The Long Chance by Peter B. Kyne
Carey sat huddled dejectedly in his chair. Old age seemed to have descended upon him within the hour; with sagging shoulders, mouth half open in terror, and the wrinkled skin around his thin jaws and the corners of his eyes hanging in greenish-white folds, he looked very tired and very pitiful. Despite his terror, however, he was not yet daunted; for with the picture of two skeletons before him he saw a gleam of hope and tried to fight back.
"Twenty years is a long time, McGraw," he quavered, "and it's hard to trace a man by a mere similarity of names."
"You can be traced through the Traders National, where you banked that check, and your identity established beyond a doubt. I can trace your career in this state, step by step, from the day you arrived in it."
Carey smiled--a very weak sickly smile, but bespeaking awakened confidence.
"In the face of which, McGraw, your knowledge of our United States' law will convince you that you cannot convict a man with money enough to fight indefinitely, on such flimsy twenty-year-old evidence found in an abandoned canteen. You cannot identify that skeleton, and you will have to prove that--that--well, you'll have to produce oral testimony, or I'll be given the benefit of the doubt."
"I must prove that the man who killed and robbed Oliver Corblay is T. Morgan Carey, and not a stranger masquerading under your name, eh? All right, T. Morgan. I told you I had this story profusely illustrated."
Bob stepped to the door of the private office which led into the hall. He opened it and Sam Singer stepped inside. Bob turned to Carey.
"Permit me to present Oliver Corblay's Indian servant, Mr. Carey. He is a little older and more stolid since you saw him last, but his memory--"
Sam Singer moved forward a few feet and glanced sharply at Carey.
"I think he recognizes you in spite of your beard" said Bob sorrowfully, "and I see no reason--"
"Take him away" panted Carey, on the instant that Sam Singer, with a peculiar low guttural cry, sprang upon the land-grabber. Bob came behind the Indian, grasped him by the chin, and with his knee in the small of the Cahuilla's back as a fulcrum, gently pried him away from his victim and held him fast. Carey lay quivering on the floor, and Bob looked down at him.
"Are you satisfied?" he asked.
Carey nodded feebly, and Bob marched Sam Singer to the door, opened it and gently propelled him out into the hall. He locked the door and returned to the desk.
"I knew the sight of two skeletons would hearten you up, Carey, until you'd be as saucy as a badger. But you're as tame as a pet fox now, so let's get down to business. Don't argue with me. I've got you where the hair is short; I want a million dollars, and if I do not get it within half an hour I won't take it at all and I will no longer protect you from that Indian."
Carey climbed back into his chair. "If I accept your terms" he said huskily, "how am I to know that you will keep your word?"
"You will not know it. You'll just have to guess. When you do what I want you to do I will surrender to you the original document found in the canteen. Is that satisfactory?"
"I guess so. But I cannot give you a million dollars on five minutes' notice, McGraw."
"It's quite a chunk of cash to have on hand, I'll admit. How much can you give me?"
"Five hundred thousand, and even then I'll have to overdraw my accounts with three banks."
"I wish my credit was as good as yours, Carey. Your banks will stand for the overdraft, of course. You'll have to arrange it some other way if they will not."
"I can't give you a cent over half a million to-day, no matter what you do" pleaded Carey piteously, and Bob realized that he was speaking the truth.
"Do not worry, Carey," he replied, "we're going to do business without getting nasty with each other. I'll take your promissory note, at seven per cent, and you can secure me with a little mortgage on your Spring- street-business block. It's worth a million and a half. I am not so unreasonable as to imagine even a rich man like you can produce a million dollars cash on such notice, so during the past week I took the liberty of having the title searched and an instrument of first mortgage drawn up by myself. All we have to do is to insert the figures and then you can sign it. I understand you have a notary within hailing distance. Your own thoughtfulness in having this transfer of my water right ready for my signature suggested this course to me. It occurred to me that I could sell this mortgage to any Los Angeles bank."
Carey covered his face with his hands and quivered.
"What bank do you anticipate selling it to?" he mumbled presently.
