Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/136

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“I ain’t coming back—leastways not the way I’m figgerin’ now. . . . I'll stick to the timber fur a while. . . . I’ve had enough of this here alkali country.”’

Hank came to his feet. “How about dividing things up?”

Jim Bledsoe swept the issue aside with a gesture of indifference. “ Ain’t much to divvy, is there? A few camp contraptions and a pack animal. I figgered you’d need ’em more than me. I won’t be runnin’ wild much longer.”’

His voice was untinged with patronage, yet his words brought the blood to Hank Wheelock’s forehead. ‘‘I’d rather we cleaned up right!” he threw back, savagely.

Jim Bledsoe shrugged. “I’ve got all the best of it now!” he answered.

Hank Wheelock twisted his lips into a smile. "Well, if you’re satisfied . . .” he said.

Their hands came together instinctively.

“Good luck!”

“Good luck!”

The sound of old Jim Bledsoe shuffling into the darkness . . . wind drawing up the mesa ... the piercing wail of a coyote. . . . After forty years!

He lay all night beside the camp fire, gazing up at the stars. An extraordinary sense of freedom possessed him. He had no one to answer to now except God, and His outline had grown too vague to throw any shadow. Curious how irksome a human relationship could become! Not that old Jim Bledsoe ever meddled, but he was always there, an unescapable fact to be reckoned with. After all, what had happened was inevitable. The surprising thing was that it had been delayed so long. Jim Bledsoe would be happier—he’d be free to loaf in the timber now, undisturbed by the clatter of achievement. Bledsoe was never a man to face facts, anyway. He was always veiling his passion for the soft seductions of the stream and forest in a pretence of prospecting. He’d have no place in wresting a fortune from the desert. Tired of the alkali country—that’s the way he put it. Well, let him dream awhile longer over his trout stream! Hank Wheelock would show him; Hank Wheelock would give him a taste of real generosity! There wasn’t anything he wouldn't do for his old partner, short of letting him have a hand in his