“You’re going to give me a free hand?”
The monosyllable burst from his lips with a violence that indicated the rending asunder of strong barriers.
“No,” he repeated. “One of us, Jefferson Wells, must be an honest man. I ain’t going to whine about the luck, but I stole—I stole—for her. I wanted to give her what she’d always had from me: a pretty home, nice clothes, a good time. And what’s the result?” He laughed hoarsely. “This,—this hut, those overalls, beans and bacon to eat, and now—now—the knowledge that her dad is a thief. Well, she’s cottoned to you. I read it in her face. Quick work, they’d say back East, but in this new country folks have to think quick and act quick. I can think quick and act quick. You want her?”
“Worse than I ever wanted anything in my life.”
“You can take care of her?”
“I am well fixed. A nest-egg in the bank, a good salary, and a pair of arms that can carry a heavier load than she’ll ever be.”
Sillett nodded; then he spoke very deliberately: “I’m going back to Santa Barbara to face the music. I shall give myself up. Hold on—let me finish! I know something of women, and Sadie is the daughter of a good mother. It’s lucky she’s dead, poor soul! Don’t you ever dare to tell Sadie that you weakened. When she lies awake nights—and she will—it may comfort her some to think that her husband is an honest man. I’m going to hit the trail now. When Sadie comes out o’ there, tell her with my love, that I’ve left her in your charge.”
The odd thing was that his name was really Dennis. In the West, Dennis stands genetically for the under dog, for the man who is left. His name is—Dennis! Why? The man in this story was christened Dennis, and, being a native son of the Golden West, he took particular pains to keep the fact a secret from the “boys.” When he punched cattle on our range he was known as “Kingdom Come” Brown, because, even in those days, it was plain to tenderfeet that physically and intellectually D. Brown, cowboy, was not likely to inherit the kingdoms of the earth.
Ever since he had been breeched ill-fortune had marked him for her own. Nevertheless, he was rich in the possession of a temperament which soared like a lark above suffering and disappointment. He believed steadfastly that his “turn” would come. “It ain’t goin’ to be like this yere—always,” was a phrase familiar to us. To this we replied, “Not much!”
In our hearts we, too, believed that the turn would come, but that, humanly speaking, it would occur in the sweet by-and-by. Hence the nickname. The hardest nuts admitted that Brown was travelling upon the rough road which leads upwards. His golden slippers were waiting for him—sure! He set an example which none followed, but which all, in sober moments, commended. He neither drank