Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/132

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



impulse toward gratitude in Jim Bledsoe. To his dying day Jim would argue:

“Well, who knows—if Hank hadn’t struck it rich mebbe I would have!”

And the worst of it all was that old Jim Bledsoe would believe it. Forty luckless years hadn’t taught him anything. Wasn’t he at this very moment out on another of his “foolish quests? How foolish, Hank Wheelock could only speculate, since Jim had envelaped his movements in childish mystery. He’d said casually one night over their beans and coffee:

“I had a notion I’d run up toward Heron Falls for a spell. . . . You ain’t got any use for that pack animal, have yer? Leastways, not before next week?”

Hank Wheelock had tried to veil his scorn under a show of indifference. "Pack animal? . . . I should say not! . . . I ain’t figuring on taking more’n a ton of ore outer that pocket back of Antelope. ’ His sarcasm had winged past Jim. “Well,” Bledsoe had replied, “yer never can tell. . . . I allus figured there might be a likely lead in there. . . . Still, I kinder lean to a country that ain’t so all-fired ornery. Prospects, I say, is a good deal like women folks; it may be a mite harder to find ’em both rich and pretty, but it can be done!”

Wheelock had met this statement with the silent contempt it deserved: Neither Bledsoe’s prospects nor his women had ever qualified in either particular.

Well, there hadn’t been a likely lead back of Antelope . . . there hadn’t been a dribble of ore large enough to so much as fill the obsolete watch pocket in Hank Wheelock’s sun-bleached coat. The country had been like Jim Bledsoe’s women, at once destitute and forbidding. On the surface, of course. It hadn’t opened its hand to a man poking about for trifles. . . . Hank Wheelock might have known that, he might have guessed that its frugality had an element of concealment in it, like some crusty old philanthropist making gestures toward poverty to test the object of its favour. . . He speculated with a derisive grunt what sort of geological philandering Jim Bledsoe was up to around Heron Falls. A soft country, truly—buried in a carpet of pine needles; full of the muffled whirr of quail coveys; spilling water in lacy ‘cascades down its greenly wreathed sides. A place