The Long Chance by Peter B. Kyne
Donna's mail-order library proved a great source of comfort to Bob during the lonely days at the Hat Ranch. At night she sang to him, or sat contentedly at his side while he told her whimsical tales of his wanderings. He was an easy, natural conversationalist, the kind of a man who "listens" well--an optimist, a dreamer. He was, seemingly, possessed of a fund of unfailing good-nature, and despite the fact that the past seven years of his life had been spent far from that civilization in which he had grown to manhood, in unconventional, occasionally sordid surroundings, he had lost none of an innate gentleness with women, that delicate attention to the little, thoughtful, chivalrous things which, to discerning women, are the chief charm in a man. And withal he was a droll rascal, a rollicking, careless fellow who quickly discovered that, next to telling her that he loved her and would continue to love her forever and ever, it pleased Donna most to have him tell her about himself, to listen to his Munchausenian tales of travel and adventure. Did he speak of cities with their cafes, parks, theaters and museums, she was interested, but when he told her of the country that lay just beyond the ranges, east and west, or described the long valley to the north, rolling gradually up to the high Sierra, with their castellated spires, sparkling and snow-encrusted; of little mountain lakes, mirroring the firs of the heights above them, of meadows and running water and birds and blossoms, he could almost see the desert sadness die out in her eyes, as she trailed him in spirit through this marvelous land of her heart's desire.
"When we're married, Donna," he told her, when there came to him for the first time a realization of the hunger in the girl's heart for a change from the drab, lifeless, unchanging vistas of the open desert, "we'll take horses and pack-animals and go up into that wonderful country on our honeymoon."
She turned to him with glistening eyes, seized his hand and pressed it to her cheek.
"How soon?" she murmured.
He was silent, wishing he had not spoken. He was a little subdued as he answered.
"As soon as my ship comes in, Donna. Just at present it seems quite a long way off, although if nothing happens to upset a little scheme of mine, it will not be more than a year. Things are very uncertain right now." He smiled sheepishly as he thought of his profitless wanderings. "You know, Donna, I've been a rolling stone, and I haven't gathered very much moss."
"We can wait. I haven't thought much about the future, either, Bob. I'm just content to know I've got you, and the problem of keeping you hasn't presented itself as yet."
They were silent, listening to the zephyr whistling around the Hat Ranch.
"Do you know," she told him presently, "I haven't stopped to gather up the hats since the night you came. Bob, dear, I'm afraid you're ruining my business."
He stared at her amazed. "I don't understand" he said.
"I don't gather moss," she taunted him; "my specialty is hats," and then she explained for the first time the peculiar side-line in which she was engaged. It was their first discussion of any subject dealing with the practical side of her life, and Bob was keenly interested. He laughed as Donna related some homely little anecdote of the hat trade, and later, after plying her with questions regarding her life, past and present, the mood for a mutual exchange of confidences seized him and he told her something of his own checkered career.
Bob McGraw's father had been a mining engineer who had never accomplished anything more remarkable than proving himself a failure in his profession. He was of a roving, adventurous disposition, the kind of a man to whom the fields just ahead always look greenest, and as a result his life had been a remarkable series of ups and downs--mostly downs. Bob's mother had been an artist of more or less ability-- probably less--who, having met and fallen in love with McGraw senior in New York during one of his prosperous periods, had continued to love him when the fortune vanished. Bob had been born in a mining camp in Tuolumne county. He had never seen his mother. She died bringing him into the world. His father had drifted from camp to camp, each successive camp being a little lonelier, less lively and less profitable than its predecessor. He had managed to keep his son by him until Bob was about ten years old, when he sent him to a military academy in southern California. At eighteen, Bob had graduated from the academy, and at his father's desire he entered the state university to study law.
