty acres of a mining claim. It's just twenty acres of the Mojave
desert, near San Pasqual, and I do not know that it contains a speck of
valuable mineral, but that is neither here nor there. I staked it as a
mining claim and christened it the Baby Mine."

Here a slight smile flickered across the young Desert Rat's face, as if
some very pleasant thought had preceded it. He continued:

"I have had my signature to this deed to the Baby Mine attested before
a notary a few minutes prior to my arrival in your office." He handed
the document to T. Morgan Carey. "Here's your mine, Carey. I've sold it
to you for a million dollars, and unless you spend one hundred dollars
a year in assessment work, the title to this million-dollar property
will lapse. I wish you luck with your bargain. I shall expect you to
record this deed within three days, and that will block any come-back
you may start figuring on. If you fail to record this deed I shall
construe your act as a breach of faith, return to you all but the five
hundred thousand dollars which belongs to my wife, and then proceed to
make things disagreeable for you. Remember, Carey, I'm your attorney
and you should be guided by my advice."

Carey's face was livid with rage and hatred. "And in addition, I
suppose I'm to forget that you're a stage robber, eh?" He reached for
the telephone. "By the gods, McGraw, I'll take a chance with you after
all. I'm going to fight you."

Bob McGraw drew a large envelope from his pocket. "You may read what
this envelope contains while waiting for central to answer your call"
he said gently. "I snipped the wires while you were hiding your face in
your hands, wondering what you were going to do. These papers are
merely a few affidavits, proving an absolute alibi in the matter of
that Garlock robbery. I was eating frijoles and flapjacks with three
prospectors about fifteen miles south of Olancho at the time this stage
was held up, and I was in Keeler the following morning. This document
contains a statement of the most amazing case of circumstantial
evidence you ever heard of. Its author is the chief of Wells Fargo and
besides, I have queer ideas on the subject of punishment for crime.
Crime, Mr. Carey, is a great deal like our other human ailments, such
as the chicken-pox and tonsilitis. We must bear with it and try to cure
it by gentle care and scientific treatment. Prison cells have never
cured a criminal, and it would only pain me to see you behind the bars
in your old age. And I am certain that my wife would not rejoice at the
news of your hanging."

"I suppose money has nothing to do with the celerity with which you
hasten to compound a felony, eh?" sneered Carey.

"You unfortunate man! Carey, my late friend, Mr. Hennage, used to say
that it was good policy to overlook a losing bet once in a while,
rather than copper everything in sight. Your crime was a terrible
mistake, Carey. For twenty years you've realized that and you've
suffered for it. I'm sorry for you--so sorry that I'm going to use your
ill-gotten gains for a good purpose. Come up into Owens valley three
years from now and I'll prove it to you. Good-day."

"One moment, McGraw. Don't go for a minute or two. I--I'd like to
believe that what you say is true, but the trouble is--you see, McGraw,
I have never encountered your point of view heretofore. Tell me,
McGraw--don't lie to me--do you feel the slightest desire to see me
suffer, or is this--er--brotherly-love talk of yours plain buncombe?"

Bob McGraw advanced toward the man he had beaten. He held out his hand.
"I try to be a man" he said--"to be too big to hate and put myself on a
level with a brute. Won't you shake hands with me?"

Carey regarded him with frank curiosity.

"Say" he said, "are you religious?"

"No. Only human."

"Perhaps" said Carey dubiously, "but it doesn't seem possible that I
should meet two white men in this nigger world. I think the species
became extinct with the death of my friend Hennage."

"_Your_ friend--"

"Why not? He liked me--I know he did. And I liked him. I'm glad he's
dead--no, I'm not--I was glad an hour ago, but I'm sorry now. Had he
lived I would have made of him my friend, for he was the only human
being I have ever met that I could trust implicitly. He was your
partner and he warned me to keep off. He meant it, and I knew he meant
it--so I stayed off. Do you think, McGraw, that I would have let you
beat me out of that land if it hadn't been for Hennage? I didn't dare
rush those selections through for patent until he was dead--and then it
was too late. Had you left your affairs in any other hands I would have
crushed you, but Hennage could not be bought. I didn't even try. He was
above a price."

