The Long Chance by Peter B. Kyne
When Donna and Mr. Pennycook had succeeded eventually in overcoming their emotions, the worthy yardmaster and his wife took their departure. Mr. Pennycook was compelled to return to work and something told him that Donna would be happier alone than with Mrs. Pennycook; hence he made no objection to her leaving the Hat Ranch.
They had scarcely left when the man whom Sam Singer had consulted at the Silver Dollar saloon earlier in the day appeared from the north angle of the adobe wall, where he had been lurking, and dodged into the Hat Ranch enclosure. Donna was seated at the kitchen table, her face in her hands, when he arrived. He could see her through the open half- window of the lean-to, so he came to the window, thrust his head and shoulders in and coughed.
Donna raised her head and gazed into the face of the worst man in San Pasqual!
This peculiarly distinguished individual was Mr. Harley P. Hennage, the proprietor of a faro game in the Silver Dollar saloon. He had an impassive, almost dull, face (accentuated, perhaps, from much playing of poker in early life) which, at times, would light up with the shy smile of a trustful child, revealing three magnificent golden upper teeth. He bore no more resemblance to the popular conception of a western gambler than does a college professor to a coal passer. Mr. Hennage lived in his shirtsleeves, paid cash and hated jewelry. He had never been known to carry a derringer or a small, genteel, silver- plated revolver in his waist-coat pocket. Neither did he appear in public with a bowie knife down his bootleg. Not being a Mexican, he did not carry a knife, and besides he always wore congress gaiters. Owing to the fact that he was a large florid sandy person, with a freckled bristly neck and a singularly direct fearless manner of looking at his man with eyes that were small, sunken, baleful and rather piggy, the exigencies of Mr. Hennage's profession had never even warranted recourse to his two most priceless possessions--his hands. Yet, despite this fact, and the further fact that he had never accomplished anything more reprehensible than staking his coin against that of his neighbor, Mr. Hennage had acquired the reputation of being the worst man in San Pasqual. In the language of the country, he was a hard hombre, for he looked it. When one gazed at Mr. Hennage he observed a human bulldog, a man who would finish anything he started. Hence, he was credited with the ability and inclination to do the most impossible things if given half an excuse. It is needless, therefore, to remark that Mr. Hennage's depravity, like Mrs. Pennycook's virtue, partook more or less of the nature of the surrounding country; that is to say, it was susceptible of development.
Most people in this queer world of ours harbor an impression that if you make friends with a dog he will not bite you, and that lion tamers are enabled to accumulate gray hairs merely by the exercise of nerve and the paralyzing influence of the human eye. Hence, when the worst man in San Pasqual confronted Donna, she did not at once scream for Sam Singer, but looked Mr. Hennage in the eye and quavered.
"Good morning, Mr. Hennage."
It was hard work continuing to look Mr. Hennage in the eye. To-day he looked more like a bulldog than ever, for his eyes were red-lidded and watery.
Mr. Hennage nodded. He drew a silk handkerchief from his coat pocket and blew his nose with a report like a pistol shot before he spoke.
"How's the kitty?" he demanded.
Donna glanced toward the store and about the kitchen wearily and replied.
"I don't know, Mr. Hennage. I guess she's around the house somewhere."
"The Lord love you" murmured the gambler. The hard lips lifted, the dull impassive face was lit for an instant by the trustful childish smile, and through the glory of that infrequent facial expression Harley P.'s three gold front teeth flashed like triple searchlights.
"I mean, Miss Corblay, have you any money?"
"Only a little bit, Mr. Hennage" Donna quavered. The question frightened her and she hastened to assure the bad man that it was a very little bit indeed, and all that her mother had been able to save. She trembled lest the monster might take a notion to rob her of even this meager amount.
"I just had a hunch it was that way with you." The worst man in San Pasqual wagged his great head, as if to compliment himself on his penetration. "I just knew it."
