Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/145

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But more incredible still was the simplicity of including a partner who had so unceremoniously cut adrift from him. Hank had no words of gratitude to meet such a situation, so instead he found himself saying, with almost a sneer:

“I don’t see where I come in, now!

“Say, yer don’t think fer one moment, Hank Wheelock, I'd hold out on yer jest because yer kicked over the traces once in forty years? I'll allow I was sore—at furst! But, pshaw, it ain’t as if you and me was strangers. . . Besides, I know what you'd ha’ done if you’d bin in my place!"

A flush spread over Hank Wheelock’s face: the sort of flush that used to rise when as a boy his mother had imputed undeserved virtues to him. A sudden and secret shame overwhelmed him, and the bitter truth rose perversely to his lips.

“Oh, yer do, do yer!” he sneered. “Well, let me tell yer one thing, yer wrong! . . . If you’d ditched me, Jim Bledsoe, I’d ha’ let yer starve—that’s what I’d ha’ done!

He stopped, amazed at the lengths to which his self-contempt had swung him. In the stillness that followed he had a sense that he was hanging upon Jim Bledsoe’s reply with drowning desperation.

Jim Bledsoe shook his head. ‘Yer don’t have to tell me, Hank Wheelock—I know what I’m talking about!”

For a moment the feeling of relief which swept him was almost painful. It wasn’t any use telling Jim Bledsoe the truth. Why bother, then? What folks didn’t know wouldn’t sicken them. He might just as well share in the prospects. A quarter of a million! At last he could take it easy!

But this gust of satisfaction passed swiftly and left him as chilled as when he had stood, with his finger on the trigger of his gun, watching Starbuck bending over the fire. . . No, it couldn’t be done: it wasn’t sporting! He’d been a gambler all his life and he’d made mistakes, but he’d never cheated. He couldn’t horn in on a game he’d dropped out of; he couldn’t keep on playing when he knew that there had been a misdeal. A passed hand was a passed hand. And a dissolved partnership was dissolved: there wasn’t nothing else to it. Besides, a man had his pride. He wasn’t no