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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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easy-going. Nothing but kindness had emanated from the father to his wife and child. Foster Hooker, too, had slaved his life away for nothing. The rocky land had claimed him and held him down. They had had enough to eat and to keep them warm—beyond that, nothing. Now he lay with Hiram's mother between the big bull pines on Wild-cat Hill.

There was in Hiram's thoughts no bitterness against his parents. They had been always kind and had given their best to him. The rocky land had held them chained. It offered sustenance, and of the big progressing world beyond they had lived afraid. In the early days they had buried themselves in the big woods to make their fortune. But the fortune was not there, and old age crept on. Old age told them that the world outside had passed beyond them, and they were afraid.

After all, had they given Hiram nothing? In his bitter moments he had thought so, but to-day his thoughts were mellowed. He was on the eve of leaving everything that held memories of them. Had they not given him of themselves a love for the grandeur of these woods which touched no other soul, save Uncle Sebastian's, perhaps, in all the valley? Hiram saw more in a redwood tree than the natives did; saw the beauty of contrast in the open spots in the forest, where the others saw only grazing ground for cattle; saw wonders in the rioting streams without a thought of miners' inches. His father had taught him the love of books, but there had been so few to love. He had taught him to think. Hiram was weird, queer, a "leetle cracked" to the others of Bear Valley. Uncle Sebastian alone had understood him—had sympathized with him and helped him.

Now, though, it was over. He was leaving forever. One hundred dollars! He had never possessed so much in his twenty-six starved years! An exultation seized him which beat throbbingly in his temples and fired his soul with recklessness. He was bound out into the Great Unknown, where the promises of his dreams would be fulfilled. He would do great things, live great adventures, then come back to scoff at them!

He sprang to his feet, collected the backless magazines, and climbed the bank. With long strides he hurried along the bark road which wound round the contour of the hills. An hour later he was trotting down a manzanita slope to his cabin, nestled in the cup of the hills, surrounded by the whispering firs.

Just within he paused and looked about as if seeing the sordidness of his home for the first time. All the way up the hill the exultation of impending departure had thrilled him. It thrilled him still, and a new feeling of contempt of what he saw came over him.

A panther skin hung on the rough, unpainted wall above the black and cheerless fireplace, three sets of antlers surrounding it. Near the fireplace lay an unsightly pile of wood and chips. The doors of the cracked and rusty stove were gaping wide. The remains of his breakfast were on the clothless, homemade table. His rifle, the only thing well kept, stood in a corner.

He passed through into the other room, separated from this by a thin board partition. There, in oval walnut frames, hung the pictures of the two who lay between the big bull pines on Wild-cat Hill. A slight sense of depression seized him. The bed unmade, brought a sparkle of anger to his eyes. He was disgusted with himself, but it did not last. The thought of the adventures that lay beyond and beckoned came uppermost once more. "The girl" beckoned, too.

Yes, there was a girl. Hiram had seen her only in his dreams. She was not like Bear Valley girls. She was large and sturdy and strong, and her hair was of such dark brown as to seem almost black, her eyes dark and large and lustrous. She was a queen among women, this girl of his dreams. About her hung some great mystery, and adventure followed in her footsteps. Out there somewhere beyond Bear Valley she stood beckoning him to come!

He went to bed early, to toss for hours and at last to drop into fretful, torturing dreams. The scream of a panther awoke him once.

He was up before sunrise, cooking his bacon and coffee and frying slices of cold biscuit in the bacon grease.

The east was pink when he left the cabin, carrying the rifle, which he meant to give to Uncle Sebastian. Everything else he left behind. He took a short cut over Wild-cat Hill. On its crest, between the two bull pines, he stopped before two graces.

The red sun was peering through the saddle of Signal Hill. Cold mists rose from the forest. In the air was the breath of the morning. Weirdly the early wind moaned through the needles of the tall bull pines. Up from the cañon came the roaring of Ripley Creek as it raced to the sea.

A lump came in Hiram's throat that he could not down. At his feet lay those who had lived and starved for him through the countless denials of this wilderness. Below him lay the cabin which he had known as home for twenty-six long years. About him stretched the grandeur of this untarnished land. Scalding tears burst from his eyes. Some monstrous ogre had arisen to crush him. They were driving him from his home, from the land of his birth, from the spots he loved! No bitterer period ever came in Hiram's life than when he stood that misty morning and watched the sun rise on the turning point of his career. Blindly he stumbled down Wild-cat Hill and took up the long road to Bixler's store. They were driving him, like Hagar, from all that he held dear, and there was hatred in his heart.




CHAPTER III

SAN FRANCISCO

The train that carried Hiram Hooker to San Francisco was late. Thirty miles from the bay it began making up for lost time. Through the falling dusk it roared toward the metropolis. Slowly the landscape faded. Vineyards and chicken ranches and orchards and rolling hills studded with live oaks gave place to the electric-lighted tentacles of the city. The lights blinked by at Hiram. They helped depress him, for they were a part of the modernity that he feared. Suburbs grew to a continuous stretch of lighted streets and houses. Always those lights blinked on every side. There was witchery in all of it—in the smell of the city close at hand, in the cold salt air from the bay, in the chunk-a-lunk, chunk-a-lunk of the speeding locomotive.

Hiram sat forward on the seat, eager, shrinking, exultant, always straining while he shrank. He tried to plan, but could not. Night closed in, and all that he saw now were the blinking lights that raced astern. Off in the black sky to the southward a rosy light suffused the night—San Francisco.

"Saus-a-lito! Everybody change! Don't forget yer baggage!"

Hiram was swept out with the crowd, swept through the chute to the ferryboat, swept aboard. He followed the crowd forward and stood in the bow. Black as ink the Bay of San Francisco stretched before him. Like fireflies the lights of vessels scurried through the blackness. Beyond the black water blinked the countless eyes of San Francisco, above these the rosy glow which had beckoned since the fall of dusk.

The boat had started before Hiram was aware. Smoothly it slipped along toward the beacons on the other shore. Hiram breathed the keen salt breeze in gulps and looked steadily and curiously at the world that waited for him. Somewhere there, perhaps, the girl of his dreams was beckoning, and begging him not to be afraid. The boat nosed into her slip and the crowd swept him ashore, swept him through the Ferry Building, and, as it went its thousand ways, left him stranded, staring unbelievingly up Market Street.

Ten minutes he stood there. Thousands pressed by him. The laughter and grumblings of life buzzed in his uncomprehending ears. No one noticed him. The continuous clang-clang-clang of the street cars grew to a rhythmic roar. Strange odors filled his nostrils. What held him most was the lights—the myriad lights that blinked away in perspective up Market Street, clusters of them,

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