This was not strictly the truth. Sam Singer had managed to convey to the gambler some hint of the Corblay fortunes, financial as well as material, and had begged of him to exercise his superior white man intelligence to aid the Indian in wrestling with this white man's problem that confronted the dwellers at the Hat Ranch. Rather a queer source, indeed, for Sam Singer to seek help for his young mistress; but then Sam was not an educated aborigine; he was not given to reflecting upon the ethics of any given line of procedure. The fact of the matter was that Harley P. Hennage was the only white man in San Pasqual who deigned to honor Sam Singer with a greeting and his cast-off shoes. In return Sam had honored Harley P. with his confidence and an appeal to him for further aid.
"I have attended to everything" continued Mr. Hennage. "Preacher, quartette from Bakersfield--they're real good, too. Playin' in a theater up there, but I engaged to get 'em back in time for the evenin' performance on a special train--so they said they'd come. An' I've ordered an elegant coffin, the best they had in stock, with a floral piece from Sam Singer an' his squaw an' a piller o' white carnations with 'Mother' in violets--from you, understand? Everything the best, spick an' span an' no cost to the estate. Compliments o' Harley P. Hennage, Miss Donna." He paused and rubbed his hairy freckled hands together in an embarrassed manner. "I hope you won't think I'm actin' forward, because I ain't one o' the presumin' kind. I just wanted to do somethin' to help out because--your mother was a very lovely lady. Three times a day for ten years she give me my change an' there never was a time when she didn't have a decent, kindly word for me--the only good woman in this town that'd look at me--God bless her! Mum's the word, Miss Donnie. Don't let nobody know I did it, because it'd hurt your reputation. And don't tell Mrs. Pennycook! Pennycook's a clean, decent old sport, but look out for the missus!" Here Mr. Hennage lowered his voice, glanced cautiously around to make certain that he would not be overheard by Mrs. Pennycook, leaned further in the window and improvising a megaphone with his hands, whispered hoarsely the damning words: "She talks!"
Donna nodded. For a long time she had suspected Mrs. Pennycook of this very practice.
"I've got to light out now" Mr. Hennage continued. "Folks'll wonder if they see me hangin' around here. But before I go I want to tell you somethin'. Your mother was a-countin' out my change yesterday when she got took. She thought she was goin' then on account o' the pain bein' sharper than common, an' she cries out: 'Donnie! Donnie! My baby, whatever is a-goin' to become o' you when I'm gone!' I was the only one that heard her say it. I caught her when she was fallin', an' I told her I'd see that you didn't lack for nothin' while I lived an' that I'd keep an eye on you an' see that nothin' wrong happened to you. Your mother couldn't speak none then, Miss Donnie, but she give my hand a little press to show she was on an' that whatever I did was done with her say-so. Consequently, Miss Donnie, any time you need a friend you just ring up the Silver Dollar saloon an' tell the barkeep to call Hennage to the 'phone. Remember! I ain't the presumin' kind, but I can be a good friend--"
He dodged back as if somebody had struck at him. Before Donna could quite realize what he had been saying he had disappeared. She ran to the iron-barred gate, looked out and saw him walking up the railroad tracks toward San Pasqual. She called after him. He turned, waved his hand and continued on--a great fat bow-legged commonplace figure of a man, mopping his high bald forehead--a plain, lowly citizen of uncertain morals; a sordid money-snatcher coming forth from his den of iniquity to masquerade for an hour as the Angel of Hope, and returning --hopeless.
For the last tie that bound Harley P. Hennage to San Pasqual was severed. His soul was not mediocre; he could dwell no longer in San Pasqual without feeling himself accursed. Never again could he bear to sit on his high stool at the lunch counter in the railroad eating- house, where he had boarded for ten years, and watch a stranger taking cash. He had watched Donna's mother so long that the vigil had become a part of his being--a sort of religious ceremony--and in this little tragedy of life no understudy could ever star for Harley P. Her beautiful sad eyes were closed forever now and the tri-daily joy of his sordid existence had vanished.
