Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/272

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From Scribner’s

EACH of the epochal changes in Jem Brown’s life coincided with a milestone on the road of progress. The first came on that day when, with the rest of the settlers in a southwestern hamlet, he went out to view the arrival of the United States Government’s camel herd—advocated and sponsored by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to overcome the difficulties in the transportation of war materials to isolated military posts on the Western plains.

Jem was so small that he did not scorn the support offered by his mother’s draggled calico skirt, as he stumbled along beside her over the deeply rutted road to the edge of the town. As always, his mother paid no attention to his breathless endeavour to match her headlong speed. Meg Brown was generally alluded to by the men of the settlement with the lenient adjective of flighty; the women were not so tolerant.

Commented storekeeper Smith to his wife: "Quit pickin' on Meg, Sallie! She can’t help it that she ain't bright!"

"She's bright enough to get along without doin' enough real work to keep her blood circulatin'," replied his wife, grimly—and spoke the truth. Mrs. Brown’s methods of graining a livelihood were as vague as her explanations concerning her former habitation, her widowed state, and Jem's paternity.

"She can't remember her own stories," Mrs. Smith had asserted more than once when her husband attempted to laugh away Meg Brown’s erratic behaviour.

"Well, I reckon Jem's pa must a-been a pretty good sort, 'cause Jem had to take after somebody—an’ he’s too steady to favour his ma. Have you ever noticed how crazy that little kid is about mountains?"