The Long Chance by Peter B. Kyne
Bob McGraw threw back his red head and chuckled. "A bright idea, sweetheart," he repeated, "and if it works out and I am enabled to file first, the problem of getting back to the desert will be a minor one. The real problem is the acquisition of four or five thousand dollars to drive my tunnel, and after that I must scrape together thirty-nine thousand dollars to advance to my poor Pagans, in order that they may pay for the land on which I shall have induced them to file. In the meantime I do not anticipate any diminution in the appetites of myself and Friar Tuck.
"Well, after I have my tunnel driven and the head-gates in and my Pagans have the land, I have only started. The land must be cleared of sage and greasewood, which in turn must be piled and burned. Then I must build several miles of concrete aqueduct, with laterals to carry the water for irrigation, and I must install a hydro-electric power- plant, purchase telegraph poles, string power lines, build roads, houses, barns and fences. I think I shall even have to build one hundred and fifty miles of railroad into Donnaville and equip it with rolling stock."
He thrust both arms out, as if delving into the treasures of his future. "Whew-w-w!" he sighed. "I'll need oodles of money. I'm going to be as busy as a woodpecker in the acorn season."
Donna drew his arm within hers and they walked slowly--up and down the brick-lined patio.
"It means a fight to the finish, Bobby dear--and you're terribly handicapped. If your suspicions are well founded you will find yourself opposed by men with the power of wealth and political influence behind them."
His whimsical exalted mood passed. In the presence of the girl he loved and whom he hoped to marry he suddenly realized that he stood face to face with a gigantic sacrifice. To carry through to a conclusion, successful or unsuccessful, this great work to which he had set his hand meant that until the finish came he must renounce his hope of marriage with Donna. True, he might win--but it would take years to demonstrate that victory was even in sight; if he lost, he felt that he could never have the heart to ask her to share with him his poverty and his failures.
An intuitive understanding of his thoughts came to Donna at that moment; she realized that under that gay, careless exterior there beat the great warm heart of a man and a master, on whom, for all his youth and strength and optimism, a great load of care was already resting-- the destiny of his people. She realized that he needed help; she thought of her insignificant savings (some six hundred dollars) reposing in the strong-box of the eating-house safe, and the first impulse of her generous heart was to offer him these hard-earned dollars. In the task that Bob McGraw had set himself, moral support was a kindly thing to offer, but dollars were the things that counted!
However, to offer him financial aid now, no matter how badly he required money, would not avail. The dictates of his manhood would not permit him to accept, and until God and man had given her the right to make the offer she must remain silent.
"I can wait here until you're ready to come for me, Bob," she said bravely. "It's a big task--a man's work--that you're going to do, and win or lose, I want you to fight the good fight. I know the kind of man I want to marry. If he starts anything that's big and noble and worthy of him, I want him to finish it--if he wants to marry me. Success or failure counts but little with men like you; it is only the fight that matters, and there are some defeats that are more glorious than victories. Remember that little jingle, dearie:
The harder you're hit, the higher you bounce, Be proud of your blackened eye. It isn't the fact that you're licked that counts, But how did you fight--and why?"
"You quoted your Pagan's Litany to me to-night, sweetheart. I want you to be true to it. I don't know a thing about desert land laws and riparian rights, but I do know that if you sold your Pagans into bondage for money to marry me, I'd be ashamed of you--and disappointed. Don't let your love for me weaken your defenses, Bob. If you win I want to live with you in Donnaville, but if you lose--I want you to make me a promise, Bob."
"You wonderful woman! What is it--you wonderful, wonderful woman?"
"I'm asking for a promise, dear."
"I'll grant it."
"If you lose, you'll come to me and we'll be married despite defeat and failure, and you'll live here, with me--at the Hat Ranch until--"
"Oh, Donnie, girl, I couldn't do that!"