"What little things go to make up the big pleasures of life! Who could guess, for instance, that the simple deceit of presenting a twenty- dollar piece in payment of a fifty-cent meal check had held for Harley P. a greater joy than the promise of ultimate salvation? Yet it had; for during the slight wait at the pay counter while the cashier counted out his change he had been privileged to view her at close quarters, to mark the contour of her nose, to note the winning sweetness of her tender mouth, to hearken to the music of her low voice counting out the dollars, and, perchance, saying something commonplace himself as he gathered up his change! Yet that had been sufficient to make of San Pasqual a paradise for Harley P. He knew his limitations; he had presumed but once, long enough to ask the cashier to marry him. Her refusal had made him worship her the more, only he worshiped thereafter in silence and from afar. She had not laughed at him nor scorned him nor upbraided him, lowly worm that he was, for daring to hope that he might be good enough for her! No. She had told him about her husband, who had gone prospecting and never returned; of Sam Singer who had been rescued on the desert when close to death, of his return with a wild story of much gold and a man, whose name he did not know, who had killed her husband and escaped with the gold. She respected Mr. Hennage, she admired him, she knew he was good and kind--and she did not refer to his method of making a living. She merely laid her soft hand on his, as he reached for his nineteen dollars and a half change, and said:
"Do you understand, Harley?"
Yes, she had called him Harley that day, and he had understood. Her heart was out in the desert. He took the terrible blow with a smile and a flash of his gold teeth, and never referred to his secret again.
He thought of her now, as he waddled back to his neglected game in the Silver Dollar saloon. He wished that he might have been privileged to admittance into that little room off the kitchen where something told him she was lying; he wished that he might see her once again before they buried her--but that would be presuming. He wished he knew of some plan whereby that poor body might be spared the degradation of interment in the lonely, windswept, desert cemetery, side by side with Indians, Mexicans, Greek section hands and the rude forefathers of San Pasqual.
What a profanation! That horrible cemetery, surrounded by a fence of barbed wire and superannuated railroad ties, to receive that beloved clay. He pictured her as he had seen her every day for ten years, and a rush of vain regret brought the big tears to his buttermilk eyes; the chords of memory twanged in his breast and he paused on the outskirts of San Pasqual with hands upraised, fists clenched in an agony of desperation.
"I can't stand it" he muttered. "I can't. It'll be lonely. I've got to get out. I'll close my game after the funeral an' vamose."
But to return to affairs at the Hat Ranch.
While Harley P. Hennage sat in the Silver Dollar saloon that afternoon dealing faro automatically and pondering the problem of the precise purpose for which he had been created; and while Mrs. Pennycook went from house to house west of the tracks, expounding her personal view of the extraordinary situation at the Hat Ranch, a south-bound train pulled in and discharged a trained nurse, an undertaker, a rectangular redwood box and more floral pieces than San Pasqual had seen in a decade. After instituting some inquiries as to its location, the nurse and the undertaker proceeded to the Hat Ranch, followed by a wagon bearing the box and the flowers.
But why dilate on these mournful details! Suffice the fact that Mrs. Corblay was laid away next morning in conformity with the wishes of the only human being who had any right to express a wish in the matter. The Bakersfield quartette was there and sang "Lead, Kindly Light" and "Nearer My God To Thee"; the Bakersfield minister was there and read: "I am the Resurrection and the Life"; Soft Wind threw ashes on her head and cried in the Cahuilla tongue, "Ai! Ai! Beloved," after the manner of her people, while Sam Singer stood at the head of the grave like a figure done in bronze. Dan Pennycook was there, supporting Donna, and made a spectacle of himself. Mrs. Pennycook was there--and superintended the disposal of the flowers on the grave; in fact, all San Pasqual was there, with the exception of Harley P. Hennage--and nobody wondered why he wasn't there. It was well known that he was not one of the presuming kind and had nothing in common with respectable people. And when it was all over, the San Pasqualians went their several ways, assuming--if, indeed, such an assumption did occur to any of them--that the unknown who had provided these expensive obsequies would without doubt provide for Donna also.
That night as Donna lay awake in bed, grieving silently and striving to adjust herself to a philosophical view of the situation, she heard the front gate open and close very softly; then slow, stealthy footsteps passed on the brick walk around the house and down the patio to the end of the garden. It was very late. Donna wondered who could be visiting the Hat Ranch at such an hour, for No. 25, which was due in San Pasqual at midnight, had just gone thundering by. She crept to the window and looked out.