Long before he had waded half-way through the first book of Blackstone, Bob had become fully convinced that he was his father's son, and that mining engineering would be vastly more to his liking. It was a profession, however, upon which his father frowned. Like most men who have made a failure of their vocation, he dreaded to see his son follow in his father's footsteps. He was insistent upon Bob following the law; so to please him young Bob had managed to struggle through the course and by dint of much groaning and burning of midnight oil, eventually he was admitted to practice before the Superior Court. Unknown to his father, however, he had been attending the courses in geology and mining engineering, in which he had made really creditable progress. He was unfortunate enough to pass his law examinations, however, whereupon his father declared that he must make his own way in the world thereafter. He secured for his son a position in the office of an old friend, a corporation lawyer named Henry Dunstan, where Bob while not actively engaged upon some minor detail of Dunstan's large practice had the privilege of going down into the police courts for a little practical experience in the gentle art of pleading.
A month later, McGraw, pere, while ascending the shaft of the mine where he was employed as superintendent, was met by an ore bucket coming down. Bob closed his office, went up country to the mine and saw to it that his father was decently buried. Fortunately there was sufficient money on hand to do this, Bob's parent having received his pay check only the day before.
There had been no estate for Bob to probate, and his few briefless weeks scouting around the police courts and acting as a messenger boy for Henry Dunstan had given him a thorough disgust for the profession of the law. He left his position with Dunstan and went to work on a morning paper at fifteen dollars a week. At the end of two months he was getting twenty--also he was very shabby and in debt. It was his ambition to gather together sufficient money to enable him to complete his mining course and secure his degree.
He hated the city; it was not in his nature to battle and grub with his fellows for a few paltry dollars, and the call of his father's blood was strong in his veins. Bob was the kind of fellow who likes to make a heap of his winnings, when he has any, and stake it all on the turning of a card; if this metaphor may be employed to designate Bob McGraw's nature without creating the impression that he had, inherited a penchant for the gaming table. It had been born in him to take a chance. And the gold fever, inherited from his father, still burned in his blood. He drifted to Nevada, where he did a number of things-- including the assault on Mr. Hennage's faro bank, which, as we have already been informed, also resulted disastrously.
These adventures occupied the first two years of Bob McGraw's wanderings. For the next eighteen months he worked in various mines in various capacities, picking up, in actual experience, much of the mining wisdom which circumstances had denied that he should acquire in college. His Nevada experiences had given him a taste of the desert and he liked it. There was a broad strain of poetry in his make-up, inherited perhaps from his mother, and the desert appealed to that mystical sixth sense in him, arousing his imagination, taunting him with a desire that was almost pre-natal to investigate the formation on the other side of the sky-line. It pandered to the spirit of adventure in him, the purple distances lured him with promise of rich reward, and the day he made the remarkable discovery that he had saved enough money to purchase two burros, an automatic pistol, a box of dynamite and the usual prospector's outfit, he took the trail through Windy Gap and Hell's Bend into Death Valley.
Here Bob McGraw learned the true inwardness of a poem which he had once recited as a boy at school. "Afar In the Desert I Love to Ride." Only Bob walked. And after walking several hundred miles he found nothing. But he had seen lots of country, and the silence pleased him. Also he had met and talked with other desert wanderers, with whom he had shared his water and his grub, and in return they had infected him still further with the microbe of unrest. He heard tales of lost mines, of marvelous strikes, of fortunes made in a day, and that imaginative streak in him, inherited from his mother, fused with the wanderlust of his father, combined to make of him a Desert Rat at twenty-three.
He came out of the desert, on that first trip, at Coso Springs, and doubled north along the western edge of the White mountains up through Inyo county picking, prospecting, starving, thirsting cheerfully as he went. At the town of Bishop, his stomach warned him that it would be a wise move to sell his outfit and seek a job; which he accordingly did. He found employment with a cattle company and went up to Long valley in Mono county. Here he was almost happy. Life on a cow range suited him very well indeed, for it took him away from civilization and carried him through a mineral country. He rode with a prospector's pick on his saddle, and in addition the scenery just suited him. There was just enough of desert and bare volcanic hills, valley and meadow and snow- capped peaks to please the dreamer and lover of nature; there was always the chance that a "cow," scrambling down a hillside, would unearth for him a fortune.
