Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/137

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enterprise. A lovable old wastrel, this Jim Bledsoe, Hank Wheelock conceded. Take such an issue as dividing up, for instance. It was characteristic, this yielding everything, even the pack animal. If it hadn't been that he could repay this gesture tenfold, Hank Wheelock would have stuck to his first protest. Perhaps he should have, anyway. What if Jim Bledsoe were one day to say:

"Hank Wheelock ain't done nuthin' more'n he should. Didn't I turn over the whole shebang to him—pack mule and all, just before he struck it rich?”

Oh, well, if it gave Jim Bledsoe any satisfaction! . . .

He'd likely find some excuse to horn in on the deal. Folks were like that—unwilling to concede unalloyed liberality.

After all, the camp equipment and the pack animal did mean something at this stage. He'd have a bit of travelling about todo. To begin with, he'd have to go into Potterville to attend to a thousand legal details, after he had staked his claim properly. He'd have to look people up, talk to them, get their interest. Yesterday, under the spell of his outstanding discovery, he had thought in terms of quickly matured plans; he saw now that weeks, months must elapse before they would swing forward. And he'd need a handful of money for the preliminaries, too. If the country back of Antelope had only yielded a decent pocket of ore! Perhaps if he pushed on a little farther. He knew a huddle of hills just beyond Mesquite Ridge that he had always thought of as promising.

He decided to start at daybreak. A fever of anxiety suddenly swept him. With the postponement of his triumph came a sickening fear that he had over-estimated the whole circumstance. What if the outcropping he had come upon were just that and nothing more? If veins of gold could swell deceitfully on the surface and peter out, why couldn’t borax do the same? It wasn't likely, leastways he'd never heard of it, but it might! One always thought of borax marshes as the dried beds of inland seas, but he supposed they could be as easily the wash of prehistoric puddles. But it wasn't likely, he repeated again and again.

But even as he reassured himself a more fantastic idea consumed him. Could it be possible that the whole thing was a mental fabrication? Was the first suspicion which