Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/283

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PROGRESS

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All my life, ’til you came, I ain’t never had no one that b’longed to me! I don’t want to start all over again!”

After she was gone, and he had awkwardly smoothed over the small mound under the wind-tilted cypresses, he shouldred his pick and shovel, packed his gold pan, coffee-pot, bread-tin, and frying-pan, and wandered lonesomely forth to face the most arduous winter of his experience.

He had spent the money gained through his last find on small luxuries for Jenny. For the first time since he started upon a career of pocket hunting, his luck did not hold. Perhaps his wistful memories and preoccupations made him dull and careless, but several times during that long winter of roaring winds, deep drifts, and bitter, blue-white cold he staggered back to the cabin on Guayule more dead than alive from hunger and exhaustion. It came to him during those months—when his thoughts turned homesickly toward the little hut—that the first thing he would do when he made another strike would be to buy the Guayule; Jenny’s grave and the small house should be his. But three springs of long rains had followed three difficult winters before his luck turned, and he was able to make a small initial payment against the claims held by the defunct and bankrupt Guayule Mining Company.

“Thinkin’ of kyotein’ into that hill, stranger?” inquired the clerk at the nearest court-house. “Don't do it! That d—— Guayule formation’s volcanic: the lode breaks off sharp when you'd least expect it, an’ commences again three miles farther up, ten miles farther down, or ’round the corner on the next mountain, that’s how the comp’ny sunk all they took out’n more, too. I know all about it, an’ I bought my knowledge through investin’ the legacy my wife got from her gran’pap in the Guayule just before it finally busted. Darned near busted my married life—we don’t joke on that subject at my house to this day! . . . There’s high-grade ore in the Guayule, but it’s prob’ly somewhere where it’d cost billions to get it out!”

Jem denied any such ambition. ‘No kyotein’ into a hill for me! Pocket huntin’s better; keeps you outdoors. ”

The clerk agreed. “Wanderin’s fun—if you haven’t got a fam’ly,”’ he said, and made out the documents.

And then, almost as if fate had awaited his possession of