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Chapter 12 The Trolley On The Desert

  • 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."
  • "Well, I—am—gumph—"
  • "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."