Beside the flower-covered mound at the end of the garden a man was kneeling, with the moonlight casting his grotesque shadow on the blossoms. Presently he stood up, and Donna saw that he had detached one of Dan Pennycook's big red roses and was reverently hiding it away in his breast pocket. Standing hidden in the darkness of her room, Donna could see Harley P.'s face distinctly as he came down the moonlit patio. The terrible mouth was quivering pitifully, tears bedimmed the little, deep-set, piggy eyes to such an extent that Harley P. groped before him with one great, freckled, hairy hand outstretched. He passed her open window.
"My love! My love!" she heard him mutter, and then the slow stealthy footsteps passed around the corner of the house and died away in the distance. Harley P. Hennage had said his farewell to happiness. He was an outcast now, a soul accursed, fleeing from the soul-crushing loneliness and desolation of San Pasqual.
When two weeks had passed, the nurse so thoughtfully provided by the gambler that Donna Corblay might not be obligated even to the slight extent of companionship and comfort during that trying period to the women of San Pasqual, returned to Bakersfield. In the interim Donna had been offered, and had accepted, the position at the railroad hotel and eating-house so long held by her mother. It was a good position. The salary was sixty dollars a month. With this princely stipend and the revenue from the Hat Ranch, and feeling perfectly safe under the watchful eyes of Sam Singer and Soft Wind, Donna faced her little world at seventeen years of age in blissful ignorance of the fact that she was marked in San Pasqual.
She had committed two crimes. In the matter of her mother's funeral she had scorned the advice of her elders and had dared to overthrow ancient custom; and--ridiculous as the statement may appear--she had aroused in Mrs. Pennycook the demon of jealousy! It is a fact. In the bigness of his simple heart the yardmaster had yielded up to Donna a spontaneous portion of tenderness and sympathy, which first amazed Mrs. Pennycook, because she never suspected her husband of being such an "old softy," and then enraged her when she reflected that never since their honeymoon had Dan shown her anything more than the prosaic consideration of the unimaginative married man for an unimaginative wife.
It did not occur to Mrs. Pennycook that she had not sought to bring out these qualities in her husband by a display of affection on her part. It never occurred to her that Dan Pennycook was a homely, ordinary, rather dull fellow, in dirty overalls and in perpetual need of a shave; that Donna was a beauty who could afford to pick and choose from a score of eager lovers. She only knew that Donna had aroused in Dan Pennycook the flames of revolt against the lawful domination of his lawful wife; that he was of the masculine gender and would bear watching. Miss Molly Pickett, the postmistress, whose official duties not so onerous as to preclude the perusal of every postal card that passed through her hands (in addition to an occasional letter, for Miss Molly was not above the use of a steam kettle and her own stock of mucilage), was Mrs. Pennycook's dearest friend and her authority for the knowledge that while all men will bear watching, married men will bear a most minute scrutiny. Mrs. Pennycook knew that as a wife she was approaching the unlovely age when fickle husbands tire and cast about for younger and prettier women. Hence she decided to trim her mental lamps and light the dastard Daniel out of temptation.
Her first move was a master-stroke of feminine genius. She issued an order to her husband to buy no more hats of Donna Corblay.
Three loud cheers for Mr. Pennycook! He revolted. He did more. He turned on Mrs. Pennycook--he shook a smutty finger under her nose. He said something. He said he would see her, Mrs. Pennycook, further--in fact, considerably further--than that! All of which was very rude and vulgar of Mr. Pennycook, we must admit, but--
And now our stage is set at last; so assuming three years to have passed, behold the curtain rising, discovering Donna Corblay behind the cashier's counter in the railroad eating-house in the little desert hamlet of San Pasqual.
It is a different Donna that confronts us now, and the first glimpse is almost sufficient to cause us to view with a more complacent eye the mental travail of any married lady whose husband might be exposed to the battery of Donna's eyes.
Such wonderful eyes! Dark blue, wide apart, intelligent, tender, with a trick of peeping up at one from under the long black lashes, and conveying such a medley of profound emotions that it is small wonder that men--and occasionally women--forgot their change in the excitement of gazing upon this superior attraction.
In his old favorite seat down at the end of the lunch counter we see Mr. Harley P. Hennage partaking of his evening meal. He has been away from San Pasqual for three years, and he has just returned. Also he has just decided to remain (for reasons best known to himself), although we may be pardoned for presuming that it may be because he sees an old, tender memory reflected in Donna's eyes. Quien sabe? He is older, homelier, sandier than when we saw him last, and he has gambled much. So we can't read anything in his face. Moreover, we do not care to. Instinctively our gaze reverts to Donna, for the day's work is finished, she had proved her cash and is about to go home to the Hat Ranch.
