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