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IT MIGHT HAVE HAPPENED OTHERWISE

By Hugh Pendexter
Author of "The Chelsea Vase," "The Crimson Track" etc.

THE growth of the thing in his mind had been gradual. When it had obtruded upon his consciousness at first he had drawn back in mingled fear and anger. By degrees, however, he tolerated the thought, only always at a distance, and concluded by allowing it to make a rendezvous of his idle meditations, receiving it much as one might welcome an unwholesome but highly fascinating acquaintance. All the time he knew its real name was Theft.

For three years Parsly had served as station agent and telegraph-operator at the Junction. Each day he had observed the transient bustling by the long platform, the spectacle never varying. Long vestibuled trains halted impatiently, and always the same curious or apathetic faces peered out at him from the Pullmans.

It was the branch line, tapping the lumber country, that contributed humanism, consisting of a nodding acquaintance with timber operators and forlorn commercial travelers. The first were always in a hurry to make the big city connection; the latter lingered in his company for the sake of gaining an audience while they cursed the country.

The last because the Junction was not the liveliest place in the world to put in an hour or two of waiting. Situated where the engineering problem had been the simplest, it was surrounded by blueberry plains, dotted at intervals with scrub pine. As the locomotives annually set the pines afire, the immediate foreground continuously presented a dead, charred appearance. Far-off, the objective point of the Pullmans, loomed the cool silhouettes of mountains, guardians of inland lakes and famous fishing.

More than once Parsly compared himself with Robinson Crusoe in his isolation; only he had no man Friday to enliven his dull routine. He saw much of the passing world but was never of it. Thus, at the end of three years, the hurrying by of the heavy trains aroused a species of resentment. Every one was at liberty to take flight but him. Then again, fifty dollars a month for his combined duties was hardly a compensating solace.

It was the matter of salary that caused the idea to germinate while he was sullenly working the semaphore one day. He had just received from the night branch some four hundred dollars express money which he must deliver to the agent on the morning city-passenger. Having just received his monthly wages he could not help but contrast its meager total with the bulking roll in his hip-pocket.

If he had four hundred dollars, all his own, he would throw up the job and use it in one delicious round of travel. By the time it was exhausted he could obtain another position in a pleasing environment. In logical sequence he decided he might as well allow his imagination a wider range and play at taking a vacation with the largest sum ever entrusted to his care for a single night. He remembered this to be an even thousand dollars, sent down by a big operator in payment for horses in the lumber camps.

A thousand dollars offered his fancy vastly more possibilities to work with. The four hundred became insignificant. As his duties permitted him much time for reflection, he carried the thought back to his dingy office and entertained it by consulting maps in the railroad folders. In this fashion he took a hurried excursion across the continent and spied out the land. Then he became critical and weighed and balanced different localities.

The Southwest, free from cold, gray Autumnal rains, howling snows and Spring inundations, finally appealed to him as being ideal. Of course, there might be two thousand dollars entrusted to...

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