"I understand your point of view. Perhaps you think me bold--or unconventional. But a woman has certain rights, Bob. She should be given the right to outline her own ideas of happiness, regardless of tradition and ancient usage, provided she conforms to all of the law, legal and moral. If you go forth to battle and they slaughter you, I claim the right to pick up your poor battered old heart and give it the only comfort--I mean, if I have to wait, I love you enough to work with you--and for you--when further waiting is useless--"
She pressed her face against his great breast and commenced to cry.
"I have never been really happy until you came" she sobbed. "We're young, Bob--and I do not want to wait--for happiness--until the capacity for it--is gone."
He patted the beautiful head, soothing her with tender words, and it was characteristic of the man that in that instant he made his decision.
"Within six weeks I shall know how long the fight is to last, Donna. If I can put through a scheme which I have evolved to secure that land without recourse to the desert land laws--if I can get my applications filed first in the State Land Office--I shall have won the first battle of the war. If I fail to do this I shall have lost the land, and without further ado I shall sell my water-right to the best possible advantage. The enemy may conclude to pay me a reasonable price for it, rather than declare war and delay the development of their land. The power possibilities of my water-right are tremendous and I think I can force a good price, for I can poke away at my tunnel and by doing the assessment work I can keep my title alive for a few years. Of course, in the event that I should, after the lapse of years, be financially unable to develop my water-right, or interest others in it, I should lose it and they would grab it, no doubt. But they will buy me out, I think, rather than brook delay."
She raised her face, transfigured through the tears.
"Then, win or lose--"
"Win or lose, if you desire it and I can scrape together the price of a marriage license, we'll be married in six weeks.
"I'm so tired of the desert, dear. I'm lonely."
"A little like Br'er B'ar, eh, darling! You want to see the other side of the mountain." He pressed her to him lovingly. "Of course" (with masculine inconsistency Bob was beginning to equivocate) "I may not be able to sell my water-right and the enemy may elect to play a waiting game and starve me out. In that case, it would not be fair to you to burden you with a husband whose sole assets are his dreams and his hopes."
"That makes no difference" she exclaimed passionately. "We're young. We'll fight the rest of the battle together."
"Well, there's strength in numbers, at any rate, beloved. You're my mascot and I'm bound to win." He placed his left hand under her chin and tilted her face upward. He was stooping to seal their compact with a true lover's kiss, when the sound of footsteps startled them. Both turned guiltily, to confront Mr. Harley P. Hennage.
"Hah-hah," puffed Mr. Hennage, "at it again, eh?" He stood at the corner of the house, with his three gold teeth flashing in the moonlight.
"Kill-joy!" hissed Bob McGraw. "His Royal Highness, Kill-joy the Thirteenth!"
Harley P. shook a fat forefinger at the lovers. "If I was a young feller, Bob McGraw--"
"Mr. Hennage, you're an old snooper, that's what you are!" cried Donna. "You're all the time snooping."
"Explain this unwarranted intrusion, Harley P. Hennage" Bob demanded, as he advanced with outstretched hand to greet the gambler. "I'll have you know that in approaching this ranch hereafter, you will be required to halt at the front gate and whistle, cough, stamp your feet, yell or fire six shots from a Colts revolver--"
"You mean a presidential salute o' twenty-one twelve-inch guns" retorted Harley P. "I ain't no snooper. I've wore corns on my hands a- bangin' that there iron gate to announce my approach, an' it wasn't no use; so I just made up my mind you was ready to receive me an' I come ramblin' in. Donnie, you know I ain't one o' the presumin' kind."
He held out a hand to Bob and another to Donna. "How?" he queried, and made swift appraisal of Bob McGraw from heels to hair. "You've filled out a whole lot since the last time I seen you standin' up. How's tricks?"
"Great. I'll be out in a day or two."
The gambler nodded his approval of this cheerful news. Donna brought out another chair and the trio sat in the secluded patio and talked generalities for ten minutes. Donna knew that Mr. Hennage must have some reason for calling other than a mere desire to pay his respects to Bob, and presently he unbosomed himself.