"I didn't have any particular choice. If you have enemies I will not sell you into their hands, and you can make the mortgage for as long a period as you please, up to three years. Give me a list of banks to keep away from. I don't want to hurt you unnecessarily, I assure you."
"Thank you, McGraw" quavered his victim. "If you'll let me sit at my desk I'll draw those checks."
"Certainly. Only I want the checks certified, Carey. You understand, of course, that I shall not surrender the evidence I have against you until those checks are paid. I will not risk your telephoning the banks, the moment I leave your office, telling them the checks were secured by force and threats of bodily harm, and for them to decline payment."
Carey wrote the checks, called in a clerk and instructed him to take them to the various banks and arrange for the overdraft and certification--a comparatively easy task, since Carey was a heavy stockholder in all three banks. Within half an hour, while Bob and Carey sat glaring at each other, the checks were returned, and Carey handed them to Bob, who examined them and found them correct. The mortgage was next filled out, the notary called in, and Carey signed and swore to his signature.
"Now, in order to be perfectly legal about this matter, Carey," began Bob, when the notary had departed, "we should show some consideration for all this money. I have here the papers showing I have filed on twenty acres of a mining claim. It's just twenty acres of the Mojave desert, near San Pasqual, and I do not know that it contains a speck of valuable mineral, but that is neither here nor there. I staked it as a mining claim and christened it the Baby Mine."
Here a slight smile flickered across the young Desert Rat's face, as if some very pleasant thought had preceded it. He continued:
"I have had my signature to this deed to the Baby Mine attested before a notary a few minutes prior to my arrival in your office." He handed the document to T. Morgan Carey. "Here's your mine, Carey. I've sold it to you for a million dollars, and unless you spend one hundred dollars a year in assessment work, the title to this million-dollar property will lapse. I wish you luck with your bargain. I shall expect you to record this deed within three days, and that will block any come-back you may start figuring on. If you fail to record this deed I shall construe your act as a breach of faith, return to you all but the five hundred thousand dollars which belongs to my wife, and then proceed to make things disagreeable for you. Remember, Carey, I'm your attorney and you should be guided by my advice."
Carey's face was livid with rage and hatred. "And in addition, I suppose I'm to forget that you're a stage robber, eh?" He reached for the telephone. "By the gods, McGraw, I'll take a chance with you after all. I'm going to fight you."
Bob McGraw drew a large envelope from his pocket. "You may read what this envelope contains while waiting for central to answer your call" he said gently. "I snipped the wires while you were hiding your face in your hands, wondering what you were going to do. These papers are merely a few affidavits, proving an absolute alibi in the matter of that Garlock robbery. I was eating frijoles and flapjacks with three prospectors about fifteen miles south of Olancho at the time this stage was held up, and I was in Keeler the following morning. This document contains a statement of the most amazing case of circumstantial evidence you ever heard of. Its author is the chief of Wells Fargo and besides, I have queer ideas on the subject of punishment for crime. Crime, Mr. Carey, is a great deal like our other human ailments, such as the chicken-pox and tonsilitis. We must bear with it and try to cure it by gentle care and scientific treatment. Prison cells have never cured a criminal, and it would only pain me to see you behind the bars in your old age. And I am certain that my wife would not rejoice at the news of your hanging."
"I suppose money has nothing to do with the celerity with which you hasten to compound a felony, eh?" sneered Carey.
"You unfortunate man! Carey, my late friend, Mr. Hennage, used to say that it was good policy to overlook a losing bet once in a while, rather than copper everything in sight. Your crime was a terrible mistake, Carey. For twenty years you've realized that and you've suffered for it. I'm sorry for you--so sorry that I'm going to use your ill-gotten gains for a good purpose. Come up into Owens valley three years from now and I'll prove it to you. Good-day."
"One moment, McGraw. Don't go for a minute or two. I--I'd like to believe that what you say is true, but the trouble is--you see, McGraw, I have never encountered your point of view heretofore. Tell me, McGraw--don't lie to me--do you feel the slightest desire to see me suffer, or is this--er--brotherly-love talk of yours plain buncombe?"
