Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/279

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PROGRESS

245

Together they returned toward the side-show. “I ain’t met you before. I suppose you come to see the railroad train go past? Where do you live?” inquired Jenny Burke, politely. Above the tray he carried Jem Brown indicated the distant peaks with a motion of his head: “In the mountains——”

“Do you now? . . . Way off there! . . . Ain’t it lonely?”

“Not so lonely as the towns. An’ the air’s clear an’ clean an’ smells sweet of pine-trees. I’d die—if I had to live down here.”

She sobered. ‘I'd like the smell of pines an’ the clear air, too. I don’t sleep nights for worryin’ over what’s to become of me when I can’t work no more. Mis’ Flynn can’t feed her own fam’ly. . . . Say, what happens to girls that ain’t got no money, nor folks, when they lose their jobs?” She stopped to wipe her eyes. But when they reached the side-show tent her gaiety had returned; briskly she approached the armless lady. “Gee! She ain’t got halfway through that plank yet!” cried Jenny Burke, and interrupted herself with another spasm of dreadful coughing.


Jem Brown stayed in the town long enough to see a train go by upon the shining rails, then returned to the hills. But this time he did not go alone, the girl Jenny rode beside him on a pack burro. And this drastic change in his life had come about so simply. Even weary Mrs. Flynn’s conscientious unwillingness to be rid of Jenny “unless it was all right” was overcome by Jem’s readiness to be married by Father Collins.

‘‘No’m, I ain’t got no other wife anywhere. An’ I ain’t marryin’ Jenny to get a wife. Once, when I was a kid, I got left in the lurch, an’ some folks looked out for me. I’m handin’ it on to her. She’s too sick to work, an’ I’m a-figurin’ I can make her comfort’ble in one of them cabins the Guayule outfit abandoned when their lode petered out. . . . It’s a real pretty place—high up, with a good spring near. I’ve got money enough to buy all the bacon an’ coffee an’ stuff she wants. . . . Ma’am? ... Yesm. .. . I don’t mind gettin’ married—even if it don’t meas nothin’ to me. Ma’am? . . . Well, you see, I can make more money’n I can use, an’ Jenny can’t make enough to get on with. Seems like—if I expect to have luck—it’s only square for me to go shares with her.”