A new day dawned, and over the stunted, bizarre shapes of that land of drough_he sun resumed its merciless vigil. Bob Eden was early abroad; it was gettin_o be a habit with him. Before breakfast was served he had a full hour fo_eflection, and it could not be denied that he had much upon which to reflect.
One by one he recalled the queer things that had happened since he came to th_anch. Foremost in his thoughts was the problem of Evelyn Madden. Where wa_hat haughty lady now? No morning mists on the landscape here, but in his min_ constantly increasing fog. If only something definite would occur, somethin_hey could understand.
After breakfast he rose from the table and lighted a cigarette. He knew tha_adden was eagerly waiting for him to speak.
"Mr. Madden," he said, "I find that I must go to Barstow this morning o_ather important business. It's an imposition, I know. But if Ah Kim coul_rive me to town in time for the ten-fifteen train—"
Thorn's green eyes popped with sudden interest. Madden looked at the boy wit_ll-concealed approval.
"Why, that's all right," he replied. "I'll be glad to arrange it for you. A_im—you drive Mr. Eden in town in half an hour. Savvy?"
"All time moah job," complained Ah Kim. "Gettum up sunlise woik woik till su_im drop. You want 'um taxi driver why you no say so?"
"What's that?" cried Madden.
Ah Kim shrugged. "Allight, boss. I dlive 'um."
When, later on, Eden sat in the car beside the Chinese and the ranch was wel_ehind them, Chan regarded him questioningly.
"Now you produce big mystery," he said. "Barstow on business has somewha_nexpected sound to me."
Eden laughed. "Orders from the big chief," he replied. "I'm to go down ther_nd meet Al Draycott—and the pearls."
For a moment Chan's free hand rested on his waist and the "undigestible"
burden that still lay there.
"Madden changes fickle mind again?" he inquired.
"That's just what he's done." Eden related the purport of the millionaire'_all on him the night before.
"What you know concerning that!" exclaimed Chan wonderingly.
"Well, I know this much," Eden answered. "It gives us one more day for th_ood old hoo malimali. Outside of that, it's just another problem for us t_uzzle over. By the way, I didn't tell you why Doctor Whitcomb came to see u_ast night."
"No necessity," Chan replied. "I am loafing idle inside door close by and hea_t all."
"Oh, you were? Then you know it may have been Shaky Phil, and not Thorn, wh_illed Louie?"
"Shaky Phil—or maybe stranger in car who drive up and call him into road. Mus_dmit that stranger interests me very deep. Who was he? Was it maybe him wh_arried news of Louie's approach out on to dreary desert?"
"Well, if you're starting to ask me questions," replied Eden, "then the bi_ystery is over and we may as well wash up and go home. For I haven't got a_nswer in me." Eldorado lay before them, its roofs gleaming under the mornin_un. "By the way, let's drop in and see Holley. The train isn't due yet—_uppose I'd better take it, somebody might be watching. In the interval, Holley may have news."
The editor was busy at his desk. "Hello, you're up and around pretty earl_his morning," he said. He pushed aside his typewriter. "Just dashing off poo_ld Louie's obit. What's new out at Mystery Ranch?"
Bob Eden told him of Doctor Whitcomb's call, also of Madden's latest switc_egarding the pearls, and his own imminent wild goose chase to Barstow.
Holley smiled. "Cheer up—a little travel will broaden you," he remarked. "Wha_id you think of Miss Evelyn? But then, I believe you had met her before."
"Think of Miss Evelyn? What do you mean?" asked Eden, surprised.
"Why, she came last night, didn't she?"
"Not so anybody could notice it. No sign of her at the ranch."
Holley rose and walked up and down for a moment. "That's odd. That's very odd.
She certainly arrived on the six-forty train."
"You're sure of that?" Eden asked.
"Of course I am. I saw her." Holley sat down again. "I wasn't very muc_ccupied last night—it was one of my free nights—I have three hundred an_ixty-five of them every year. So I strolled over to the station and met th_ix-forty. Thorn was there, too. A tall handsome girl got off the train, and _eard Thorn address her as Miss Evelyn. 'How's dad?' she asked. 'Get in,' sai_horn, 'and I'll tell you about him. He wasn't able to come to meet yo_imself.' The girl entered the car, and they drove away. Naturally, I though_he was brightening your life long before this."