"Our mutual friend, Miss Pickett, has a notice pasted up on the wall o' the post-office, advertisin' a registered letter for one Robert McGraw." The gambler tittered foolishly. "Ain't a soul can tell Miss Pickett who the feller is or where he's at, except me an' Doc Taylor an' Miss Donna--an' we're all swore to secrecy, so I come down to scheme out a way to bell the cat--meanin' Miss Pickett" he added, apparently as an afterthought.
"A letter for me?" Bob was surprised. "Why, it's years since I have received a letter. I wonder who could know that I might be found in San Pasqual I didn't tell anybody I was headed this way, and as a matter of fact I hadn't intended staying here beyond that first night."
"Well, there's a letter there all right," reiterated Mr. Hennage, "an' if I was called on to give a guess who sent it I'd bet a stack o' blue chips I could hit the bull's eye first shot. A dry, purse-proud aristocrat, with gray chin whiskers an' a pair o' bespectacled blue lamps that'd charm a Gila monster, they're that shiny, lined up at the Silver Dollar bar the other day an' bought a drink for himself. Yes, he drank alone--which goes to prove that men with money ain't always got the best manners in the world. Well, after stowin' away his little jolt, he comes fussin' around among the boys, askin' which one of 'em is Mr. Robert McGraw. Of course he didn't get no information, an' wouldn't 'a got it if the boys had it. So he goes down to see Miss Pickett, an' bimeby me an' him meets up in front o' the eatin' house, an' he up an' asked me if I could tell him who owns that little roan cayuse kickin' up his heels over in the feed corral.
"Of course, I seen right off that Miss Pickett had her suspicions an' had sicked this stranger onto me; so when he informed me that he'd been told I knew the name o' the little hoss' owner, I told him I did--that the little roan hoss belonged to a Mexican friend o' mine by the name o' Enrique Maria Jose Sanchez Flavio Domingo Miramontes.
"He give me a sour look at that. 'Well, that don't correspond none with the initials on the saddle' he says.
"'Shucks,' I says,'that don't signify nothin'. Mexicans is the biggest hoss thieves living besides, I ain't feelin' disputatious to-night, so I'll just close up my game an' go get my scoffin's.'
"'But I must find this man' he says, 'It means a great deal to him--an' me.'
"'What do you call a great deal?'
"'Money' he says.
"I says: 'See here, pardner, don't you go givin' no money to no Mexican, because he'll only gamble it away on three-card monte.'
"'I don't mean your Mexican friend,' he says, like a snappin' turtle, 'I'm after a man named Robert McGraw,'
"'Oh,' I says, 'you mean that red-headed outlaw from up country? Why I didn't know he was wanted. What's it this time? He ain't got himself mixed up in more trouble, has he?'
"'I prefer to refrain from discussin' the details,' says this wealthy gent, 'with a perfect stranger.'
"'Oh, very well' I says. 'I didn't seek this interview, but when you mentioned the hoss I could tell by the look in your eye that McGraw's been robbin' you o' somethin'. Well, you might own that hoss, but you've got to prove property. McGraw sold the hoss to Enrique an' lit out for Bakersfield, an' I won the hoss from Enrique at faro. I been keepin' him in the corral in order to give the Mexican a chance to buy him back. But McGraw's not in town. He won't be here for a week or two yet.'
"'Thank you, my man,' says he, an' pulls a card, just about the time I was gettin' ready to pull his nose. 'If you should see Mr. McGraw, you might be good enough, to tell him he can learn of somethin' to his advantage by communicatin' with me right away.'
"'Well, my man,' I says, 'I do hope it's an alibi,' an' I took the card an' he went back to Miss Pickett. I want to tell you, children, that any time Miss Molly thinks she can spring a secret out o' me she's got to go some."