Bob McGraw advanced toward the man he had beaten. He held out his hand. "I try to be a man" he said--"to be too big to hate and put myself on a level with a brute. Won't you shake hands with me?"
Carey regarded him with frank curiosity.
"Say" he said, "are you religious?"
"No. Only human."
"Perhaps" said Carey dubiously, "but it doesn't seem possible that I should meet two white men in this nigger world. I think the species became extinct with the death of my friend Hennage."
"Why not? He liked me--I know he did. And I liked him. I'm glad he's dead--no, I'm not--I was glad an hour ago, but I'm sorry now. Had he lived I would have made of him my friend, for he was the only human being I have ever met that I could trust implicitly. He was your partner and he warned me to keep off. He meant it, and I knew he meant it--so I stayed off. Do you think, McGraw, that I would have let you beat me out of that land if it hadn't been for Hennage? I didn't dare rush those selections through for patent until he was dead--and then it was too late. Had you left your affairs in any other hands I would have crushed you, but Hennage could not be bought. I didn't even try. He was above a price."
"Is that why you failed to act immediately after you became convinced that I was an outlaw and would not dare claim the land when it should be granted to my clients?" demanded Bob.
Carey nodded. "I met Hennage in Bakersfield, and he told me to keep my hands off those applications."
"Then he bluffed you, Mr. Carey. Harley P. Hennage was my friend, but not my partner. He did not have five cents invested in my scheme. I never mentioned it to him, and neither did my wife. His threat was a bluff, and where he got his information of my land deal is a mystery, the solution of which perished with Harley P."
Carey sat in his chair, with his head bowed. He was clasping and unclasping his fingers in a manner pathetically suggestive of helplessness.
"I don't understand" he mumbled. "He told me to keep off and I kept off." He sighed. "I'd have given a million dollars for a friend like him. I--I--never--had--one."
Bob McGraw drew T. Morgan Carey's mortgage from his pocket, scratched a match on his trouser-leg and held it under the fluttering leaves. Slowly the little flame mounted, and when it threatened to scorch his fingers the promoter of Donnaville tossed the blazing fragments into a convenient cuspidor. He looked up and saw Carey regarding him curiously.
"That was your mortgage" the land-grabber said wonderingly. "You have burned half a million dollars."
"I was selling you my friendship--at cut rates, Mr. Carey. I was worthy of Hennage's trust and friendship until a few minutes ago. Harley P. Hennage never did a mean or a cowardly act, and to-day I used my power over you to extort half a million dollars from you to further a scheme of mine. I figured that the end justified the means. It did not, and I ask you to forgive me."
Carey smiled wanly. "It's up-hill work, McGraw, but I'll forgive you. What great scheme is this of yours that caused you to appear unworthy of the friend who was so worthy of you? I have a great curiosity to understand you. Who knows? Perhaps I may end up by liking you?"
And then Bob McGraw sat down by his enemy and unfolded to him his dream of Donnaville.
"Think of it, Mr. Carey" he pleaded. "Think what my scheme means to the poor devils who haven't got our brains and power! Think of the women and little children toiling in sweat-shops; of the families without money, without hope, without food and without coal, facing the winter in such cities as Chicago and New York, while a barren empire, which you and I can transform to an Eden, waits for them there in the north," and he waved his arm toward Donnaville.
"There's glory enough for us all, Mr. Carey. Won't you come in with me and play the big game? Be my backer in this enterprise and let the future wipe out the mistakes of the past. You've got a chance, Carey. What need have you for money? It's only a game you're playing, man-- a game that fascinates you. You've sold your manhood for money--and you have never had a friend! Good God, what a tragedy! Come with me, Carey, into Owens valley, and be a builder of empire. Let your dead past bury itself and start fresh again. You are not a young man any longer, and in all your busy life you have accomplished nothing of benefit to the world. You have subscribed to charities, and then robbed the objects of your charity of the land that would have made them independent of you. Think of the good you can do with the proceeds of the evil you have done! Ah, Carey, Carey! There's so much fun in just living, and I'm afraid you've never been young. You've never dreamed! And you've never had a friend that loved you for what you were. Do you know why, Carey? Because you weren't worth loving. You have received from the world to date just what you put into it--envy and greed and hate and malice and selfishness, and at your passing the curses of your people will be your portion. Come with me and be a Pagan, my friend, and when you have finished the job I'll guarantee to plant you up on the slope of Kearsarge, where your soul, as it mounts to the God of a Square Deal, can look down on the valley that you have prepared for a happy people, and say: 'That is mine. I helped create it, and I did it for love. I finished what the Almighty commenced, and the job was worth while.' Will you play the game with me, T. Morgan Carey, and get some joy out of life?"