Thus a few more years had slipped by. In the summer and fall Bob McGraw rode range. In the winter he quit his job, invested his savings in two burros and a prospector's outfit and roved until summer came again and the heat drove him back to the range once more. He was very happy, for the future was always rose-tinted and he had definitely located two lost mines. That is to say, he could say almost for a certainty that they lay within five miles of certain points. Somehow, his water had a habit of always giving out just when he got to those certain points, and when he had gone back after more water something had happened--a new strike here, a reported rush elsewhere, to lure him on until he was once more forced to abandon the trail and return to work for his grubstake in the fall.
This was the man who had ridden into San Pasqual and got as far as the Hat Ranch; when as usual, something had happened.
He told Donna his story simply, with boyish frankness, interlarding the narrative with humorous little anecdotes that robbed the tale of the stigma of failure and clothed it in the charm of achievement. She laughed in perfect understanding when he described how some desert wag had placed a sign beside the trail at Hell's Bend at the entrance to Death Valley. "Who enters here leaves hope behind."
"I saw that sign when I came by, Donna," he told her, "and I didn't like it. It sounded too blamed pessimistic for me, so when I broke camp next morning I changed the sign to read 'Soap' instead of 'Hope.'"
Donna's laughter awoke the echoes in the silent patio, and Bob McGraw, certain of his audience, rambled on. Ah, what a dreamer, what a lovable, careless, lazy optimist he was! And how Donna's whole nature went out in sympathy with his! She knew so well what drove him on; she envied him the prerogative of sex which denied to her these joyous, endless wanderings. "I love it" he told her presently. "I can't help it. It appeals to something in me, just like drink appeals to a drunkard. I'm never so happy as when gophering around in a barren prospect hole or coyoting on some rocky hillside. But it's only another form of the gambling fever, and I realize that whether my present plans mature or not I've got to give it up. It was all right a few years ago, but now the idea of wandering all my life over the mountains and desert, and in the end dying under a bush, like a jack-rabbit--no, I've got to give it up and follow something definite."
Again she patted his hand. She knew the resolution cost him a pang; it pleased her to learn that he had made it because he realized that he owed something to himself; not because of the fact of his love for her.
"It won't take you long, once you have made up your mind" she encouraged him.
"I don't want to be rich," he explained. "When I started out, Donna, I had that idea. I wanted money--in great big gobs, so I could throw it around with both hands and enjoy myself. I used to think a good deal about myself in those days, but five years in the desert and riding the range changes one. It takes the little, selfish foolish notions out of one's head and substitutes something bigger and nobler and--and--well, I can't exactly explain, dear, but I know a little verse that covers the subject very thoroughly:
The little cares that fretted me, I lost them yesterday Among the fields above the sea, Among the winds at play, Among the lowing of the herds, The rustling of the trees, Among the singing of the birds, The humming of the bees; The foolish fears of what might happen, I cast them all away Among the clover-scented grass, Among the new-mown hay, Among the hushing of the corn Where drowsy poppies nod, Where ill thoughts die and good are born, Out in the fields with God."
The hint of the desert sadness died out in the girl's eyes as he declaimed his gospel.
"Oh," she cried softly, "that's beautiful--beautiful."
"That's the Litany of a Pagan, Donna," he answered. "One has to believe to understand when he goes to church in a city, but if you're a Pagan like me, you only have to understand in order to believe."
"I am," she interrupted passionately, "I'm a Pagan and the daughter of a Pagan. My father was a Sun Worshiper--like you."
"Tell me about yourself and your people," he said, and Donna told him the story with which the reader is already familiar. He questioned her carefully about Sam Singer and the man who had murdered her father and despoiled him of his fortune.
"Who was this tenderfoot person?" he asked. "Didn't Sam Singer know his name?"
"No. We never knew the man's name. When my father left for the desert he merely told mother that he was going to meet an Eastern capitalist at Salton. Sam says the only name my father called the man was Boston."
"That means he hailed from Boston, and your father called him that in sheer contempt. No wonder they fought."
He was silent, thinking over that strange tale of a lost mine which Sam Singer had told Donna's mother.
"Well, I'm not going to keep on desert ratting until somebody cracks me on the head and stows me on the shelf" he said presently.