Eden shook his head. "Funny business," he commented. "Thorn got back to th_anch a little after ten, and when he came he was alone. Charlie her_iscovered, with his usual acumen, that the car had traveled some thirty-nin_iles."
"Also clinging to accelerator, as though scraped off from shoe of Thorn, smal_ragment of red clay," added Chan. "You are accustomed round here, Mr. Holley.
Maybe you can mention home of red clay."
"Not offhand," replied Holley. "There are several places—But say, this thin_ets deeper and deeper. Oh—I was forgetting—there's a letter here for you, Eden."
He handed over a neat missive addressed in an old-fashioned hand. Ede_nspected it with interest. It was from Madame Jordan, a rather touchin_ppeal not to let the deal for the pearls fall through. He went back and bega_o read it aloud. Mrs. Jordan could not understand. Madden was there, he ha_ought the pearls—why the delay? The loss of that money would be serious fo_er.
When he had finished, Eden looked accusingly at Chan, then tore the letter t_its and threw them into a wastepaper basket. "I'm about through," he said.
"That woman is one of the dearest old souls that ever lived, and it strikes m_e're treating her shamefully. After all, what's happening out at Madden'_anch is none of our business. Our duty to Madame Jordan—"
"Pardon me," broke in Chan, "but coming to that, I have sense of duty mos_cute myself. Loyalty blooms in my heart forever—"
"Well, and what do you think we ought to do?" demanded Eden.
"Watch and wait."
"But good lord—we've done that. I was thinking about it this morning. On_nexplicable event after another, and never anything definite, anything we ca_et our teeth into. Such a state of affairs may go on forever. I tell you, I'_ed up."
"Patience," said Chan, "are a very lovely virtue. Through long centurie_hinese cultivate patience like kind gardener tending flowers. White men lea_bout similar to bug in bottle. Which are better method, I inquire?"
"But listen, Charlie. All this stuff we've discovered out at the ranch—that'_or the police."
"For stupid Captain Bliss, maybe. He with the feet of large extensiveness."
"I can't help the size of his feet. What's that got to do with it? No, sir—_an't see why we don't give Madden the pearls, get his receipt, and then sen_or the sheriff and tell him the whole story. After that, he can worry abou_ho was killed at Madden's ranch."
"He would solve the problem," scoffed Chan. "Great mind, no doubt, lik_aptain Bliss. Your thought has, from me, nothing but hot opposition."
"Well, but I'm considering Madame Jordan. I've got her interests at heart."
Chan patted him on the back. "Who can question that? You fine young fellow, loyal and kind. But, listen now to older heads. Mr. Holley, you hav_nclination to intrude your oar?"
"I certainly have," smiled Holley. "I'm all on the side of Chan, Eden. I_ould be a pity to drop this thing now. The sheriff's a good sort, but al_his would be too deep for him. No, wait just a little while—"
"All right," sighed Eden. "I'll wait. Provided you tell me one thing. What ar_e waiting for?"
"Madden goes to Pasadena tomorrow," Chan suggested. "No doubt Thorn wil_ccompany, and we quench this Gamble somehow. Great time for us. All ou_earch at ranch up to now hasty and breathless, like man pursuing trolley-car.
Tomorrow we dig deep."
"You can do it," replied Eden. "I'm not eager to dig for the sort of prize yo_ant." He paused. "At that, I must admit I'm pretty curious myself. Charlie, you're an old friend of the Jordans, and you can take the responsibility fo_his delay."
"Right here on shoulders," Chan agreed, "responsibility reclines. Same wa_ecklace reposes on stomach. Seem to coddle there now, those Phillimor_earls, happy and content. Humbly suggest you take this aimless journey t_arstow."
Eden looked at his watch. "I suppose I might as well. Bit of city life neve_id anybody any harm. But I warn you that when I come back, I want a littl_ight. If any more dark, mysterious things happen at that ranch, I certainl_ill run right out into the middle of the desert and scream."
Taking the train proved an excellent plan, for on the station platform he me_aula Wendell, who evidently had the same idea. She was trim and charming i_iding togs, and her eyes sparkled with life.
"Hello," she said. "Where are you bound?"
"Going to Barstow, on business," Eden explained.
"Is it important?"
"Naturally. Wouldn't squander my vast talents on any other kind."
A dinky little train wandered in, and they found a seat together in one of it_wo cars.
"Sorry to hear you're needed in Barstow," remarked the girl. "I'm getting of_ few stations down. Going to rent a horse and take a long ride up into Lonel_anyon. It wouldn't have been so lonely if you could have come along."
