Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/128

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



sun was in no humour to brook defiance. He moved slowly into the truce of a rocky ledge, sprawling full length in its shadow. Overhead, three buzzards formed a sinister merry- go-round against the turquoise sky. Their foul expectations made Hank Wheelock chuckle. In spite of his sixty years he was a long way from cashing in. Them fool buzzards! Didn’t they know a tough old coyote.when they saw one? Besides, he wasn’t quite ready to provide grub for such an ornery lot of feathered bandits—not yet. He’d have another look at that outcropping of borax first. Borax! . . . He closed his eyes. Just wait until he told Jim Bledsoe about it! Foolish, futile Jim Bledsoe. Perhaps he wouldn’t tell him! Perhaps he wouldn’t tell nobody. It would depend.

He opened his eyes again. The buzzards had dropped a shade lower. A hot breeze began to catch up little whirls of sand and the loose pungent odours of the sagebrush. An intolerable longing for some far-off and dusky coolness oppressed Hank Wheelock. He thought of hedgerows andcolumbine and hollyhocks and the faint tinkle of silver fountains. After all, he was tired and old and ready to quit! And the buzzards overhead knew it. . . . But they didn’t know that his luck had turned, that he had fortune by the throat. They didn’t know that his was the surrender that always came within sight of the goal. . . . If they had they wouldn’t have wasted time circling about him in such a calm, anticipatory frenzy.

He pulled himself to his feet, dragging back to that pool of whiteness which even now held such an element of unreality. Yes, it was still there—bared unaccountably for his achievement: A glimpse, a mere indication of what must lie buried for miles in every direction under the deceitful gray of the desert. And, in a sudden spasm of joy, he felt himself tossing his hat into the air and heard the exultant cry issuing from his throat, swallowed up flatly by the unhemmed spaces.

Overhead, the buzzards had ceased their circling. For a brief instant they held themselves motionless, then swept eastward with calm deliberation.

In the cool of evening Hank Wheelock went through the primitive gesture of marking the confines of his prospect with