She is a woman now, a glorious, healthy, athletic creature, with wavy hair, very fine and thick and black, and glossy as polished ebony. Her face is tanned and glowing, and the halo of brilliant black hair only serves to accentuate the glow and to remind us of an exquisite cameo set in jet. She is taller by three inches than the average woman, broad-shouldered, full-breasted, slim-waisted, a figure to haunt a sculptor's memory.
She is dressed in a wash frock of light blue material, with a low sailor collar that shows to bewildering effect her strong full throat. She wears a flowing black silk navy reefer and when she puts on her hat prior to leaving we realize that she has not studied male head-gear alone, but has taken advantage of her semi-public position to copy styles and to glean from the women's magazines, on sale at the counter, the latest hints in metropolitan millinery.
This is the Donna Corblay that faces us this September evening. She has developed from a girl into a woman, and we wonder if her mind, her soul, has had equal development, or has it slowly starved in her unlovely and commonplace surroundings?
It has not. Donna has never been away from San Pasqual since the day she entered it a babe in arms, but--she presides over the news counter in addition to her other duties. Here she has access to all the latest "best-sellers," also the big national magazines, and through these means she has kept pace with a world that is continually passing her by in Pullman sleepers. To her has been given the glorious gift of imagination, and dull, sordid, lonely San Pasqual, squatting there in the desert sands, cannot rob her of her dreams. Rather has she grown to tolerate the place, for at her will she can summon up a host of unreal people to throng its dreary single street; she can metamorphose the water tank into a sky-scraper, the long red lines of box cars on the sidings into rows of stately mansions. She reads and dreams much, for only between the arrival and departure of trains is she kept busy. She sends for books that would never find a sale in San Pasqual, and some day--ah! the glory of anticipation! she is going to Los Angeles, where the event of her life is to take place. Going to be married? No? No, indeed. She is going to a theater.
So much for an intimate description of our leading lady as she appears when the curtain rises. But in all plays, whether in real life or on the stage, there must be a leading man. Very well, be patient. In due course he will appear. Donna has been dreaming much of this hero of late. His name is Gerald Van Alstyne, and he is tall, with curly golden hair, piercing blue eyes and a cleft chin; in short, a veritable Adonis and different, so different, from the traveling salesmen who leer at her across the counter and the loutish youths of San Pasqual who, despairing of her favor, call her by her first name because they know it annoys her. Donna has not the slightest doubt but that this young fellow will come rushing in to the eating-house some day, discover her when he comes to pay his check, and eventually return and keep on returning until that final happy day when they shall go away together, to walk hand in hand through green fields and listen to the birds and bees, to linger under the shade of green trees, to wander in an Elysium. She does not know what green fields and running water look like, but she has read about them--
The director's whistle is heard in the wings; the play is on at last!
As Donna thrust the last hatpin through her glorious hair and turned to leave the place of her employment, her glance rested upon Mr. Harley P. Hennage, covertly watching her over the edge of his soup spoon. She removed her glove, walked around the end of the lunch counter and held out her hand.
"Well, Mr. Hennage. This is a delightful surprise. I'm so glad to see you back in San Pasqual. Where have you been these past three years?"
Harley P. scrambled down from his high stool, took her cool hand and blushed.
"I wouldn't like to tell you," he said, "but I've been in some mighty- y-y funn-y-y places, where I didn't meet no beautiful young ladies like you, Miss Donnie. I ain't much of a man at handin' out compliments--I never was one o' the presumin' kind--but you sure do put San Pasqual on the map. Miss Donnie, you do, for a fact."
Donna smiled her appreciation of Harley P.'s gallantry. "You left without saying good-by" she reminded him. "If I had needed you I couldn't have found you. Do you remember? You said if I ever needed a friend--"
The big gambler grinned. "You never needed me, Miss Donnie. You never would need a man like me, but you might have needed money. If you'd a- needed money, now, why, Dan Pennycook he'd a-seen you through."