Eden smiled happily. Certainly one had few opportunities to look into eye_ike hers. "What station do we get off at?" he inquired.
"We? I thought you said—"
"The truth isn't in me, these days. Barstow doesn't need my presence any mor_han you need a beauty doctor. Lonely Canyon, after today, will have to chang_ts name."
"Good," she answered. "We get off at Seven Palms. The old rancher who rents m_ horse will find one for you, I'm sure."
"I'm not precisely dressed for the role," admitted Eden. "But I trust it wil_e all the same to the horse."
The horse didn't appear to mind. His rather dejected manner suggested that h_ad expected something like this. They left the tiny settlement known as Seve_alms and cantered off across the desert.
"For to admire and for to see, for to behold this world so wide," said Eden.
"Never realized how very wide it was until I came down here."
"Beginning to like the desert?" the girl inquired.
"Well, there's something about it," he admitted. "It grows on you, that's _act. I don't know that I could put the feeling into words."
"I'm sure I can't," she answered. "Oh, I envy you, coming here for the firs_ime. If only I could look at this country again with a fresh, disintereste_ye. But it's just location to me. I see all about me the cowboys, th_avalcades, the caballeros of Hollywood. Tragedies and feats of daring, rescues and escapes. I tell you, these dunes and canyons have seen more movie_han Will Hays."
"Hunting locations today?" Eden asked.
"Always hunting," she sighed. "They've just sent me a new script—as new a_hose mountains over there. All about the rough cowpuncher and th_illionaire's dainty daughter from the East—you know."
"I certainly do. Girl's fed up on those society orgies, isn't she?"
"Who wouldn't be? However, the orgies are given in full, with the swimmin_ool working overtime, as always. But that part doesn't concern me. It's afte_he comes out here, sort of hungering to meet a real man, that I must star_orrying. Need I add, she meets him? Her horse runs away over the desert, an_osses her off amid the sagebrush. In the nick of time, the cowpuncher find_er. Despite their different stations, love blossoms here in the waste land.
Sometimes I'm almost glad that mine is beginning to be an obsolet_rofession."
"Is it? How come?"
"Oh, the movies move. A few years back the location finder was a rathe_mportant person. Today most of this country has been explored and charted, and every studio is equipped with big albums full of pictures. So every time _ew efficiency expert comes along—which is about once a week—and start_opping off heads, it's the people in my line who are the first to go. In _ittle while we'll be as extinct as the dodo."
"You may be extinct," Eden answered. "But there the similarity between you an_he dodo will stop abruptly."
The girl halted her horse. "Just a minute. I want to take a few pictures here.
It looks to me like a bit of desert we haven't used yet. Just the sort o_hing to thrill the shopgirls and the bookkeepers back there where the Eas_angs out." When she had swung again into the saddle, she added: "It isn'_trange they love it, those tired people in the cities. Each one thinks—oh, i_nly I could go there."
"Yes, and if they got here once, they'd die of loneliness the first night,"
Bob Eden said. "Just pass out in agony moaning for the subway and the comic_n the evening paper."
"I know they would," the girl replied. "But fortunately they'll never come."
They rode on, and the girl began to point out the various unfriendly-lookin_lants of the desert, naming them one by one. Arrowweed, bitter-brush, mesquite, desert plantain, catclaw, thistle-sage.
"That's a cholla," she announced. "Another variety of cactus. There ar_eventeen thousand in all."
"All right," Eden replied. "I'll take your word for it. You needn't nam_hem." His head was beginning to ache with all this learning.
Presently sumac and Canterbury bell proclaimed their nearness to the canyon, and they cantered out of the desert heat into the cathedral-like coolness o_he hills. In and out over almost hidden trails the horses went. Wild plu_lowed on the slopes, and far below under native palms a narrow stream tinkle_nvitingly.
Life seemed very simple and pleasant there in Lonely Canyon, and Bob Eden fel_uddenly close indeed to this lively girl with the eager eyes. All a lie tha_here were crowded cities. The world was new, unsullied and unspoiled, an_hey were alone in it.
They descended by way of a rather treacherous path and in the shelter of th_alms that fringed the tiny stream, dismounted for a lunch which Paula Wendel_laimed to have concealed in her knapsack.
"Wonderfully restful here," Bob Eden said.
"But you said the other day you weren't tired," the girl reminded him.
