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.