Mr. Hennage did not judge it necessary to tell Donna that he had left the worthy yardmaster in charge of her destinies, with a thousand dollars on deposit in a bank in Bakersfield, in Dan's name, for Donna's use in case of emergency. Mr. Hennage lived in an atmosphere of money, where everybody fought to get his money away from him and where he fought to get theirs; hence finances were ever his first thought. As for Donna, she did not think it necessary that she should express a contrary opinion regarding Dan Pennycook. She said:
"Why didn't you come to the counter at once and say hello?"
He shook his head, "I wanted to all right, but I hated to appear presumin', an' with my rep in this village you know how people are liable to talk. World treatin' you well, Miss Donnie?"
"I think I get more fun out of San Pasqual than most of the people in it."
"Well, then, you must spend a lot o' time lookin' into a mirror" replied Harley P., and blushed at his effrontery. "That's the only way the San Pasqual folks can get any fun--a-lookin' at your face."
"Mr. Hennage, I fear you're getting to be one of the presuming kind. I declare I haven't had such pretty speeches made me this year. By the way, how's the kitty?"
Harley P.'s russet countenance swelled like the wattles on a Thanksgiving turkey. He leaned over the counter and gazed under it; his glance swept the room; he even, peered under his stool. Finally he looked up at Donna with his three gold teeth flashing through his trustful, childish smile.
"I dunno" he answered. "I guess she's around the house somewheres. I ain't seen her in quite a spell."
"I thought so," she answered gravely, "or you wouldn't have returned to San Pasqual. Small game for a small pocketbook, eh, Mr. Hennage?" She came closer to him. "I don't mind telling you--just between friends, you understand--that I have a couple of hundred to stake you to if you're hard up, but for goodness sake don't tell Mrs. Pennycook. She talks."
"Good Lord" gasped the gambler, and choked on a crouton. "D'ye mean it, Miss Donna?"
"You're a dead game sport and I'd take you up, because I understand that it's between pals, but you ain't got no notion o' tryin' to square me for--you know!"
"I might--if I didn't understand all about that--you know? As it is I want to show you that I'm grateful, and my experienced eye informs me that you arrived in a box car. An empty furniture car, I should say, judging by that scrap of excelsior in your back hair, although the car might have been loaded with crockery."
Mr. Hennage removed the evidence and gazed at it reflectively.
"I suppose, now, if that'd been a feather, you'd a-swore I flew in."
"Possibly. You've been a high flyer in your day, haven't you?"
Mr. Hennage grinned. "I've flew some, but I've come home to roost now. How's the old savage down at the Hat Ranch?"
"Sam Singer is unchanged. Nothing ever changes in this country, Mr. Hennage."
"Nothin' but money," he corrected, as he fished a bill out of his vest pocket, "an' money sure changes hands, more particular when I'm around."
"Are you going back to the Silver Dollar saloon?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
"Faro, roulette, black jack, coon can or craps?"
"The old game--faro."
"I'll bank you up to five hundred."
"That's not the right thing for a young lady to do, is it?" queried the gambler. "Havin' truck wit' my kind o' people. Me--I'll do anything, but a young lady, now--"
"Please do not compare me with Mrs. Pennycook" Donna pleaded. "I am not the guardian of San Pasqual's morals. I'll stake you because I like you and I don't care who knows it--if you don't."
"You're a brick" the gambler declared. "I don't need your money, you blessed woman. I'm 'fat'" and he waved a thousand-dollar bill at her. "I did ride into San Pasqual on a freight, but I did it from choice, an' not necessity. The brakie was an old friend o' mine an' asked me to ride in wit' him. But all the same it's grand to think that there's women like you in this tough old world. It helps out a heap. You're just like your poor mother--a real lady an' no mistake."
Donna blushed. She was embarrassed, despite the earnest praise of Harley P. She gave him her hand. He took it with inward trembling, lest she might be seen shaking hands with him and dishonored. She said good- night.
"Walkin' home alone?" Harley P. was much concerned. "Not that I'm fishin' for an invitation to see you safe to the Hat Ranch, because that'd start talk, an' anyhow I ain't one o' the presumin' kind an' you know it; but it's dark an' the zephyr's blowin' like sixty, an' if there was one hobo on that freight I come in on there was a dozen."
