Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/129

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bits of shale chipped from the ledge that had sheltered him from the sun. The definite rules for staking a claim he was unprepared to meet and yet some atavistic urge, harking back to the days when men made covenants with the gods, gave him a foolish pleasure in setting up symbols of his revelation. What he would have liked to do was to sweep back the sand over his treasure with a miraculous rake. There would be people passing and repassing, Indians for the most part, intent on the pinon harvest, perhaps gathering mesquite beans, or working toward the streams with their fish snares. These scarcely mattered, but others would pass, too—white men, with little sharp, beady eyes, seeking furtively to wrest secrets from the sun-bitten land. But the desert was capricious; it rewarded whom it would. Take his own case for instance: How many times had he scoured the blunt, squeezed hills to no purpose, coveting their treasures? . . . And this same spot, with its ledge of rock that marked a waterhole of almost miraculous sweetness, how many times had he loitered in its gaunt shade, innocent of its hoard? . . Last week, when he had tramped eastward to another futile tryst with fortune, his path had been without revelation. The country had lain somnolent under a blazing sun, taciturn and baffling, as always. But overnight a miracle had hap- pened: a wanton wind had danced with gathering violence across the starlit mesa, furrowing the gleaming sand with its twinkling feet, tearing open quiescent wounds in its frenzy, revealing close-locked secrets. . . . To-night it was conceivable that another wind might rise, blotting out all trace of the one that had gone before, piling the restless sand discreetly back again. Hank Wheelock hoped that this might be so; such a prospect made him feel safer. He wanted to hoard his good fortune for a season, to guard it jealously. Would it be necessary to tell Jim Bledsoe? Not right off, anyhow. . . . He’d bide his time. . . . He might even persuade himself beyond that. . . . He’d do what was right, but he wasn’t going to be no fool philanthropist. If they had come upon this secret together, that would have been one thing. . . . But they hadn't. . .. Yet Jim Bledsoe was still his partner.

Well, there was time enough to settle that. He wouldn’t reach camp until the next morning. Twelve hours of solitude