He waved his arm toward the north. "Away up there, a hundred and fifty miles, I've cast my fortune--in the desert of Owens river valley. I've cut out for myself a job that will last me all my life, and win or lose, I'll fight the fight to a finish. I'm going to make thirty-two thousand acres of barren waste bloom and furnish clean, unsullied wealth for a few thousand poor, crushed devils that have been slaughtered and maimed under the Juggernaut of our Christian civilization. I'm going to plant them on ten-acre farms up there under the shadow of old Mt. Kearsarge, and convert them into Pagans. I'm going to create an Eden out of an abandoned Hell. I'm going to lay out a townsite and men will build me a town, so I can light it with my own electricity. It's a big Utopian dream, Donna dear, but what a crowning glory to the dreamer's life if it only comes true! Just think, Donna. A few thousand of the poor and lowly and hopeless brought out of the cities and given land and a chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; to know that their toil will bring them some return, that they can have a home and a hope for the future. That's what I want to do, and when that job is accomplished I will have lived my life and enjoyed it; when I pass away, I want them to bury me in Donnaville-- that's to be the name of my colony--and for an epitaph I'd like Robert Louis Stevenson's "Requiem":
Under the wide and starry sky Dig the grave and let me lie, Glad did I live and gladly die And I laid me down with a will. This be the verse you grave for me; Here he lies where he longed to be; Home is the sailor, home from the sea, And the hunter home from the hill."
He paused, a little flushed and exalted. Never before had Bob McGraw unburdened his heart of its innermost secrets, its hopes, its fears, its aspirations; for a moment now he almost quivered at the thought that Donna would look upon him as a dreamer, an idealist--perhaps a fool--he, a penniless desert wanderer assuming to hold in his sunburnt palm the destinies of the under dogs of civilization--the cripples too weak and hopeless to be anything more than wretched camp-followers in the Army of Labor.
He glanced down at her now, half expecting, dreading to meet, the look of gentle indulgence so common to the Unbeliever. But there was no patronizing smile, no tolerant note in her voice as she asked simply:
"And this great, beautiful Utopia of yours, Bob--what did you call it?"
"It doesn't exist yet," he explained hastily, "but it--it may. And when it does become a reality, I'm going to call it Donnaville."
"Because it sounds so much better than Bobville or Robertstown, and because it will be beautiful. It will be the green fields of God after centuries upon centuries of purgatory; because it will be the land I've been telling you about, where you'll find all the things your soul is hungry for; where we will own a big farm, you and I, with great fields of alfalfa with purple blossoms; and there'll be long rows of apple and pear trees and corn and--don't you understand, dear? It will be the most beautiful thing in the desert. And yet," he added a little sadly, "I may be beaten into the earth and all my life Donnaville will remain nothing but a dream, a desire, and so I--I--"
"Nobody can despoil you of your dreams," she interrupted, "and hence you'll never be beaten, Bob. The dreamers do the world's work. But tell me. How do you propose to establish Donnaville? Tell me all about it, dear. I want to--help."
He gave her a grateful glance. "I guess I must be wound up to-night," he began, "but it is good to talk it over after hugging it to myself so many years, and suffering and striving as I have suffered and striven since I came into this country.
"When I pulled out of Death Valley on my first trip I came into Inyo from the south and worked up along the base of the White mountains as far as Bishop. The Owens river valley runs north and south, with the White mountains flanking it on the east and the high Sierra on the west. It is from ten to fifteen miles wide, that valley, with the Owens river running down the eastern side most of the way until it empties into Owens lake just above Keeler. The lake is salty, bitter, filled with alkali, boras and soda, and for nearly forty miles above its mouth the river itself is pretty brackish and alkaline. Away up the valley the river water is sweet but as it approaches the lake it gathers alkali and borax from the formation through which it flows. This renders it unfit for irrigating purposes and at first glance the lower end of the valley seemed doomed to remain undeveloped unless somebody led pure water from above down the valley in a big cement-lined canal and the cost of such a canal would thus render the project prohibitive, unless the water company which might tackle the job also owned the land.