Mr. Hennage chuckled, produced a white square of cardboard and handed it to Bob. Donna, leaning over his shoulder, read:
MR. T. MORGAN CAREY PRESIDENT INYO LAND & IRRIGATION COMPANY, 414-422 SOUTHERN TRUST BUILDING, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
"I've heard of that fellow before," mused Bob, "and it strikes me his name is associated with some unpleasant memory, but I can't recall just what it is. However, I can hazard a good guess as to what he desires to see me about. I'm glad you didn't tell him where I might be found, Hennage. It was thoughtful of you. I do not care to meet T. Morgan Carey--yet."
"Well," said Mr. Hennage, "he's a smart man an' smells o' ready money. However, I wasn't goin' to give him no information until I'd talked with you first, although my main idea was to throw Miss Pickett off the scent. I'm goin' up to Bakersfield to-night, Bob, and just to keep up appearances, you give me an order for that registered letter, datin' the order from Bakersfield, to-morrow, an' I'll mail that order from Bakersfield to myself in San Pasqual. Then to-morrow night when I get back I'll go to the post-office for my mail. I ain't had a letter come to me in ten years. Miss Pickett'll give me the letter, I'll open it right in front o' her an' flash the order for the registered letter, an' the old gossip'll be annoyed to death to think she's lost the trail."
When presently Bob went into the house to write the desired order for Harley P., Donna and the gambler were left alone for a few minutes. Instantly Mr. Hennage became serious.
"Looky here. Miss Donnie," he said, "Bob McGraw's free, white an' twenty-one an' he can play his own hand. I ain't one of the presumin' kind an' I hate to tell any man his own business, but if twenty years o' gamblin' an' meetin' all kinds an' conditions o' men ain't made me as fly as a road-runner, then that there artesian well is spoutin' mint juleps. Say, Miss Donnie, if ever I see a cold-blooded, fishy, snaky, ornery man, it's this T. Morgan Carey--an' at that he's a dead ringer for a church deacon. That Carey man would steal a hot stove without burnin' himself. Now, this young Bob is an impulsive cuss, an' if he has any dealin's of a money nature with this sweet-scented porch- climber that's on his trail, you take a tip from Harley P. Hennage, Miss Donnie, an' act as lookout on Bob's game. Miss Donnie, I can tell a crook in the dark. Let a crook try to buck my game an' I have him spotted in a minute. I just feel 'em."
"Thank you, Mr. Hennage. I have great faith in your judgment."
"Well, generally speakin', I call the turn, if I do say so myself."
He sat there, his bow-legs spread apart, his hands folded across his ample abdomen, staring thoughtfully at the little white cross down at the end of the garden.
"You're a heap like your mother" he said presently, and sighed.
When Bob returned with the order for the registered letter, Mr. Hennage tucked it carefully in his side coat pocket; then from his rear hip pocket he produced Bob McGraw's automatic gun.
"I took charge o' this the night o' the mix-up" he explained as he returned it. He looked hard at Bob. "When you're ready to toddle about" he added, with a lightning wink and a slight movement of his fat thumb and forefinger, as if counting a stack of imaginary bills, "send Sam Singer up to let me know. Comprende, amigo?"
Bob smiled at this sinful philanthropist. "Not necessary, old man-- if you'll drop in at the Kern County Bank and Trust Company in Bakersfield to-morrow and get me a check-book. I have owed you fifty for three years and I'd like to square up."
"Sure you ain't bluffin' on no pair?"
"Thank you, Harley. I have a small stake."
"Well, holler when you're hit." He waved his hand and departed with a "Buenas noches, children."
Scarcely had the gate slammed behind him when Bob turned to Donna with beaming face.
"They're after my water-right, sweetheart--they're after it already!" His exultant laugh rang through the patio, "I knew I was treading on somebody's toes when I filed on that water, Donna. By George, I must investigate T. Morgan Carey and ascertain the kind of man I have to fight."
"He came here looking for you a week after you arrived. Doesn't that seem strange? How did he discover you had a water-right, investigate it, ascertain its value and then, come seeking you, all in the course of one week?"