The land-grabber--the parasite who had lived only to destroy--looked up at Bob McGraw.
"Would you trust me?" he queried huskily.
"I burned your mortgage" said Bob smiling.
"I'll think it over--friend" Carey replied. "I never do things in a hurry. It's a habit I have, and I don't quite understand you. I must think it over."
"Do, Mr. Carey. And now I must toddle along. Adios."
Carey shook his hand, and they parted.
Our story is told.
San Pasqual is still a frontier town--a little drearier, a little shabbier and more down at the heel than when we saw it first. There have been few changes--the few that have occurred having arrived unheralded and hence have remained undiscovered. For instance, it is not generally known that Mrs. Pennycook has lost control of her husband. Yet, such is the fact. She is still a great stickler for principle, but she trembles if her husband looks at her. It appears that Dan Pennycook's half-hearted accusation of Miss Pickett as the author of the anonymous note found on the body of Boras O'Rourke preyed on the spinster's mind, and when Bob McGraw started an investigation she could stand the strain no longer. She fled in terror to the Pennycook home and made certain demands upon Mrs. Pennycook; who took refuge in her well-known reputation for probity and principle and informed Miss Pickett that she was "actin' crazy like"; whereupon Miss Pickett sought Dan Pennycook and hysterically confessed to the authorship of that fatal anonymous note, alleging as extenuating circumstances that she had been aided and abetted therein by Mrs. Pennycook. To quote a commonplace saying, Mrs. Pennycook had made the ball and Miss Pickett fired it. She begged Dan Pennycook to use his influence with Donna to have the investigation quashed, else would Miss Pickett make a public confession and disgrace the name of Pennycook.
Hence, when Mr. Pennycook appeared at the Hat Ranch and asked Donna to request her husband to forget about that anonymous letter, Donna guessed the honest fellow's distress and accordingly the matter was forgotten by everybody--except Dan Pennycook. He has not forgotten. He remembers every time he looks at Mr. Hennage's watch. He has never said anything to Mrs. Pennycook--which makes it all the harder for her--but contents himself with a queer look at the lady when she becomes "obstreperous like"--and that suffices. After all, she is the mother of his children, and God has blessed him with more heart than head.
Miss Pickett is no longer the postmistress; also she is no longer Miss Pickett, although in this respect she is not unlike a politician who has all the emoluments of office without the honors, or vice versa if you will. In her forty-third year she married the only man who ever asked her--and he was a youth of twenty-five who suspected Miss Pickett of a savings account. She resigned from the post-office to marry him, and San Pasqual took a night off to give her a charivari. Two weeks after the ceremony Miss Pickett's husband, despairing of the savings, jumped a south-bound freight and was seen no more. Her triumph over the acquisition of the "Mrs." was so shortlived, and the San Pasqualians found it so difficult to rid themselves of the habit of calling her Miss Pickett, that Miss Pickett she remains to this very day.
The Hat Ranch still stands in the desert below San Pasqual. Bob McGraw has secured title to it, and safe within the old adobe walls Sam Singer and Soft Wind are rounding out their placid lives. Sam Singer is now one of the solid citizens of San Pasqual. He has succeeded to the hat business, and moreover he has money on deposit with Bob McGraw. It appears that Sam Singer, in accordance with Mr. Hennage's dying request, fell heir to the gambler's new gaiters. The first time he tried them on Sam detected a slight obstruction in the toe of the right gaiter. He removed this obstruction and discovered that it was a piece of paper money. Like all Indians, Sam was suspicious of paper money, so he took it to Bob McGraw, who gave him a thousand dollars for it. Sam Singer was well pleased thereat. He considered he had driven an excellent bargain.
