Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/143

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skips about like grasshoppers. . . . That borax has bin there nigh on to twenty years—jest waiting fer another fool wind to” uncover it. . .:. And I’m willing to bet if I was to load that up again, it wouldn’t be ten pounds lighter —no siree, not ten pounds!”

Could any tale have been more commonplace, more ridiculous, more extravagant, all in one breath? It was so obvious and simple, once it was told. . . . Why, Hank Wheelock didn’t have to so much as look again to realize how shallow and artificial and altogether unconvincing of promise was this little glistening patch of crystal winking its thousand eyes mockingly in the sunlight. . . . What was Jim Bledsoe doing up by Heron Falls?—gentle, kindly, simple Jim Bledsoe. . . . If he might only wake to-morrow to the sizzling of bacon in the pan and the sweetish smell of trout browning to a turn! .

He lay all the next day in the imperfect shadow of the ledge of rock ‘watching the buzzards circling overhead. At intervals he ministered to the thirsty needs of his pack animal with patient scooping of moisture from the water hole, but for himself, he was content to drowse in a feverish retrospection. Nightfall . . . another day … a procession of sunsets and dawns. . . . He was tired—that was it—all-fired tired! To-morrow he would start in the direction of Mesquite Ridge, but not to-day! . . . Again and again he dulled the faint urge within him with this promise, and as often let it be strangled slowly by inaction. Overhead the buzzards grew into a black and menacing cloud. . . Well, they screened the sun, anyway, he would mutter, closing his eyes. The pack animal brayed pitifully! What did it matter? . . . He would start to-morrow! And thus one day merged into another without circumstance or change or human visitation, until in the faint flush of a wind-blown dawn he saw the figure of old Jim Bledsoe drifting forward in a gilded haze.

Jim Bledsoe’s bacon and coffee had never tasted so good. They were like a miraculous sacrament that could revive the spirit as well as the body. With every gulp of muddy coffee, Hank Wheelock could feel the sense of proportion and reality return. But above the physical content which