"That is very easily explained, Donna. It merely verifies my suspicions that there is a ring of land-grabbers operating in this state, which ring controls some official of the State Land Office and keeps on its pay-roll an employee in every United States land office in California. The moment I filed on that water, T. Morgan Carey was notified by his tool in the State Land Office that Robert McGraw (I gave my address as Independence, Inyo county) had filed on one hundred thousand miners' inches of water for power and irrigation. Now, there isn't that much non-alkaline water available anywhere in the valley--at least under the control of one man or one corporation, and of course it frightened Carey. He wired his field engineer, who was probably in Inyo county at the time, to investigate. The engineer found my location notices tacked to a cottonwood tree right where I'm going to drive my tunnel, and he immediately reported to Carey that the location was very valuable. Also he wired my name and general description and probably stated that the last seen of me I was headed south for the railroad on a roan bronco. They've traced me by my horse to San Pasqual, and now they're trying to find me with a registered letter; very probably acting under the advice of Miss Pickett, who, apparently, is an elderly bird and not to be caught with Harley P. Hennage's chaff.
"It's absurdly simple, dear. They want my water, for they must eliminate competition, and they want to tie me up before I have an opportunity to sell to somebody who realizes the value of my holdings. Up Inyo way they know me for a range rider, a desert rat, a ne'er-do- well, and it may be they are under the impression that I am like most of my kind--that I can be mesmerized by the sight of four or five thousand dollars."
"Harley P. will give me your letter to-morrow night and I'll bring it home with me. We'll know definitely, then, what to expect. In the meantime, Bob, I think you've dreamed enough for one night. You've been up all day and you've talked and it's time you went to bed."
"'Talk'" he echoed, "talk! That's what. I've been talking--talk. But when I clash with T. Morgan Carey's company I'll talk--turkey. If you'll kiss me good-night, Donna, I think I can manage to last until morning."
Late the following afternoon Harley P. Hennage returned from Bakersfield and at once went to the post-office and secured Bob's registered letter. He brought it over to Donna at the eating-house, delivering with it a pantomime of the inquisitive Miss Pickett when she discovered that the order for delivery of the registered letter to the gambler was dated and mailed from Bakersfield.
At dinner Bob read the letter and silently handed it over to Donna. It was from T. Morgan Carey. On behalf of the Inyo Land & Irrigation Company Carey requested the favor of an interview at an early date to take up with Bob the matter of purchasing his newly acquired water- right on Cottonwood lake, or submitting a proposition for consolidation with, certain rights held by his company. He begged for an early reply.
"Will you reply to his letter?" Donna queried.
"Yes. I shall write him that my location is not for sale."
"Then write it from Bakersfield" Donna suggested. "Harley P.'s reputation is bad enough, but you mustn't convict him of lying."
Three days later Bob's strength had so far returned that Doc Taylor told him he might leave San Pasqual whenever he pleased. Bob realized that a longer stay at the Hat Ranch, while inviting enough, would nevertheless prove expensive, by reason of the retention of his nurse, for Donna could not continue to entertain him unchaperoned, even in such a free-and-easy town as San Pasqual, and he was fearful that a longer stay, even under the prevailing conditions, might prove embarrassing to Donna, in case interest in his affairs should revive; hence he announced his determination of going up to San Francisco to recuperate and complete his plans for the acquisition of thirty-two thousand acres of the public domain in the desert of Owens river valley.
Donna did not endeavor to dissuade him. She realized that a longer stay was impossible, much as both desired it, and Bob had his work to do and not a great deal of time in which to do it. Accordingly Bob issued a check to Doc Taylor that evening in payment of his fee, dismissed his nurse and paid her off, and left with Donna another check, to be cashed by Harley P. Hennage and the proceeds applied to the care and maintenance of Friar Tuck until Bob's return to San Pasqual.
