Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/130

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in which to wrestle with the problem. That was enough for anyman. . . . He decided to wait until nightfall before pushing on. When the moon rose he’d start. He flung himself back into the shelter of the rocky ledge. He wondered whether the buzzards would come winging back again. But they didn’t, and he fell asleep, chuckling.

He rose with a windless moon, heading south by west, munching thin strips of jerked venison as he walked. He was a spare eater on the trail and he drank from his canteen scantily, barely moistening his lips. The land lay in a cool truce of incredible silver, invoking dreams and fancies and extravagances. He felt a mysterious affinity with hidden forces; like some primitive hero who had been singled out for favour by the gods. His discovery of the afternoon linked him with the elements, made him touch hands with illimitable time and space. He thought vaguely of the extraordinary patience of nature and its still more extraordinary whimsies. Imagine piling up a glistening treasure for millions of years, then hiding it slyly, in the end to yield the secret to a chance passer-by. He had seen uncovered borax marshes in his day, stretching mile upon mile under a blazing sun, but never before had there come to his knowledge one discreetly buried, like a dead city of the ancients. He tried to imagine it lying stark and white, as it must one day have done, picturing the first thin line of whirling sand that had drifted upon its pallid face. A few grains of sand . « « mere specks of golden grayness. Grains piling up to a handful. An island in the centre of a crystalline sea . . . the sea itself completely hidden! Then shrubs and reptiles and birds in their season. The primitive deceit accomplished. He ended by being staggered at so much elemental perseverance. It was like sprawling at full length with one’s eyes upturned to the stars; it crushed you, somehow, until in very self-defence you turned away.

He saved his egotism by veering to problems within grasp. There was the matter of claim-staking, of launching a promotion scheme, of transportation. Twenty years before his imagination would have evoked endless mule teams chiming through the blistering heat to a railroad siding; now he supposed motor trucks would accomplish the task swiftly and