Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/131

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adequately. Hank Wheelock, the new Borax King! He ruffied with childish pride at the mere thought. . . . But at that he might sell out at once and let somebody else bask in the warmth of the title. This last speculation brought him sharply against the question of Jim Bledsoe again: “Would he be justified in dissolving his partnership at this point? Not that he grudged Jim Bledsoe a share in his good fortune —oh, no, it wasn’t that! But aman with a big project ought to have a clear field to develop it, without let or hindrance. Of course, he supposed Jim Bledsoe would give him a free rein, but then a man could never tell!

It wasn’t as if the idea had never before occurred: for upward of forty years he had made periodic gestures toward cutting loose from Jim Bledsoe, to find him always in the end taking the path of least resistance. After all, it wasn’t easy to ditch a partner who had the genial vice of optimism, who could rise from the most crushing defeat upon the wings of an irrational hope, whose rainbow fell always just a day’s journey beyond. But looking back, Hank Wheelock had to admit that this had been Jim’s sole contribution to their common cause: the claims they had staked, the boom towns they had entered, the mining stocks they had purchased on the strength of Jim Bledsoe’s enthusiasms!” And all to no purpose. It was easy to trace the history of every move they had ‘made toward opulence. The end was always the same; they had picked their penniless way back to the hills to pan dribbles of gold from reluctant stream-sides, or follow a promising ledge to its shallow source, or meet a quick turn in fortune on the spin of a faro wheel. But even then it had been Wheelock’s luck that stood by. When had Bledsoe ever washed so much as a solitary nugget from a creek bed, or fallen upon a single gilded outcropping in the blunt, scarred hills, or played a winning number to retrieve their wasted substance? Never once in all them forty years, Wheelock told himself with a note of emphatic satisfaction.

Of course, no matter what his decision he’d never let old Bledsoe want: he’d be generous. And with keen delight he pictured himself in the rôle of patron, distributing largess. . . Giving anybody a direct share—well, that was different. People never thanked you for what you conceded were their rights, and the term “partnership” would smother any