In the lonely sage-covered wind-swept cemetery at San Pasqual there rises a black granite monument, severely, plain, eminently befitting one who was not of the presuming kind. There is an epitaph on that monument which is worth recording here:
WHO SEEKS FOR HEAVEN ALONE TO SAVE HIS SOUL, MAY KEEP THE PATH BUT WILL NOT REACH THE GOAL; WHILE HE WHO WALKS IN LOVE MAY WANDER FAR YET GOD WILL BRING HIM WHERE THE BLESSED ARE. BENEATH THIS STONE HARLEY P. HENNAGE RESTS FROM HIS WANDERINGS.
One day T. Morgan Carey dropped off the north-bound train at San Pasqual, and learning that he had two hours to waste while waiting for the stage to start up country, he was seized with a morbid desire to wander through San Pasqual's queer cemetery. The only monument in the cemetery attracted his attention, and presently he found himself standing at the foot of Mr. Hennage's grave, reading the epitaph. It impressed him so greatly that he copied the verse in a little morocco- covered memorandum book.
"I wonder who was the genius that evolved that verse?" he muttered aloud, and to his great surprise a voice at his side answered him. It was a woman's voice.
"I do not know the author" she said, "but if you will read Henry Van Dyke's book 'The Other Wise Man,' you will find that little verse on the fly-leaf. Perhaps Van Dyke wrote it. I do not know."
T. Morgan Carey turned and lifted his hat. "Thank you, madam" he said. "I was particularly interested. I had a slight acquaintance with Mr. Hennage, and it seemed to me that the lines were peculiarly appropriate."
"My husband and I thought so. And if you will pardon me for suggesting it, Mr. Carey, it would be--better if you would please leave the cemetery. An old enemy of yours, a Cahuilla Indian, comes here three times a week by my orders, to bring water for the blue grass on this grave. He is coming now."
"Thank you. And you are--"
"I am Donna Corblay."
Carey bowed and continued.
"Your husband told me once that he had some great plans afoot, and did me the honor to ask me to help him--" he paused, watching her wistfully--"and I want to know if you object to me as an associate of your husband in his work."
Donna looked at him gravely. "I have neither bitterness nor revengeful feeling against you, Mr. Carey" she replied.
"I have suffered" he said, "but I haven't paid all of the price. Tell your husband that I want to help him. I have thought it over and I was coming to tell him myself. Tell him, please, that I would appreciate the privilege of being a minority stockholder in his enterprise and I will honor his sight drafts while I have a dollar left."
He lifted his hat and walked away, and Donna, gazing after him, realized that the past was dead and only the future remained. Carey's crime had been a sordid one, but with her broader vision Donna saw that the lives of the few must ever be counted as paltry sacrifices in the advancement of the race. Her father, her mother, Harley P. Hennage, Borax O'Bourke and the long, sad, barren years of her own girlhood had all been sacrifices to this man's insatiable greed and lust for power, and now that the finish was reached she realized the truth of Bob McGraw's philosophy--that out of all great evils great good must come.
Truly selfishness, greed, revenge and inhumanity are but the burdens of a day; all that is small and weak and unworthy may not survive, while that which is great and good in a man must some day break its hobbles and sweep him on to the fulfillment of his destiny. She saw her husband and his one-time enemy toiling side by side in the great, hot, hungry heart of Inyo, preparing homes for the helpless and the oppressed-- working out the destinies of their people; and she cried out with the happiness that was hers.
Ah, yes, they had all suffered, but now out of the dregs of their suffering the glad years would come bearing their precious burden of love and service. How puerile did the sacrifices of the past seem now-- how terribly out of proportion to the great task that lay before them, with the sublime result already in sight! Surely there was only one quality in humankind that really mattered, softening suffering and despair and turning away wrath, and as Donna knelt by the grave of the man who had possessed that quality to such an extent that he had considered his life cheap as a means of expressing it, she prayed that her infant son might be endowed with the virtues and brains of his father and the wanderer who slept beneath the stone:
"Dear God, help me to raise a Man and teach him to be kind."