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: 5

Cassidy shifted irresolutely from one foot to the other. A sickening feeling of hollowness within him was crying aloud to be appeased by either food or drink, and his shaking body begged for a place to rest itself into tranquillity; but still for a while he stood there, fighting off these yearnings while he gathered his far-strayed wits. Now and then he weakly attempted to catch the other's eye, but as Mike studiously refused to be caught, Cassidy could only blink owlishly and fumble again with the tangled ends of the skein. Finally, abandoning it all as useless, he turned toward the door, yet arrested his dazed shambling to ask one last question.

"How's that?" Mike responded vaguely over his shoulder. "Still harping on that, are you?"

"Did I really sell you them blacks?" ventured Cassidy quaveringly, controlling his voice only with a tremendous effort. "Reelly, truly—did I sell 'em?"

Mike rolled a cigar over in his mouth, with a complacent lick of his tongue. "That's what," he replied laconically.

Cassidy gulped down something in his throat. He leaned for a moment against the door-jamb; his gaunt, hollow-cheeked face quivered with misery.

"I mean them black wheelers, Mike. Just them two—them wheelers," he pleaded. Hesitating a little, as the other deigned no response, he ventured weakly on:

"I was figurin', now—of course, I don't mean nothin' by it, Mike, only yuh see how a feller c'u'd figger it—that mebbe—mebbe you made some mistake in readin' that paper. Yuh see how it could happen. A feller c'u'd make a mistake in readin', now, c'u'dn't he?" With this flimsy appeal Cassidy played his last and poorest card.

In answer the other snapped some ashes from his sleeve, turned his back, slapped the cash-register shut, and strode masterfully down the room. "Not this time, pardner."

Cassidy stumbled out.

"I've sold them wheelers!" he sobbed under his breath. "Why, it seems like I was just this minute thinkin' I'd get tuh go and water 'em, and rub 'em down a bit. Now it ain't no use thinkin' about it—not any more. It ain't me that's goin' tuh do that. I cain't water 'em. I ain't got rights to even lay my hands on 'em! O-h-h!" he shuddered, and agonizedly pulled taut on every tired, aching muscle. "Yuh oughter be beat up with a club. Yuh oughter get pounded with a rawk. You're a rotten, whisky-soaked bum, that's all yuh are now, and yuh oughter be killed and kicked out in the street!"

Half whining, half crying miserably, he drove himself out of the town, for a mile or more, on the desert, then plodded painfully back again, mauling and beating himself with the bludgeon of his awful self-pity.

At the foot of a fast-rising "grade" he halted wearily and watched the work. It was well on toward noon by this time, and the sun was blazing down through a choking pall of dust that hung in the lifeless air. Men were driving horses to and fro. They were men with weak, deeply lined faces and shambling gaits. They broke into querulous curses and beat their animals savagely on ridiculously small pretexts. They handled their reins with a uniformly betraying awkwardness.

Cassidy sized them up and sniffed contemptuously to himself. He knew. "That's wot you'll be doing to-morrow," he muttered. "Durn your hide, that's all you're good for. That's yuh to-morrow, yuh and the rest of the 'boes."

Not knowing what to do with himself now, he drifted back to the town and sat in the scanty shade of a joshua, prepared to commune further with himself. Looking up after a time, his eyes descried in the distance the figures of two men who were walking toward him.

"I bet that's Con Maguire," he murmured. "Yep—him and that old 'Arkinsaw.' They've got their time-checks, tuh; I kin tell the way they walk. I bet I know wot they're sayin'. Con, he's got a little ranch up tuh Provo, and he's fer makin' right up the line and gettin' that old no-good Arkinsaw to go along and pass up the booze.

"Poor old Arkinsaw!" mused Cassidy shrewdly. "He's worked three months steady for Donovans', drivin' scraper, the poor old slob, and their chuck is rotten. I'll bet he's terrible glad to get back tuh Number One. He's got forty dollars now. I bet he's near crazy. He allers looks that way when he's got forty dollars," said Cassidy.

"Sure I'll go with you, Con," Arkinsaw was saying. "I always meant to go, reelly, truly I did. You ask any of the fellers back to Donovans'. I was allers savin', 'I'm goin' out home when Con Maguire goes'—and, sure enough, here I am. I'll be to the train the same time as you. We'll go home on the same train, Con; sure we will." The old man laughed nervously. His eyes were bright with some strange excitement—but half of it was fear.

"Say, Con," he whispered hoarsely, "I'll be all right. You jest ketch holt of my arm when we go by; I'll be all right then. Say, Con," he guttered, in an agony of fear and desperation, "you hear me? Only git me by that first saloon."

But the approaching twain had been seen by other eyes than Cassidy's. By some odd fortuity, a phonograph broke into wheezy song as the wayfarers swung down the street. Dice began to roll invitingly across the bars, and from a distant spot came the hollow sound of the roulette-ball. Quite by chance, a man appeared in a doorway, holding a glass of beer. He was seen to drain it, just as they passed. Then he noticed them for the first time.

"Come in and cool off, boys," he suggested cordially. "It's all on ice. Good, cold lager, boys!"

Under its mask of dust, Arkinsaw's face worked horribly. He stumbled, loitered along the way to fix his shoe, zigzagged from one side to the other, fumbled at his pack, and finally stopped.

"Say, Con," he rasped feebly. "Oh, Con! Say, I gotter see a feller here. Say!" as his friend looked back at him with disconcerting doubt written on every feature. "Say, Con!—reelly, truly I have!"

"Well, hurry up, then," replied the other, and went on his dogged way.

The instant his back was turned, the old man obliqued crabwise to the side of the road. Fumbling nervously at his roll of bedding, he threw it off and darted for the saloon, running and stumbling in his haste. But at this point a large, gaunt, red-faced man, bearing a club in one hand, appeared from nowhere in particular and fronted him.

"G'wan down the road!" said the red-faced man harshly.

"Why—why, Cass!" Arkinsaw bleated surprisedly. "How you did startle me! Why, where did you come from? Yessir!" and he deftly manoeuvered so as to catch a glimpse of the bar over Cassidy's shoulder. "You surely startled me bad. Excuse me," he murmured absently; "I gotter see a feller——"

"G'wan down the road!"

"No, no, Cass!" the old man begged, hopping frantically on one foot. "Just a minute. It'll only take me a minute, I tell you. I gotter see a feller."

"G'wan down the road!"

"Say, Cass! don't treat a feller that way——"

Arkinsaw retreated. Cassidy and the club advanced. Arkinsaw craftily side-stepped. So did Cassidy. They paused.

Cassidy leaned on his stick and centered the old man's wavering gaze. "Don't lie," he said softly. "If yuh lie tuh me, yuh feather-brained old cockroach, I'll just natch'lly beat your face off! I want yuh tuh go home; just clamp your mind on that, Sam Meeker! If yuh think you're goin' tuh throw your money away over that bar, yuh want tuh separate yourself from the idea mighty quick. I won't stand fer foolishness. Go over there and git your bed!"

By this time the old man had calmed down. He looked the other over with a benevolently crafty eye.

"Why, what you been doing lately, Cass?" he inquired, with an adroit turn of the conversation. "You don't look as if you were real happy."

Cassidy winced. Then he hefted the club suggestively. "I've been doin' things yuh won't do!" he said savagely. "There's your bed over there. Pick it up! Hit the