The Long Chance by Peter B. Kyne
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."
"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.
"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.