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قراءة كتاب The She Boss: A Western Story

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‏اللغة: English
The She Boss: A Western Story

The She Boss: A Western Story

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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mad ner takin' it that a way.

"Now, Hiram, listen to me: I've known ye sence ye was knee-high to a duck, ain't I? Yer paw an' me was thicker ner molasses. Yer paw would 'a' made a brilliant man, Hiram, if he'd 'a' had th' chanct. You've inherited yer paw's brains.

"When ye was a kid ye was a little devil, I'll admit. Still, givin' myself credit fer a set o' brains a leetle above th' average o' Bear Valley, I made allowances. Ye was mean because yer head was full o' ideas; an' in Bear Valley they's so blamed little to use them ideas on that ye jest naturally had to turn to meanness. Ye wasn't really bad; ye was jest alive. All yer life ye been hankerin' fer sumpin that Bear Valley couldn't give, but ye didn't even know what 'twas ye was hankerin' fer. How could ye? A man's gotta taste olives before he c'n tell if he likes 'em, ain't he? Yer paw taught ye to read." Uncle Sebastian glanced once more, half pityingly, half resentfully, at the backless magazines. "Readin's put notions into yer head an' set ye to hankerin'.

"Then as ye grew up th' Valley folks begun to shun ye, didn't they?" he continued. "They called ye queer. Then when yer paw died they dropped ye altogether. It hurt ye, an' ye jest drew aloof an' went to shakes.

"D'ye know, Hiram, sometimes I find myself not blamin' ye like I oughta. They called ye no good before ye really was so, an' practically driv ye to it. Then ye was too proud to brace up an' give 'em th' satisfaction o' thinkin' their treatment o' ye had made ye turn over a new leaf. If they'd gone on treatin' ye decent ye'd likely come out all right o' yer own hook. Hiram, pride's put a heap o' men in th' penitentiary. Pride's stubborn, Hiram. But layin' aside th' root o' th' trouble, an' lookin' at th' matter through their eyes, it's really a shame th' way yer paw's place has gone to ruin—th' way you've gone th' same route. I'd druther see ye plumb bad ern so all-fired no-good all round. Ye had jobs a number o' times drivin' eight an' ten on jerkline, freightin' tanbark from Longport. Ye're a good jerkline skinner, Hiram—no better in the country—but ye won't stick no more'n a month or two outa each year.

"But I'm makin' allowances fer ye—I always have—I'm th' only one that ever has. I been watchin' an' waitin' fer ye to right yerself an' get at sumpin; but this mornin', down to th' store, it come over me that ye'll never do it in Bear Valley.

"Consequently, Hiram," Uncle Sebastian resumed, "ye've gotta move."

Hiram glanced at him with wide-opened eyes. "Move! Where to?"

"Out into th' world, Hiram, to strike yer gait. Ye gotta hit th' hard places an' git experience. Ye gotta taste olives to see if ye c'n stummick 'em. Ye'll get an awful batterin'-up, I reckon, but ye'll likely learn if they's anything in ye. At first ye'll probably go to th' bad an' get a heap worse ern ye was in Bear Valley. That's neither here ner there. Th' point is, if they's a gait in ye ye'll eventually strike it. If not—well, then, what's th' difference? I'm goin' to pay up fer ye down to th' store an' give ye enough to land ye in Frisco. Then th' good Lord an' what He put into that head o' yers must look after ye. I'm gonta foreclose on ye, Hiram."

Hiram was not looking at Uncle Sebastian, but the old man saw his slight start and the red creep down his columnar neck as the last sentence came out. One great toe protruded from the upper of one of Hiram's shoes. Uncle Sebastian saw it twitching.

"You're foreclosin' on me?" The words came slowly and with a hollow gulp.

Uncle Sebastian's lips went straight and hard. "Unless ye'll deed th' place to me, Hiram."

Another pause, while the low wind whined in the treetops and Ripley Creek went gurgling and sucking through the latticed trunks in the pile of drift.