"Is that why you failed to act immediately after you became convinced
that I was an outlaw and would not dare claim the land when it should
be granted to my clients?" demanded Bob.

Carey nodded. "I met Hennage in Bakersfield, and he told me to keep my
hands off those applications."

"Then he bluffed you, Mr. Carey. Harley P. Hennage was my friend, but
not my partner. He did not have five cents invested in my scheme. I
never mentioned it to him, and neither did my wife. His threat was a
bluff, and where he got his information of my land deal is a mystery,
the solution of which perished with Harley P."

Carey sat in his chair, with his head bowed. He was clasping and
unclasping his fingers in a manner pathetically suggestive of
helplessness.

"I don't understand" he mumbled. "He told me to keep off and I kept
off." He sighed. "I'd have given a million dollars for a friend like
him. I--I--never--had--one."

Bob McGraw drew T. Morgan Carey's mortgage from his pocket, scratched a
match on his trouser-leg and held it under the fluttering leaves.
Slowly the little flame mounted, and when it threatened to scorch his
fingers the promoter of Donnaville tossed the blazing fragments into a
convenient cuspidor. He looked up and saw Carey regarding him
curiously.

"That was your mortgage" the land-grabber said wonderingly. "You have
burned half a million dollars."

"I was selling you my friendship--at cut rates, Mr. Carey. I was worthy
of Hennage's trust and friendship until a few minutes ago. Harley P.
Hennage never did a mean or a cowardly act, and to-day I used my power
over you to extort half a million dollars from you to further a scheme
of mine. I figured that the end justified the means. It did not, and I
ask you to forgive me."

Carey smiled wanly. "It's up-hill work, McGraw, but I'll forgive you.
What great scheme is this of yours that caused you to appear unworthy
of the friend who was so worthy of you? I have a great curiosity to
understand you. Who knows? Perhaps I may end up by liking you?"

And then Bob McGraw sat down by his enemy and unfolded to him his dream
of Donnaville.

"Think of it, Mr. Carey" he pleaded. "Think what my scheme means to the
poor devils who haven't got our brains and power! Think of the women
and little children toiling in sweat-shops; of the families without
money, without hope, without food and without coal, facing the winter
in such cities as Chicago and New York, while a barren empire, which
you and I can transform to an Eden, waits for them there in the north,"
and he waved his arm toward Donnaville.

"There's glory enough for us all, Mr. Carey. Won't you come in with me
and play the big game? Be my backer in this enterprise and let the
future wipe out the mistakes of the past. You've got a chance, Carey.
What need have you for money? It's only a game you're playing, man--
a game that fascinates you. You've sold your manhood for money--and you
have never had a friend! Good God, what a tragedy! Come with me, Carey,
into Owens valley, and be a builder of empire. Let your dead past bury
itself and start fresh again. You are not a young man any longer, and
in all your busy life you have accomplished nothing of benefit to the
world. You have subscribed to charities, and then robbed the objects of
your charity of the land that would have made them independent of you.
Think of the good you can do with the proceeds of the evil you have
done! Ah, Carey, Carey! There's so much fun in just living, and I'm
afraid you've never been young. You've never dreamed! And you've never
had a friend that loved you for what you were. Do you know why, Carey?
Because you weren't worth loving. You have received from the world to
date just what you put into it--envy and greed and hate and malice and
selfishness, and at your passing the curses of your people will be your
portion. Come with me and be a Pagan, my friend, and when you have
finished the job I'll guarantee to plant you up on the slope of
Kearsarge, where your soul, as it mounts to the God of a Square Deal,
can look down on the valley that you have prepared for a happy people,
and say: 'That is mine. I helped create it, and I did it for love. I
finished what the Almighty commenced, and the job was worth while.'
Will you play the game with me, T. Morgan Carey, and get some joy out
of life?"