"The valley is pure desert, although there are a great many brilliant green streaks in it, where streams of melted snow water flow down from the mountains and either disappear in the sands or just manage to reach the river or the lake. The valley looks harsh and desolate, but once you climb the mountains and look down into it, it's beautiful. I know it looked beautiful to me and I wished that I might have a farm there and settle down. For the next few years, every time I drifted up or down that valley I used to dream about my farm, and finally I picked out a bully stretch of desert below Independence, and made up my mind to file a desert claim of three hundred and twenty acres, provided I could see my way clear to a water-right that would insure sufficient water for irrigation.
"There wasn't any alkali in the land that I imagined would be my farm some day--when I found the water. Of course I didn't want the river water at this point, on account of the alkali in it, and from the formation I judged that I wouldn't have much success putting in artesian wells. Besides, I didn't care to be a lone rancher out in that desert. I've always been a sociable chap, when I could meet the right kind of people, and unless I could have neighbors on that desert I didn't want any farm.
"I scouted for the water all one summer, but didn't find any. However, just at a time when I was getting ready to come out of the mountains and hustle for next year's grubstake, I found a 'freeze-out' in the granite up on the slope of old Kearsarge, and it netted me nineteen hundred dollars.
"That water question always bothered me. I knew the land was rich--a pure marle, with lots of volcanic ash mixed with it, and that it would grow anything--with water. You ought to see that land, Donna. Why, the sage grows six feet tall in spots, and any desert land that will grow big sage will produce more fortunes than most gold mines--if you can only get the water. There the land lay, thousands of acres of it, but good water wasn't available, so the land was worthless.
"However, Donna, I had wandered around in the desert long enough to observe that wherever Nature appears to have created a paradox, there's always a reason. If Nature makes a mistake here, she places a compensating offset over there. Here was a valley that with irrigation could be made marvelously fertile at this point, only the river had to go brackish and alkaline just where it was needed most. I couldn't develop an irrigation system from any of the little streams that flowed down the Sierra, because there wasn't enough water, and there was no place to impound it, even if there had been sufficient water.
"While I was pondering this peculiar situation, a very strange thing occurred. The lower portion of the valley, including the stretch of desert on which I had my eye, was suddenly withdrawn from entry and thrown into a Forest Reserve by the Department of the Interior. It was a queer proceeding that--including a desert timbered with sage-brush and greasewood in a Forest Reserve. Withdrawing from entry lands that would not even remotely interest settlers!
"I thought this over a great deal, and by and by I began to see the light. I had suspected from observation and personal experience that there was a powerful private influence at work in the state land office, and by reason of their seeming control of the office were engaged in looting the state of its school lands which were timbered. In the congressional investigation into certain land frauds in California, it was discovered that the men accused of the frauds had been aided by corrupt minor officials in the General Land Office-- clerks and chiefs of certain bureaus, whom the land-grabbers kept on their private pay-rolls. This was a matter of public record. Fortunately for the government, however, it has generally managed to secure for the head of the Land Department able and incorruptible men to whom no taint of suspicion attached--men whom the land-grabbers dare not attempt to corrupt.
"At the outset, I strongly suspected that the corrupt influence, which presumably had been exposed and punished in former investigations, was nevertheless still at work. The suspicion that grossly erroneous reports, intentionally furnished the General Land Office by officials of the Forestry Department in California, was responsible for the inclusion of the desert in the Forest Reserve, strengthened into belief the more I thought it over. I thought I could detect in this hoodwinking of the Department of the Interior, through the agency of some local official, who had been 'reached' by the land ring, the first move in a well-planned raid on the public domain, through the state land office.
"I quietly investigated the surveyor-general of the state, who is also ex-officio Registrar of the State Land Office. I discovered that he was a man of unimpeachable public and private life. I discovered also that he was in ill health, and had been during the greater portion of his tenure in office; that he rarely spent more than two hours each day in his office; that frequently he was away from his office for a month at a time, ill, and that the office practically was dominated by his deputy. The surveyor-general was a quiet, easy-going man, advanced in years and inclined to take things easy, and the upshot of my investigations confirmed me in the belief that he was taking things easy--too easy--and that his wide-awake deputy was doing business with the land ring, by virtue of his unhampered control of the office and the implicit confidence reposed in him by the surveyor-general.