"What did you tell me when I gave the mortgage, Uncle Sebastian?"

The reproach in Hiram's voice did not move the arbiter. "I know what I told ye, Hiram. I told ye, ye needn't worry—that I wouldn't foreclose—that I wasn't speculatin' when I lent th' money on th' place. Jest th' same, Hiram, I'm foreclosin' on ye."

Uncle Sebastian eyed the young man keenly. The first shock past, Hiram seemed now to be turning the matter over with just deliberation.

"I reckon I know what you're up to, Uncle Sebastian," he said at last. "We've talked the matter over too many times for me to misconstrue your motives. You're thinkin' that I'll amount to somethin' if I get away from here."

"I reckon ye've said it, Hiram." Uncle Sebastian voiced this with great relief.

"And you're foreclosin' on me to force me to go."

"Eggzackly, Hiram. I'm proud that ye interpret my motive."

Hiram was silent another long minute. Then, with a hollow laugh: "I reckon you'll be tolerably disappointed, Uncle Sebastian. There was a time when I'd 'a' looked forward to leavin' Mendocino. I've had hankerin's, and I've got 'em yet—but I'm scared. I've never been outa the country but once. What c'n I do away from here? What d'ye expect of me, anyway?"

"Ye c'n certainly do as much out o' here as ye're doin' here, Hiram."

"I don't know about that. It don't take much to live here. I've got about all I want, I reckon. If I had more books to read I'd be pretty near content. There was a time, as I said, when it was different; but now I don't reckon I care. But what particular thing d'ye expect me to excel in, Uncle Sebastian?"

"Excel's a tol'able big word, Hiram. I can't tell ye any more. Ye've wanted to be a poet, an' ye've wanted to be an officer in th' army, an' this an' that an' th' other—ye've wanted to be pretty near everythin' ye read about last. When ye git in touch with these things, Hiram, ye may be able to choose—though they's a heap o' 'em ain't that's in constant touch. I know ye've got imagination. I know it's wasted here in th' backwoods; an' I know ye gotta git."

Uncle Sebastian had risen to emphasize this ultimatum. Now, standing and looking down, he finished:

"Whether ye'll bless me or curse me remains to be seen."

Hiram made no reply—he did not even look up.

"So be down to Wharton Bixler's by stage time to-morrow, Hiram, an' be ready to take th' stage to Brown's Corner. I'll go with ye that far, an' ye c'n deed me th' prop'ty before a notary, so's I won't be obliged to foreclose. Then I'll come back an' pay yer bill at Bixler's, an' ye'll have one hundred dollars to take ye down to Frisco. Will ye be at th' store at half past nine?"

A wait, then a short nod.

Uncle Sebastian half turned, paused, cleared his throat, and for the first time lost his high-handed control of the situation.

"Hiram," he said in a lower tone, "I reckon I'm a fool, but I hope ye ain't holdin' anything agin' me. So help me, boy, I believe I'm doin' ye a turn. Do—d'ye believe it or not?"

"Wait'll to-morrow, Uncle Sebastian," came Hiram's pleading voice. "Le'me think it over all to-night. You've plumb knocked the props from under me."

Without another word, Uncle Sebastian climbed up the bank and strode off through the huckleberries.




CHAPTER II

OUT OF THE WOODS

For over an hour Hiram Hooker lay perfectly still at the creekside. His wide-open eyes stared dreamily into the water. His mind was stunned by the present situation. Feverishly and against his will his thoughts went hurrying back over the years which had led up to this momentous climax.

A woman moved frequently across the picture—a bent, tired, work-warped woman—his mother. The pitiable leanness of the life of Hiram's mother had been appalling. One word stood for the tenor of her days from sun to sun—nothing. She had never seen a piano or a typewriter, or even a washing machine. Silent, unmurmuring, she had given her life for nothing and gone.

Swiftly came in the picture the likeness of Hiram's father—tall, bewhiskered, strong as an ox, soft-voiced, and

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