The land-grabber--the parasite who had lived only to destroy--looked up
at Bob McGraw.

"Would you trust me?" he queried huskily.

"I burned your mortgage" said Bob smiling.

"I'll think it over--friend" Carey replied. "I never do things in a
hurry. It's a habit I have, and I don't quite understand you. I must
think it over."

"Do, Mr. Carey. And now I must toddle along. _Adios._"

Carey shook his hand, and they parted.

Our story is told.

San Pasqual is still a frontier town--a little drearier, a little
shabbier and more down at the heel than when we saw it first. There
have been few changes--the few that have occurred having arrived
unheralded and hence have remained undiscovered. For instance, it is
not generally known that Mrs. Pennycook has lost control of her
husband. Yet, such is the fact. She is still a great stickler for
principle, but she trembles if her husband looks at her. It appears
that Dan Pennycook's half-hearted accusation of Miss Pickett as the
author of the anonymous note found on the body of Boras O'Rourke preyed
on the spinster's mind, and when Bob McGraw started an investigation
she could stand the strain no longer. She fled in terror to the
Pennycook home and made certain demands upon Mrs. Pennycook; who took
refuge in her well-known reputation for probity and principle and
informed Miss Pickett that she was "actin' crazy like"; whereupon Miss
Pickett sought Dan Pennycook and hysterically confessed to the
authorship of that fatal anonymous note, alleging as extenuating
circumstances that she had been aided and abetted therein by Mrs.
Pennycook. To quote a commonplace saying, Mrs. Pennycook had made the
ball and Miss Pickett fired it. She begged Dan Pennycook to use his
influence with Donna to have the investigation quashed, else would Miss
Pickett make a public confession and disgrace the name of Pennycook.

Hence, when Mr. Pennycook appeared at the Hat Ranch and asked Donna to
request her husband to forget about that anonymous letter, Donna
guessed the honest fellow's distress and accordingly the matter was
forgotten by everybody--except Dan Pennycook. He has not forgotten. He
remembers every time he looks at Mr. Hennage's watch. He has never said
anything to Mrs. Pennycook--which makes it all the harder for her--but
contents himself with a queer look at the lady when she becomes
"obstreperous like"--and that suffices. After all, she is the mother of
his children, and God has blessed him with more heart than head.

Miss Pickett is no longer the postmistress; also she is no longer Miss
Pickett, although in this respect she is not unlike a politician who
has all the emoluments of office without the honors, or vice versa if
you will. In her forty-third year she married the only man who ever
asked her--and he was a youth of twenty-five who suspected Miss Pickett
of a savings account. She resigned from the post-office to marry him,
and San Pasqual took a night off to give her a charivari. Two weeks
after the ceremony Miss Pickett's husband, despairing of the savings,
jumped a south-bound freight and was seen no more. Her triumph over the
acquisition of the "Mrs." was so shortlived, and the San Pasqualians
found it so difficult to rid themselves of the habit of calling her
Miss Pickett, that Miss Pickett she remains to this very day.

The Hat Ranch still stands in the desert below San Pasqual. Bob McGraw
has secured title to it, and safe within the old adobe walls Sam Singer
and Soft Wind are rounding out their placid lives. Sam Singer is now
one of the solid citizens of San Pasqual. He has succeeded to the hat
business, and moreover he has money on deposit with Bob McGraw. It
appears that Sam Singer, in accordance with Mr. Hennage's dying
request, fell heir to the gambler's new gaiters. The first time he
tried them on Sam detected a slight obstruction in the toe of the right
gaiter. He removed this obstruction and discovered that it was a piece
of paper money. Like all Indians, Sam was suspicious of paper money, so
he took it to Bob McGraw, who gave him a thousand dollars for it. Sam
Singer was well pleased thereat. He considered he had driven an
excellent bargain.

