Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/127

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From Harper’s

HANK WHEELOCK’S first conclusion was that he had come upon a vagrant snow patch. But the idea had barely emerged before he realized its absurdity. Could it be that the scorching humour of the desert had at last seared him to a point of daftness? . . . He moved slowly toward the outer rim of whiteness, as if fearful lest the vision might dissolve, but the mirage did not recede; it became if anything more tangible, more crystalline, more emphatic. Surely this pool of frozen purity had not been there last week.

He bent over, tracing figures in the glistening surface with his gun: if he were mad his new estate had been accomplished with completeness! He next trusted his fingers to a confirmation of the fact before him. He had almost expected a cool reaction, but the scorch of accumulated sunshine bit ruthlessly into his flesh. Immediately every spark of animation was extinguished within him: the suggestion flashing through his mind was too tremendous, too fantastic to be met save in complete immobility. For a full minute he lay upon his belly, there in the yellow sand, like a huge gray lizard fascinated by the prospect of an iridescent meal. When he moved again, it was to scoop up a handful of burning whiteness. Even now he did not altogether credit his senses. He moistened a forefinger, carrying its powdered surface back to his tongue. He knew the look of it, the taste of it, and yet he was not to be trapped unduly. He whipped out his pocket magnifier. His conclusions were reluctant, constrained by the incautions of a lifetime. Borax? . . . Could it be possible—here by the roadway’s rim within a day’s journey of the railroad? . . . He felt himself grow suddenly weak and he had the wit to realize that the