"There could be but two reasons for this ridiculous action by the Department of the Interior in thus including a desert in a Forest Reserve. Either an error had been made by the local forestry officials in defining the boundaries of the reserve, and thus reporting to the General Land Office, or the job was intentional. If the former, the error would be discovered and the boundaries rectified.
"Well, a year passed and the boundaries were not rectified, despite the fact that I wrote half a dozen complaining letters to the General Land Office. The answer was easy. The land-grabbers had subsidized somebody and my letters never got to headquarters. So I knew a big job was about to be pulled off. I guessed that the land-grabbers had solved the water problem further up the valley and were scheming to get control of the lower valley and lead the water to it, and while developing their water supply they wanted the land denied to the public. There was always the chance that some smart nester would come, file on a half-section and start boring artesian wells. If he struck water, the news would travel and other settlers would come in and take a chance, and before long there might be a hundred settlers in there. There would be no reason to fear that they would stay forever, unless they got a big artesian flow on every forty acres, and knew they could get water in sufficient quantity. But they would have found water and it would have taken say three years for them to discover that their claims could not support them, Nesters are a dogged breed of human. It takes a nester a long time to wake up to the fact that he's licked, and until they woke up, the nesters would be liable to block the water wheels of a private reclamation scheme.
"Then, too, if it should become bruited abroad, while the valley was open for entry, that water for irrigation was being developed up the valley, settlers could have flocked in down the valley--and waited for the water. A nester is patient. His life is spent in waiting. Under the desert land laws one can file on three hundred and twenty acres, or a half-section, pay twenty-five cents per acre down and then wait four years before being compelled to file with the land office the proof of reclamation that will entitle him to final patent to his land. The land ring, of course, knew this, and by their corrupt influence had so maneuvered to hoodwink the General Land Office that the valley had been withdrawn from entry. When they had protected themselves from prospective settlers, it would be safe for them to develop their water away up the valley. When they were ready, it would be easy enough, to suddenly discover that a desert valley had, by some stupid error, been included in a Forest Reserve, the boundaries would be readjusted immediately, the valley once more thrown open for entry and--dummy entrymen, Johnny-on-the-spot, to file on the land for the water company! Within the statutory limit of four years the water company would have had time to extend its canals and laterals, the dummy entrymen would have been able to show proof of reclamation and secure their patents, and after waiting a year, perhaps to preserve appearances, they would, for a consideration, gradually transfer their holdings to the water company, Within five years, the water company would have owned the entire valley, would have reorganized, called themselves a land and irrigation company and gone into the real estate business, selling five to twenty acre farms, with a perpetual water right, at prices ranging from three to five hundred dollars per acre.
"I didn't, of course, know who was behind the game, but I knew the rules by which it would be played. I'm more or less of a mining engineer, Donna, and it's part of a mining engineer's business to know the laws relating to the public domain. I could see that unless I developed water first and filed on the land first, I would never get my farm in the valley without paying dearly to the thieves who had stolen from me my constitutional right to it.
"Hence, for the past two summers, Donna, I've been up in the Sierra looking for water. It seemed to me that with so many mountain lakes up there below the snow-line, I must find one that I could tap and bring the water down into my valley. If Nature made a mistake in the valley, she would compensate for it up in the mountains, and I had an abiding faith that if I searched long enough I'd find the water.
"I circled around mountain lakes where in all probability no human foot but mine had ever trod. I crawled along the brink of a chasm three thousand feet deep, and crossed a glacier crevice on a rawhide riata. I camped three nights on a peak with so much iron ore in it that when an electrical storm came up it attracted the lightning and struck around me for hours. I crawled and crept and climbed; I fell; I was cut and bruised and hungry and cold; but all the time I was up there in the mountains I could look on the valley--my valley--and it was beautiful and I didn't mind.
"A big thought that had been in the back of my brain for a long time came to me with renewed force while I was up there in those Inyo Alps-- the thought that if I could find the water it would be riches enough for me. But I wanted the land, too--not merely a half-section for myself, but the whole valley--only I didn't want it for myself. It would only be mine in trust, a sacred heritage that belonged to the lowly of the earth, and I wanted to save it for them. I could see them all at that moment, the roustabouts, the laborers and muckers, the unskilled toilers of the world. It was the hewers of wood and the drawers of water that I wanted that valley to bloom for; the poor, poor devils whose only hope is the land that gave them birth and life and would receive them in its bosom when they perished. Ten acres of that lonely thirsty land, waiting there for me to reclaim it from the ruin of ages--ten acres of my desert valley and some water and an equal chance--that's what I wanted for each of my fellow-Pagans, and I made up my mind to get it for them from the robber-barons that planned to steal it.