In the lonely sage-covered wind-swept cemetery at San Pasqual there
rises a black granite monument, severely, plain, eminently befitting
one who was not of the presuming kind. There is an epitaph on that
monument which is worth recording here:

    WHO SEEKS FOR HEAVEN ALONE TO SAVE HIS SOUL,
    MAY KEEP THE PATH BUT WILL NOT REACH THE GOAL;
    WHILE HE WHO WALKS IN LOVE MAY WANDER FAR
    YET GOD WILL BRING HIM WHERE THE BLESSED ARE.
               BENEATH THIS STONE
               HARLEY P. HENNAGE
           RESTS FROM HIS WANDERINGS.

One day T. Morgan Carey dropped off the north-bound train at San
Pasqual, and learning that he had two hours to waste while waiting for
the stage to start up country, he was seized with a morbid desire to
wander through San Pasqual's queer cemetery. The only monument in the
cemetery attracted his attention, and presently he found himself
standing at the foot of Mr. Hennage's grave, reading the epitaph. It
impressed him so greatly that he copied the verse in a little morocco-
covered memorandum book.

"I wonder who was the genius that evolved that verse?" he muttered
aloud, and to his great surprise a voice at his side answered him. It
was a woman's voice.

"I do not know the author" she said, "but if you will read Henry Van
Dyke's book 'The Other Wise Man,' you will find that little verse on
the fly-leaf. Perhaps Van Dyke wrote it. I do not know."

T. Morgan Carey turned and lifted his hat. "Thank you, madam" he said.
"I was particularly interested. I had a slight acquaintance with Mr.
Hennage, and it seemed to me that the lines were peculiarly
appropriate."

"My husband and I thought so. And if you will pardon me for suggesting
it, Mr. Carey, it would be--better if you would please leave the
cemetery. An old enemy of yours, a Cahuilla Indian, comes here three
times a week by my orders, to bring water for the blue grass on this
grave. He is coming now."

"Thank you. And you are--"

"I am Donna Corblay."

Carey bowed and continued.

"Your husband told me once that he had some great plans afoot, and did
me the honor to ask me to help him--" he paused, watching her
wistfully--"and I want to know if you object to me as an associate of
your husband in his work."

Donna looked at him gravely. "I have neither bitterness nor revengeful
feeling against you, Mr. Carey" she replied.

"I have suffered" he said, "but I haven't paid all of the price. Tell
your husband that I want to help him. I have thought it over and I was
coming to tell him myself. Tell him, please, that I would appreciate
the privilege of being a minority stockholder in his enterprise and I
will honor his sight drafts while I have a dollar left."

He lifted his hat and walked away, and Donna, gazing after him,
realized that the past was dead and only the future remained. Carey's
crime had been a sordid one, but with her broader vision Donna saw that
the lives of the few must ever be counted as paltry sacrifices in the
advancement of the race. Her father, her mother, Harley P. Hennage,
Borax O'Bourke and the long, sad, barren years of her own girlhood had
all been sacrifices to this man's insatiable greed and lust for power,
and now that the finish was reached she realized the truth of Bob
McGraw's philosophy--that out of all great evils great good must come.

Truly selfishness, greed, revenge and inhumanity are but the burdens of
a day; all that is small and weak and unworthy may not survive, while
that which is great and good in a man must some day break its hobbles
and sweep him on to the fulfillment of his destiny. She saw her husband
and his one-time enemy toiling side by side in the great, hot, hungry
heart of Inyo, preparing homes for the helpless and the oppressed--
working out the destinies of their people; and she cried out with the
happiness that was hers.

Ah, yes, they had all suffered, but now out of the dregs of their
suffering the glad years would come bearing their precious burden of
love and service. How puerile did the sacrifices of the past seem now--
how terribly out of proportion to the great task that lay before them,
with the sublime result already in sight! Surely there was only one
quality in humankind that really mattered, softening suffering and
despair and turning away wrath, and as Donna knelt by the grave of the
man who had possessed that quality to such an extent that he had
considered his life cheap as a means of expressing it, she prayed that
her infant son might be endowed with the virtues and brains of his
father and the wanderer who slept beneath the stone:

"Dear God, help me to raise a Man and teach him to be kind."

THE END





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