"Why, I didn't realize it was so late," Donna answered. "I'll have to wait until the moon comes up. But I never walk home when I'm kept late. The division superintendent lends me the track-walker's velocipede and I whiz home like the limited. There isn't any danger, and if there was I could outrun it. Do you wish to register before I go, Mr. Hennage? I suppose you'll want your old room?"
The gambler nodded and Donna returned to the cashier's counter. After assigning Mr. Hennage to his quarters she telephoned to the baggage room next door where the track-walker for that division stored his velocipede, and asked to have the machine brought out and placed on the tracks.
For perhaps half an hour she conversed with Harley P., much to that careless soul's discomfort, for he was terribly afraid of affording the San Pasqualians grounds for "talk." And as she waited the moon arose, lighting up the half mile of track that led past the Hat Ranch; and Fate, under whose direction all the dramas of life are staged, gave the cue to the Leading Man.
He entered San Pasqual, riding down through the desert from Owens river valley. But he was not in the least such a Leading Man as Donna had pictured in her dreams. He was tall enough but his hair was not crisp and curly and golden. Most people would have called it red. Not, praise be, a carroty red, a dull negative, scrubby red, but a nicer red than that--dark auburn, in fact. And he had an Irish nose and an Irish jaw and Irish eyes of bonny brown. In but one particular did he resemble the dream man. He did have a cleft in his chin. But even that was none of nature's doing. A Mexican with a knife was solely responsible. Yet, worse than all of these disappointments is the fact that his name was not Gerald Van Alstyne. No, indeed. The Leading Man owned to the plain, homely, unromantic patronymic of Bob McGraw. The only thing romantic and--er--literary about Bob McGraw was his Roman-nosed mustang, Friar Tuck--so called because he had been foaled and raised on a wooded range near Sherwood in Mendocino county. As a product of Sherwood forest, Mr. McGraw had very properly christened him Friar Tuck, and as Friar Tuck's colthood home lay five hundred miles to the north, it will be seen that Mr. McGraw was a wanderer. Hence, if the reader is at all imaginative or inclined to the science of deduction, he will at one mental bound, so to speak, arrive at the conclusion that Bob McGraw, if not actually an adventurous person, was at least fond of adventure--which amounts to the same thing in the long run. Most people who read Robin Hood are, as witness Mr. Tom Sawyer.
The moon was coming up just as the red-headed young man from Owens river valley rode into San Pasqual. As he approached the railroad hotel and eating-house he saw a girl emerge, and pause for a moment before walking out to climb aboard a track-walker's velocipede. In the light that streamed through the open door he saw her face, framed in a tangle of black wind-blown wisps of hair; so he reined in Friar Tuck and stared, for he--well! Most people looked twice at Donna Corblay, and the red-headed man was young.
So he sat his horse in the dribbling moonlight and watched her seize the handles of the lever and glide silently off into the night. He had been standing in the stirrups, leaning forward to look at her hands as they grasped the lever, and now he sat back in his saddle, much relieved.
"No wedding ring in sight" he mused. "My lady of the velocipede, I'll marry you, or my name's not Bob McGraw."
Just then Mr. Harley P. Hennage appeared in the doorway. He saw Bob McGraw, recognized him, and immediately dodged back and went out another door. He wanted to rush out and shake hands with Mr. McGraw, of whom he was very fond, but we regret to state that Mr. McGraw owed Harley P. Hennage the sum of fifty dollars and had owed it for three years, and Mr. Hennage hesitated to seek Mr. McGraw out for purposes of friendship, fearing that Mr. McGraw might construe his advances as a roundabout dun. Ergo, Mr. Hennage fled.
Bob McGraw watched Donna Corblay, and when she was about three hundred yards distant and beyond the town limits, he saw that a switch had been left open, for the velocipede suddenly left the outside track, cut obliquely across several parallel rows of tracks before she could control it, and shot in behind a string of box cars. As the girl disappeared, three dark figures sprang after her and a scream came very faintly against the wind.
Bob McGraw laughed and drew a gun from under his left armpit.
"I'd ride to hell for you" he muttered joyously, and sank the rowels home in Friar Tuck.