During the afternoon Bob dispatched Sam Singer to Harley P. Hennage with a request for a shaving outfit, a shirt, underwear, a necktie and a new suit of khaki. Armed with information respecting the physical dimensions of Mr. McGraw, the gambler had attended to Bob's shopping, and upon Donna's return to the Hat Ranch that night she discovered that during her absence a transformation had taken place. Bob was arrayed in his new habiliments, and paraded up and down the patio for the inspection of Donna and the nurse.
"Well, Donna" he called to her, "how do I look? Presentable? I know I'm feeling clean and respectable again, at any rate, and I've asked Sam Singer to bury that ruin of rags I wore into town."
"Your gun hangs below the tail of your khaki coat."
"Then I'll tuck it up under my arm."
Donna helped him remove the coat, after which he buckled the belt over his right shoulder, permitting the gun to hang securely in the holster under his left arm.
"Now, I don't look so confoundedly woolly and western" he said. "I do hate to go about looking like the hero of a dime novel. I suppose if a tourist saw that gun hanging down he'd think I was bloodthirsty. It would never occur to him that a gun comes in handy in the wilderness."
"Why not leave it here until your return?"
Bob grinned. "It's a good gun, Donna. I might be able to pawn it for enough to help out on my return trip. Of course I have a watch, but its hockable value is negative. When I was very young I was foolish enough to have my initials engraved on the case, but of course I know better now--by George, Donna girl, I haven't any hat!"
She flashed him one of her rare wonderful smiles. "I was waiting for you to make that discovery" she said. "You lost your hat the night you arrived in San Pasqual, but I haven't worried about it. I've been saving a splendid big sombrero for you, Bob."
She went to her room, returning presently with a "cowboy" hat that must have been the joy and pride of the tourist who sacrificed it to the San Pasqual zephyr. She pinched it to a peak and set it jauntily on his auburn head, then stood off and surveyed him critically.
"It's a dear" she announced.
"Looks dear, too" he replied whimsically. "Must have cost the original owner a month's board. Whew! That's a bird of a hat, Donna girl. Thank you. It's as good a hat as I'll ever own."
He sat down forthwith, turned back the sweat-band, moistened it slightly and with the stub of an indelible pencil wrote his name in full. He had ridden range long enough to acquire the habit of branding his property, and in that land of breeze and sunshine he knew the dangers that beset a maverick hat.
That night they walked together in the patio for the last time. Neither felt inclined to conversation, for the thoughts of each were occupied with dreams of the future, and the tragedy of that farewell lay heavy upon them. Lover-like, each exacted from the other a promise to write every day, and that important detail finally settled, Donna found it easy enough to be brave and let him go.
At eleven o'clock Sam Singer appeared in the patio to announce his willingness to trundle Bob up to San Pasqual on the same trackwalker's velocipede upon which Bob had arrived at the Hat Ranch. The nurse was not to leave until the next day, and being a discreet woman, and kindly withal, she had had the delicacy to bid her patient farewell in the patio. Donna accompanied him to the front gate, and there Bob with many a fervent promise to take good care of himself--and not to forget to write every day, took her in his arms, kissed her quickly before the tears should have a chance to rise, and was gone.
She watched him stride slowly through the gloom to the velocipede waiting on the tracks; she saw him climb aboard. Then the Indian's body bent over the levers and the machine glided away into the night. She stood at the gate and watched it until it vanished; she waited until Twenty-six came thundering by at eleven-thirty-five and heard the grind of the brakes as the long train pulled up at the station. Five minutes later she heard it pull out of San Pasqual, with many a short and labored gasp, casting a lurid gleam across the desert as it sped northward into Tehachapi Pass, carrying Bob McGraw forth to battle, to fight for his land and his Pagans.
When the last dim flicker of the green tail lights had disappeared Donna retired to her room and cried herself to sleep. Once more she was left to battle alone with the world, and the days would be long until Bob McGraw came back.
