Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/141

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them fool monuments!” He gave a chuckle. “When I seen them I looked around for a skeleton or two. Sez I to myself: ‘Bud Starbuck, nobody but a tenderfoot done anything that foolish.’”

Hank Wheelock felt his face dyed slowly with a flush midway between anger and confusion. Could it be possible that this man suspected who was responsible for this futile and childish performance? He slapped his thigh ruminatingly, trying to frame a disarming reply.

“No, nuthin’ changed in twenty years,” he heard Starbuck drone on, “excepting them fool monuments and the sand shifting back and forth. . . . Now in the timber country you’d find trees growed bigger, or split by lightning, or mebbe a creek bed widened. But here!” He threw his shoulders upward with a lift of lively disgust.

A strange dryness puckered Hank Wheelock’s lips—something like premonition urged him to complete silence, as if such a course might check the flow of Starbuck’s speech, and yet he found himself saying almost hoarsely:

“How’d yer come to think o’ stopping at all? . Ain’t nuthin’ here so all-fired unusual! . . . Leastways, nuthin’ that would make a man remember that fur back.”

“Wal, mebbe you’d think different if you’d drove a mule team past this water hole twice a week or more for nigh on to a year like I did. . . . Yes, sir, I passed this place more times than I could shake a stick at back in them days when I was hauling borax out o’ Paiute Valley.

Hank Wheelock bent forward suddenly. “Borax!” he echoed faintly.

“Yes siree, borax. . . . He picked up another twig and hurled it this time in the midst of the crystalline pool, upon which Hank Wheelock was gazing with tragic uncertainty. “Yer see that? . . . Would yer like to know something about how it come there? Well, listen ter me, stranger, and when I get through if yer don’t agree that nuthin’ ever changes in this fool country, my name won’t be Bud Starbuck!”

Some time in the night with the rising moon, Hank Wheelock heard the linking of a mess kit swaying rhythmically, and he knew that Starbuck had hit the trail again. He was