Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/135

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yer talk so much about. That’s all they are—bends. One’s just like another—more t’other side—that’s all. And it gits narrower and narrower all the time, harder to do in double harness. . . . I come to the conclusion last night that after a while it’s safer to make the grade single file.”

He didn’t look at Jim Bledsoe when he said this; he didn’t have to—the long silence that followed told him that his shaft had struck home.

‘Ver mean yer want to break the partnership?”

“I was thinking of it.”

“Pshaw . . . not now, Hank—not after nigh on to forty years.”

“‘That’s just it—-forty years! . . . Forty years turning them bends in the road yer talk so much about.” Hank Wheelock’s voice rose with a sort of desperate vehemence. “We've just been dead weight to each other, somehow. . . You'll say, ‘Wait for the next turn!’ I know what’s beyond that—the ’ poorhouse!”

A look of bewilderment crept into Jim Bledsoe’s glance. ““You’re wrong there, Hank. I ain’t said nothin’, I was just waitin’ to surprise yer, but up Heron Falls way there’s a prospect that——”

A low guttural laugh, two-edged with contempt, sent Jim Bledsoe’s revelation scattering.

‘““Prospects—up by Heron Falls! . . . I guess a mess of fish now and then’s about all yer’ll ever take out of that country! . . . I heerd tell of your prospects before!”

Jim Bledsoe fumbled for his tobacco pouch, and his hand shook. “Yer right, Hank Wheelock,” he said, in a voice that was much too high and clear and confident. “It’s time you and me was quittin’.”

Jim Bledsoe spoke to him once more—after the evening meal. He came and stood close to where Hank lay sprawled before the camp fire. He was ready for the trail—blanket roll, canteen, and canvas bag snug with essentials.

“I’m going over to Heron Falls,” he said, without rancour, ‘and after that I’ll drop down into Potterville. . . . Ain’t nuthin’ I can do for yer down that way, is there?”

Hank Wheelock stirred himself to a sitting posture. “How soon yer coming back?”