قراءة كتاب McClure's Magazine, Vol. 31, No. 1, May 1908

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‏اللغة: English
McClure's Magazine, Vol. 31, No. 1, May 1908

McClure's Magazine, Vol. 31, No. 1, May 1908

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 4

knee-deep in the river-sedge.

"Why, hello, hossy!" whispered Cassidy, with soft surprise. "Why, say! I know yuh!"

A full, warm wind began to sough through the pines on the hillside. He could hear it blowing, blowing unendingly, from across the hills. His ears rang with the whirring sound, as it came singing along with the vox humana chords of a great 'cello, streaming down from the heights, gentle-fingered, but wondrously vast-bodied—booming along with half a world behind it. Fair in the face it smote him with its resinous breath, and he felt his lips parting to inhale its fiery tonic—felt, as he used to feel, the magic glow tingling in his veins again and brightening his eyes with the pure pagan glory of his living.

And then, very sadly indeed for Cassidy, and in much the same way that whisky and he had let it all slip through their fingers long ago, the sound of the brook stilled. The valley, the meadows, the ranch, and the kind, warm wind faded, one by one. In their stead came the creak and shock of a belated wagon-train pulling into camp. He heard the panting of laboring horses. He caught the salt reek of sweaty harness. He heard the drivers curse querulously as they jammed down the brake-levers, tossed the reins away, and clambered stiffly down.

Cassidy turned a strained, hard face on the boy. "I reckon not," he said sadly, grimly. "I ain't a-goin' home. Nope; I ain't a-goin' no place that's good. Yuh kin always be sure of that, kid."

"Oh, now, that's all right. Don't get sore," soothed the boy. "That's all right, Cassidy."

"No, it ain't!" roared Cassidy, angry with the long, hot days and stifling nights, angry with the work and the scanty pay, angry most of all with himself. "No, it ain't all right!"



As a previously concealed resolve crystallized at last somewhere in his brain, his voice rasped up a whole octave.

"Nothin's all right, pardner!" he yelled. "Yuh hear me? Yuh know what I'm goin' tuh do?" He waved the time-check defiantly above his head and let go one last howl of sardonic self-derision:

"I'm goin' down tuh the Bucket of Blood tuh get drunk!"

The desert town of Ochre, in its more salient points, was not unlike a desert flower, although its makers were far from desiring it to blush unseen. Yesterday it had slept unborn in a nook of the sand-hills, the abiding-place of cat's-claw, mesquit, and flickering lizards.

To-day it burst, with an almost tropic vigor, into riotous growth. Flamboyant youth, calculating middle age, doddering senility, all these were there, all treading on one another's heels, to reap and be reaped. To-day a scene of marvelous activity, a maelstrom of bustling commissariat and fretting supply-trains, cut by never-ending counter-currents of hoboes to and from the front, to-morrow it would simmer down into the desuetude of a siding. Thus is vanity repaid.

Although Cassidy had begun at the "Bucket," he soon discovered that it possessed no phonograph, and, possessing a craving for music, he had removed himself and the remains of the pink check to where an aged instrument in "Red Eye Mike's" guttered forth a doubtful plea for one "Bill Bailey" to come home.

Here he had remained for five fateful, forgetting days. What Mike and Mike's friends did to him in that space of time cannot be dwelt upon. Suffice it to say that on the morning of the sixth day the bleary semblance of a man who had slept all night in the sand, alongside of a saloon, awoke to the daylight and a hell of pain.

By dint of soul-racking exertions it managed to roll to its hands and knees. Then, by slow stages, it pulled itself together, and after several unsuccessful attempts, tottering, stood on its feet. Tents, horses, sky, desert, and sun revolved in a bewildering kaleidoscope before his eyes. In the vastness of his skull a point of pain darted agonizingly back and forth. In his mouth was a taste like unto nothing known on this earth or in either bourn.

"I got money yet," he mumbled dazedly to himself, as was his conversational wont. "Say! I'm tellin' yuh, I got money yet!" Fumbling, he searched his pockets, but quite to no avail. Sadder yet, a repetition of the search, even to turning his clothes inside out and then looking anxiously on the sand, produced nothing. With a puzzled look on his haggard face, he stumbled into Mike's saloon.

Not at all disconcerted by the bedraggled form that leaned on his bar and mouthed disconnectedly, the worthy keeper of the hostel proceeded to produce a sheet of paper from the till.

"I don't savvy what you're talking about at all," he remarked ingenuously; "but seein' as you've been spendin' a few bucks amongst your friends here, I'll tell you how you stand."

"How do I stand?" asked Cassidy thickly.

Mike laughed in his face. "You don't stand, pardner. You're all in."

A moment necessarily had to be allowed Cassidy to fathom this catastrophe. When the agony had come and passed, he was heard to sigh heavily and remark: "Well, I reckon it'll be the old job again. I got the outfit yet."

"Have you, indeed?" mocked Mike, well up to his lay. "I'm glad to have you mention it. See here, pardner." He slapped the sheet of paper flat on the bar, under Cassidy's astonished eyes. "Do you figure this is your name at the bottom, or don't you?" he demanded in peremptory tones.

Cassidy frowned and regarded the paper. Then, as the words swam and blurred together in one long, discouraging line, he weakly gave it up.

"Wot's it say, Mike?" he asked feebly.

"This here paper says," responded the other, with the cold, forceful air of one well within his rights, "that last night you sold me your teams and your outfit—fer a consideration. Of course, now, I ain't sayin' just what you done with the consideration I give you. Mebbe you spent it like a gent fer booze, mebbe you was foolish and went to some strong-arm shack and got rolled. I dunno; I can't say. All I know is that you got your money and I got the outfit. Savvy?"

Cassidy's face took on a queer, pasty white. His hands clawed ineffectively at the bar.

"Sold you my outfit?" he quavered, with an awful break in his voice. "Sold it, Mike? Why, how do you figure that?"

"Is that your name?" barked Mike in answer. He thrust the paper out at arm's length and shook it under Cassidy's nose with astonishing ferocity. "Just you say one little short word, friend. Is that your name, or isn't it?"

Cassidy wavered. It was unquestionably his name; whether he had written it there or not was yet to be decided.

If psychological moments come to the Cassidys, this one felt such a thing near him. Now was the time for him to leap in the air and pound wrathfully upon the bar. Now was the instant for him to rush into the open and call vociferously on his friends. Now was the fraction of a second left for him to reach out his hard knuckles and pin Mike to the wall and tear the paper from his hands. But instead, and with a queer feeling of aloofness from it all, much as if he were the helpless spectator of activities proceeding in some fantastic dream, he felt the moment thrilling up to him; felt it stand obediently waiting; felt himself slowly gathering in response to its mute query; then felt himself drop helplessly back into a stupid coma of whisky fumes and sodden inertia.

When he came to, Mike had put the paper back in his till and was assiduously cleaning up his bar. It was all over.