Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/144

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



was stealing over him there rose a suspicion of Jim Bledsoe's presence, a premonition that this old partner of his had sought him out deliberately for some sly purpose he could not define. It all came out, finally, at the appointed time for men's revelations—over the inevitable and pungent pipes. It was Jim Bledsoe who opened fire.

"I warn't at 'll sure I'd ketch yer," he broke out, suddenly, without warning.

"How'd yer know I was here?"

"I met a man working up toward Windgate—Bud Starbuck. He said he'd seen yer. . . . But he 'lowed you'd be headin' for Mesquite by this time. . . . But, I dunno, somethin' seemed to tell me you was right here. . . . O'course, I could have waited at camp, but things looked so sort of cleaned-out there—as if you'd bolted fer a spell. . . . I jest couldn't sit there and wait, so I sez to myself: 'If he ain't at that there water hole, I'll follow him up.'"

Hank Wheelock felt the necessity for explanation. "I was aimin' to leave to-day. . . . Somethin' I eat musthave put me off my feed. I jest felt all-fired ornery. . . . Were yer calculatin' to swing over to Mesquite with me?"

Jim Bledsoe shook his head and a little gurgling note of triumph issued from his throat.

"No, siree, not me. 'Twarn't for that reason I trottedafter yer. . . . But I was jest like a fool woman—bustin' to tell yer the news. . . ." He cleared his throat. "Hank Wheelock, you and me don't have to go traipsin' around this here alkali no more, tryin' to hog-tie fortune. I struck somethin' up in that Heron Falls country jest like I said I would. . . . Oh, it ain't nuthin' suddin—I've bin flirting round with it fer nigh on on to six months, now. . . . Yes, siree, fishing ain't the only thing I done up there. . . . I jest laid low and said nuthin’, no ing it all up on the sly. . . . Well, I got a man ready to give me a quarter of a million ter hand over my option. . . . O' course, he'll pull out ten times that. . . . But I figgered you and me couldn't spend much more'n he offered before we cashed in." He gave a chuckle. "Leastways, not onless we got a couple of gals to give us a hand."

Hank Wheelock drew viciously on his pipe. A quarter of a million! . . . Old Jim Bledsoe! It was incredible!