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

تنويه: تعرض هنا نبذة من اول ١٠ صفحات فقط من الكتاب الالكتروني، لقراءة الكتاب كاملا اضغط على الزر “اشتر الآن"

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

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

No votes yet
دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 6

breeze! Hike!"

"This yere's a friend of mine, Con," chortled Arkinsaw delightedly, as he scrambled up the steps of the swing train a little later. "He knowed my folks, back home. He's a real kind feller."

Con nodded and surveyed Cassidy's club with vast appreciation. The train underwent a preliminary convulsion and began to pull out.

"Good-by!" yelled Cassidy. "Keep sober, yuh brindle-whiskered old billy-goat!"

Arkinsaw's straggly beard waved in the air as he stuck his head out of a window. His worn, furtive old face was riotous with joy. He was going home—home! Safe and sober, with forty dollars and a clean conscience, more than had been his in many a day.

"You bet I kin!" he bellowed back. "You're all right, Cass!"

Cassidy sniffed and turned again toward the town. "I don't reckon I c'u'd stand these yere chuck-ranches off fer a meal," he soliloquized, "not lookin' the way I am. To-morrow's all right; I'll be workin' then. To-day—" He paused and ran his hand over his forehead. "Well, to-day I reckon it'll be Mike's again—if he'll stand fer it."

And Mike fed him. Cassidy was harmless now. The fact that he asked for food proved it. Mike knew it; Cassidy knew it.

The rear of the saloon was partitioned off into a "Ladies' Room," whose door opened on the alkali flat behind. From thence came the monotonous drone of a murmured conversation. Cassidy tried ineffectually to follow it, but the droning of the voices and the steady hum of the flies around the beer lees on the bar made him sleepy. Outside it was stiflingly hot. Over on the grade the horses were choking and snorting in the dust, while the shambling-gaited men cursed steadily and heaved at the heavy scrapers. The little patch of blue in the doorway was twinkling with heat. Far out on the yellow plain, a grotesque-armed joshua lurched from side to side.

Cassidy felt a hand on his shoulder. "Do you want a drink?" asked Mike. "If you do, go in there and earn it. Talk to her. She's in hard luck."

Cassidy arose obediently, and with not a little timidity ventured to open the door and peer within.

"Come in," said a woman's voice, and Cassidy, not knowing why or why not, went in.

"Put your hat on the coffin and have a chair," said the woman. "I've looked and looked, and I can't see any table in this room."

Cassidy shuffled to a seat in a moment of surprise, and looked guardedly about him. There was, in fact, no table. Indubitably there was a coffin.

"That's my husband," said the woman. "Want to see him?"

"N-n-no, ma'am," Cassidy stammered hastily.

The woman nodded appreciatively. "Few does," she said, "and I guess it wouldn't do yuh much good. What's the matter with yuh? Yuh don't seem right well."

"No, ma'am," Cassidy confessed; "I ain't very well to-day."

The woman smiled a little. There was a pause. "How long have yuh been drinkin'?" she asked in a gentle voice.

"'Bout five days now," said Cassidy, reddening to the tips of his ears and bashfully looking up for the first time.

She was a short, well-made woman, dressed in black from the hem of her shiny skirt to the long plush bonnet-strings dangling loosely in her lap. Her face was a firm, pleasant oval, quite unlined except near the eyes, where there was a multitude of fine wrinkles such as come from squinting across a desert under a desert sun. There was nothing particularly worth noting about her face, except that it had an exceptionally healthy appearance. But her eyes fascinated Cassidy. They were an uncompromising, snapping black. They seemed brimming over with vitality. They were eyes that showed a strength of will behind them only woefully expressible in her woman's voice. They had a compelling quality in their straightforward honesty that forced Cassidy at once to forego the rest of her features. If he ventured to admire the firm white chin and well-kept teeth, the eyes flashed a stern rebuke. If his gaze slipped down to the sleazy, badly fashioned dress, the eyes brought him up with a round turn, slapped him, and reduced him to obedience. If his own flitted curiously to the smooth brown hair, drawn simply, plainly away from her forehead, hers towed him mercilessly back.

"We never drank much down tuh the ranch," she remarked, with the easy deviance of one who understands another's failings and does not wish to pain him by intruding their own immunity; "and now I s'pose there won't be hardly any. I'm Sarah Gentry. Yuh know me? We live down tuh Willow Springs."

Cassidy nodded. He knew Willow Springs and its well-kept ranch. It was the only fertile neck of land that ran down to Ochre Desert, an oasis, a veritable paradise of cottonwoods, willows, dark fields of alfalfa, a capably fenced corral, long lines of beehives, and apple-and olive-trees.

Cassidy grinned feebly. "I know. I stoled a mushmelon there last week."

"I saw yuh," said Sarah Gentry quickly, but without a shadow of malice. "Your head is tuh red. Yuh better stick tuh grapes at night."

Cassidy collapsed.

"My husband died yesterday, from consumption," she went on, with an even, steady flow of talk. "And I came in here tuh get a preacher tuh bury him. I heard the railroad was comin' this way, and I figured Christianity would come clippin' right along behind. But I guess it won't pull in for quite a spell. It just beats me how the devil always gets the head start. He kin always get in somehow, ridin' the rods, or comin' blind baggage; religion sorter tags behind and waits for the chair-car. I don't think much of this town, either. It seems like it was full of nothin' but sand, saloons, beer-bottles, and bums. Are yuh one of 'em?" she inquired, with a sudden thrust that startled Cassidy beyond bounds.

"A bum, ma'am?" gasped Cassidy.

"No; a preacher."

"I reckon not," said Cassidy definitely.

"I didn't know," said the woman vaguely. "I never saw one. Edgard an' me was married by the county clerk down tuh Hackberry, and he tried tuh kiss me, and Edgard shot him. Those would be mighty unfortunate manners for a preacher, I reckon. And now I'm all tired out and don't know what tuh do. That man outside let me sit down in here, and made me bring the coffin right inside,—he carried it in himself,—but he didn't seem tuh know much about preachers, either. If I was a Mormon I s'pose I could divide up the buryin' some, but I'm all alone now."

In a moment of unreflecting insanity Cassidy opened his mouth. "I'll help yuh, ma'am!" he said gallantly.

"All right," responded the widowed woman instantly. "Yuh kin lead."

Cassidy paled perceptibly under his tan.

"Now don't back out," she said, "even if yuh do feel sick. Mebbe some whisky would hearten yuh up." And she went quickly to the door.

Cassidy sat still in his chair, making up his mind—about the whisky.

"There!" said Sarah Gentry, suddenly appearing with a glass which she set on the coffin. "Looks real good, don't it?"

Cassidy's forehead was damp with perspiration. Inside of him something was clamoring frightfully for the stuff in the glass. Something seemed gnawing at his very heart and soul, threatening and pleading, begging and insisting, fashioning devilish excuses, promising great things. Cassidy's hand stretched slowly out for the drink—and came back. There was a silence. The woman fixed her large, strong eyes on his. Again he reached out his hand, and his face was strained and unpleasant to look upon. But again he stopped before he took the glass. A horse had whinnied outside. Cassidy shook his head grimly. Putting his toe against the glass, he deftly kicked it into the corner. "I reckon not," he said.

The woman jumped to her feet.

"Git up!" she said impulsively. "Git up and shake hands. You're a man! And now we'll go out and git tuh buryin'."

A little party of six was assembled