"Well, I'm not. But somehow I like this anyhow. However, I guess it isn't al_ matter of geography. It's not so much the place you're in—it's who you'r_ith. After which highly original remark, I hasten to add that I really can'_at a thing."
"You were right," she laughed. "The truth isn't in you. I know what you'r_hinking—I didn't bring enough for two. But these Oasis sandwiches are mean_or ranchers, and one is my limit. There are four of them—I must have had _remonition. We'll divide the milk equally."
"But look here, it's your lunch. I should have thought to get something a_even Palms."
"There's a roast beef sandwich. Try that, and maybe you won't feel s_alkative."
"What did I tell you? Oh, the Oasis aims to fill. Milk?"
"Ashamed of myself," mumbled Eden. But he was easily persuaded.
"You haven't eaten a thing," he said finally.
"Oh, yes I have. More than I usually do. I'm one of those dainty eaters."
"Good news for Wilbur," replied Eden. "The upkeep won't be high. Though if h_as any sense, he'll know that whatever the upkeep on a girl like you, it wil_e worth it."
"I sent him your love," said the girl.
"Is that so? Well, I'm sorry you did, in a way. I'm no hypocrite, and try as _ay, I can't discover any lurking fondness for Wilbur. Oddly enough, the bo_egins to annoy me."
"But you said—"
"I know. But isn't it just possible that I've overrated this freedom stuff?
I'm young, and the young are often mistaken. Stop me if you've heard this one, but the more I see of you—"
"Stop. I've heard it."
"I'll bet you have. Many times."
"And my suggestion is that we get back to business. If we don't that horse o_ours is going to eat too much Bermuda grass."
Through the long afternoon, amid the hot yellow dunes, the wind-blow_oothills of that sandy waste, they rode back to Seven Palms by a roundabou_oute. The sun was sinking, the rose and gold wonder of the skies reflected o_now and glistening sand, when finally they headed for the village.
"If only I could find a novel setting for the final love scene," sighed th_irl.
"Whose final love scene?"
"The cowpuncher's and the poor little rich girl's. So many times they've jus_andered off into the sunset, hand in hand. Really need a little more kick i_t than that."
Eden heard a clank as of a horse's hoofs on steel. His mount stumbled, and h_eined it in sharply.
"What in Sam Hill's that?" he asked.
"Oh—that! It's one of the half-buried rails of the old branch road—a mement_f a dream that never came true. Years ago they started to build a town ove_here under those cottonwoods, and the railroad laid down fifteen miles o_rack from the main line. A busy metropolis of the desert—that's what the_eant it to be—and there's just one little old ruined house standing today.
But that was the time of Great Expectations. They brought out crowds o_eople, and sold six hundred lots one hectic afternoon."
"And the railroad?"
"Ran just one train—and stopped. All they had was an engine and two ol_treet-cars brought down from San Francisco. One of the cars has bee_emolished and the timber carried away, but the wreck of the other is stil_tanding not far from here."
Presently they mounted a ridge, and Bob Eden cried, "What do you know abou_hat?"
There before them on the lonely desert, partly buried in the drifting sand, stood the remnant of a trolley-car. It was tilted rakishly to one side, it_indows were yellow with dust, but on the front, faintly decipherable still, was the legend "Market Street."
At that familiar sight, Bob Eden felt a keen pang of nostalgia. He reined i_is horse and sat staring at this symbol of the desert's triumph over th_roud schemes of man. Man had thought he could conquer, he had come with hi_ngines and his dreams, and now an old battered trolley stood alone as _arning and a threat.
"There's your setting," he said. "They drive out together and sit there on th_teps, your lovers. What a background—a car that once trundled from Twin Peak_o the Ferry, standing lonely and forlorn amid the cactus plants."
"Fine," the girl answered. "I'm going to hire you to help me after this."
They rode close to the car and dismounted. The girl unlimbered her camera an_eld it steady. "Don't you want me in the picture?" Eden asked. "Just as _ample lover, you know."
"No samples needed," she laughed. The camera clicked. As it did so the tw_oung people stood rooted to the desert in amazement. An old man had steppe_uddenly from the interior of the car—a bent old man with a coal-black beard.
Eden's eyes sought those of the girl. "Last Wednesday night at Madden's?" h_nquired in a low voice.
She nodded. "The old prospector," she replied.
The black-bearded one did not speak, but stood with a startled air on th_ront platform of that lost trolley under the caption "Market Street."