Three hours after leaving Donna Corblay at the Hat Ranch, Bob McGraw alighted from the train at Bakersfield and went at once to a hotel. He arose late the next morning, breakfasted in the most appalling loneliness and later wended his way weakly to the bank where his meager funds were on deposit. Here he had his account balanced and discovered that his total fortune amounted to a trifle over sixteen hundred dollars, so he closed out his account and purchased a draft on San Francisco for the amount of his balance, less sufficient money to pay his current expenses.
This detail attended to, Mr. McGraw next proceeded to do what he had always done when in a civilized community--spend his money recklessly. He went back to the hotel, called Donna on the long-distance phone and frittered away two dollars in inconsequential conversation. However, he felt amply rewarded for the extravagance when Donna's voice--deep, throaty, almost a baritone--came to him over the wire; the delighted, almost childish cry of amazement which greeted his "Hello, Donna girl" was music to his soul.
Bob was the kind of man who always thinks of the little things. He knew Donna had gone to work that morning feeling blue and lonely, and the substitution of that mood for one of genuine happiness for the rest of the day Mr. McGraw would have considered cheap at the price of his great toe or a hastily plucked handful of his auburn locks. As for money--bah! Had it been his last two dollars it would have made no difference. He would have telephoned just the same and trusted to heaven to rain manna for his next meal.
But Bob McGraw was nothing if not an impetuous lover. Even in the case of one who, like himself, had plans afoot where every dollar counted, we might pardon readily the expenditure of two dollars on conversation, in view of the extraordinary circumstances; but Mr. McGraw's next move savors so strongly of the veal period of his existence that no amount of extenuating circumstances may be adduced in defense of it. While the promoter of Donnaville was a true son of the desert, he was college- bred, and with the sight now, for the first time in several years, of trolley cars, automobiles and people wearing clean linen, old memories surged up in Mr. McGraw's damaged breast, and despite the fact that his long legs were now weak and wobbly from the premature strain of his journey from the hotel to the bank and back again, he fared forth once more and pursued the uneven tenor of his way until he found himself in a florist's shop.
Here no less than six dozen red carnations caught Mr. McGraw's fancy, the purchase price of which, in addition to the express charges prepaid to San Pasqual, further denuded him of ten dollars. Into the heart of this cluster of fragrance he caused to be secreted a tiny envelope enclosing a card, upon which he had drawn a heart with a feathered arrow sticking through it; and for fear this symbolic declaration of undying devotion might not be sufficient, he scrawled beneath it: "Love from Bob."
Ah, if he could only have seen Donna's face when the express messenger next door brought that votive offering in to her! Red carnations were not frequent in San Pasqual. It was the first lover's bouquet Donna had ever received and she bent low behind the cash register and kissed the foolish little card, for the hand of her Bob had touched it! The carnations she bore home to the Hat Ranch in triumph, and two weeks later when Soft Wind, a stranger to romance, threw them out, Donna wept.
His mission of love finally accomplished, Bob returned to his hotel and went to bed. Late that afternoon he arose, much refreshed, dined and waited around the lobby until it was time for the bus to leave for the north-bound train.
By nine o'clock next morning he was in San Francisco. He found frugal lodgings in a third-class hotel, and after writing a letter to Donna, he went down town, purchased a suit of "store" clothes, and spent the balance of the day in the public law library.
By nightfall Bob had saturated his brain with legal lore bearing on every feature of the laws governing the acquisition of lands in the public domain, and was satisfied that the hazy plan which he had outlined was not only within the law, but really did have some vague elements of feasibility. The beauty of Bob's plan, however--the part that appealed to the sporting instinct in his ultra-sporty soul--lay in the fact that it would cost him only fifteen hundred dollars to try! Twelve hundred and seventy-five in preliminary payments, filing fees and notary's fees, and the balance in hotel bills, traveling expenses, etc.; but as an offset to his comparatively brilliant prospects of going hungry and ragged there was the dim, long chance that he might win millions, provided his venture should be attended with a fair percentage of supernatural luck. That was all Bob McGraw had to cheer him on to victory--a million-to-one chance; yet, such was his peculiar mental make-up, the terrific odds only proved an added attraction.