"It comforted me a whole lot, that thought. It gave zest to the battle, and made the prize seem worth fighting for. And I guess the God of a Square Deal was with me that day, for I found the water. I discovered a lake a mile wide and nearly five miles long, fed by countless streams from the melting snow on the peaks above. I walked around it, but I couldn't find any outlet, and yet the lake never seemed to have risen higher than a certain point. This puzzled me until I discovered a sandstone ledge half-way around its eastern edge, and through a gigantic crevice in this sandstone the water escaped. When the lake rose to the edge of this crevice, during the summer when the snow was melting up on the face of old Mount Kearsarge, the surplus flowed off into some subterranean outlet, probably emerging at the head of some canyon miles away on the other side of the range. This lake was hemmed in by hills, and between two of these hills a canyon dropped away sheer to the desert two thousand feet below. I made careful estimates and discovered that by shooting a tunnel three hundred feet through the country rock at the head of this canyon I would come out on the other side of the place where the two hills met, and pierce the lake below this sandstone crevice. I could drain the lake until the surface of the water gradually came down to the intake, when I could put in a concrete pier with an iron head-gate and regulate the flow. Even in winter when the lake was frozen over I would have a steady flow of water, for my tunnel would tap the lake below the ice.
"Having found the water, my next move was to go down into the valley, into the great, hot, panting hungry heart of Inyo to protect the land for my Pagans. At the land office in Independence I registered my filing and turned to leave, just as a clerk came out and tacked a notice on the bulletin board. I read it. It was the customary notice to settlers that the lower valley had been withdrawn from the Forest Reserve and would be thrown open to entry at the expiration of sixty days from date.
"I went to the feed corral, where I had kept Friar Tuck all summer, while I was up in the mountains. I paid my livery bill, threw the saddle on Friar Tuck and headed south, for I knew that if I was to turn robber baron and steal the valley for my Pagans I'd have to hustle. I got to San Pasqual one night three weeks ago--and here I am."
Donna was silent. For perhaps a minute she gazed into his tense, eager face.
"What will it cost to drive that tunnel?" she queried finally.
"With me superintending the job and swinging a pick and drill myself, I estimate the cost at about five thousand dollars."
"And how long does your right hold good before commencing operations?"
"The law allows me a year."
"And you have five weeks left in which to plan your campaign to acquire the land?"
"Five weeks. And I'm about to attempt an illegal procedure, only I'm going to do it legally. I want to tie up fifty sections on that valley --aggregating 32,000 acres. I have money enough in bank at Bakersfield after paying my expenses here, to accomplish that. If I can tie that land up, my water-right is worth millions. If the other fellows get the land, they will buy my water-right at their own figures, or starve me out and acquire the right when I am forced to abandon it by reason of my inability to develop it; or failing that they will proceed on their original plan and lead their own water down the valley in canals. Without the water the land is worthless, and without the land my water- right is practically worthless--to me. To control that 32,000 acres of desert I will have to put up the purchase price of $40,000 for the men I induce to file on the land, and after paying the filing fee of $5 and the initial payment of $20 on each of the fifty applications for the land, I'll be in luck if I'm not left stranded at the State Land Office."
"But can you accomplish this in opposition to the land ring, if you secure all the money you will require?"
"No" he answered. "The plan I have outlined is a mere contingency. In order to carry it out, I must get my filings into the land office before theirs--and they control the land office."
"Then, how can you hope to succeed?"
Bob smiled. "Hope doesn't cost anything, Donna. It's about the only thing I know of that can't be monopolized. A man can hope till he's licked, at least, and despite the fact that I have neither money nor corrupt influence, I have a long chance to win. I have one grand asset, at least."
"What may that be?" queried Donna.
"All anybody ever needs--a bright idea."