Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/277

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Fleece of the Argonauts was obtained through the same manipulations.

It was after one of these profitable finds that, journeying down toward the settlement with his ore, he fell in with other prospectors and heard the new talk of a railroad over which the first transcontinental train was soon to make its triumphal progress. The whole account was so amazing and incredible that Jem Brown determined to see it for himself; laboriously he notched off on a stick the number of days which would ensue before the great event.

Through some error in his checking system he arrived at the nearest railroad town a day late; the epoch-making train had passed, but reliable witnesses testified to having seen it, and led him out to look at the shining rails. Frowning, he pondered over the advisability of lingering about until the performance should be repeated, and decided in favour of it.

He was influenced in his decision by the presence of a small circus operating, for a week, in a cleared field at the town’s edge, and by the discovery that among the chief exhibits was a frowsy camel, bearing upon its side the brand of the United States, counterbranded by a subsequent purchaser. But by no stretch of imagination could he connect the swarthy Mexican who rode the camel with the tall and blond young Texan of the cavalcade of his early memories; nor could his close observation of the circus folk off duty reveal any woman who might be his mother. This possibility being dismissed, he went conscientiously through the attractions offered, commencing with the tent performances and working slowly down to the last of the side-shows. Gravely he inspected the cherry-coloured horse, the laughing duck, the cow with four hind legs, the cat with three tails, the bearded lady; but through two afternoons it was the armless woman with the trained feet who completely fascinated him; breathlessly he watched her through the achievement of threading a needle and darning a sock, writing her name and the name of the town and State, fanning herself. Then, taking up a small saw, she commenced with some effort to demolish a plank. It was a most arduous procedure. Jem Brown, worriedly observing the exertion expended, forgot his shyness and offered advice:

“Ma’am, if you’d get that saw filed—if you’d just only get that saw filed——