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قراءة كتاب The She Boss: A Western Story

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The She Boss: A Western Story

The She Boss: A Western Story

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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pillars of them, wheels of them, stars and squares of them. They all blended into a shower of diamonds and held him spellbound. Then the clang of the street cars, the clatter of hoofs on cobbles, the crunch of wheels, the raucous toots of automobile horns and the purring of the engines, the ceaseless laughing and murmuring of the crowds, the unfamiliar odors all blended with the lights, and Hiram Hooker was breathing life, and knew that it was warm, knew that he loved it, and was unafraid!

At last he sighed and began warily crossing the street from the Ferry Building to Market Street. He had read of country boys in the city. He knew enough not to stand in the street and stare. He wisely kept with a crowd while crossing, and made their experience in braving the dangers of traffic protect him. He reached the other curb in safety and started up the long, broad street.

Hiram Hooker will never forget that night. Not once after leaving the water front did he know his location, and it would have mattered little if he had. He walked on and on untiringly through an entrancing dream. He was alone in a great museum—the other human beings were not fellow spectators, but specimens on exhibition.

The beauty of the women fascinated him. Never in his wildest imaginings had he fancied such forms and faces. The most beautiful girl in Bear Valley bore the face of a gargoyle compared with the soft, creamy faces he saw that night. The flashing, long-lashed eyes, the red lips, the coils on coils of fluffy hair, the swishing silk, unfamiliar furs, sparkling jewels, and the slender French heels were stupefying.

He was growing hungry. He had not eaten a bite since early morning, and now it was eleven o'clock at night. It appalled him to think of entering a restaurant and being confronted by one of those white-skinned, slim-formed divinities he saw flitting from table to table. He did not know what to order nor how to order it. Even the smallest places looked imposing with their myriad lights and fixtures of gilt and white and glittering glass. But he knew he must screw his courage to it.

There seemed to be a restaurant nearly every other door in the locality he was now passing through. Not only that, but many electric letters blazing down the street notified him that he would have no trouble in finding rooms; rooms by the day or week; rooms and board; rooms 15 cents and up; lodging; rooms with or without board; beds 10 cents and up. He was on Kearny Street, he knew, but he did not know where Kearny Street was in relation to the rest of the city.

He strolled along, staring through the windows at the appetizing displays and searching for a restaurant where none of those creamy-skinned beings that caused him so much uneasiness were employed. At last he found one where, it seemed, only smooth-faced men in short black coats and low-cut vests were serving. His abused stomach goaded him to slink through the doorway and seek a table.

Just within the door he paused. The place seemed crowded. He was about to slink out again when a woman's voice said in his ear: "This side, please—all full here."

He turned quickly, with a gulp, to see a slim, black-clad girl, with one of those appalling piles of fluffy hair topping her head, whisking past behind him. Now he noticed that the restaurant was divided in half by a screen which ran the length of the building, and that one side—the side he had seen through the window—was for men, and the other for women. The tables on the men's side were filled. The girl stood beckoning from a table on the women's side. Other waitresses he had not seen before were working here. Hiram could not back out now. His legs trembled as he obeyed the girl's beckoning finger.

He reached the table and stumbled noisily into a seat. The girl, now holding out a menu card, was looking at him curiously, he felt. The blood rushed to his face; he dared not look at her. Fumblingly he took the card and straightway dropped it on the floor.

Together they bent over to regain it. Their bodies touched. Hiram grew sick. She recovered the card and was standing erect when he crawfished up from the floor. He was burning up with shame. Again he took the card, but his glazed eyes could not read a word.

Suddenly he knew that she was speaking.

"I think you'd like a ribber, medium," she was saying, "with French fries and a dish of peas."

Hiram's head nodded without command. He knew she was leaving the table, and something forced his eyes to her. She was turning, but her eyes were looking back into his. In those eyes, big and brown beneath dark, arched brows and long lashes, there was a look that thrilled him to his soul. She was more beautiful than any woman he had seen through all the splendor of the night, and she had flashed to him a spark of kindness in a maelstrom of misery! Was this the girl who had been beckoning him on?

She was coming back. She paused beside him and placed a napkin, silver, bread and butter, and a glass of water before him. He tried to look up, but could not. He felt her close to him as she arranged the things before him.

She was speaking again, low, soothingly.

"Awful crowd to-night. We don't usually put single gentlemen on this side, but I guess you won't mind. Your ribber'll be here in a minute."

She was gone again. He saw her brown hair bobbing toward the kitchen. He watched the swing doors, eager for her return.

They burst open at last and she came forward and placed a big platter before him, on which steamed an enormous rib steak, beside this a dish of French-fried potatoes and a dish of peas.

She glided away once more and did not again come near his table while he ate. He kept his eyes on her throughout the meal, and continued to lower them when he thought her about to look toward him. His "ribber" was good, and he ate the last scrap. Then he paid his bill and hurried out.

Through the window he looked back for her. She was nowhere in sight.

In a miserable hallway on the second floor of a dingy brick building, he obeyed the legend over a button in the wall, which read: "Landlord—push the button." The result was that a squint-eyed man came from a door marked "office" and yawningly asked him his business. Hiram wished a twenty-five-cent room, he said. He was taken to one, which was not a room at all, but a stall—that is, the thin board partitions did not connect with the ceiling by three feet. The bed was a single one, and the sheets had brought the proprietor many a twenty-five-cent piece since coming from the laundry. The additional furnishings of the "room" were six nails driven in the board wall to hold one's clothes. From all over the floor came lusty snores and the mutterings of world-worn men.

With the city smells still in his nostrils, the buzz of city life still in his ears, and the countless lights twinkling in a frame about the white face of a brown-haired, red-lipped girl, he fell asleep from sheer fatigue. But with unaccountable perversity his dreaming mind dwelt not upon the beautiful vision he had come to love in fifteen seconds, but on the whispering firs and twinkling streams of Mendocino, and on a plodding ten-horse jerkline team hauling tanbark over the mountains to the coast.




CHAPTER IV

TWITTER OR TWEET

Hiram Hooker washed in the community lavatory in the hall next morning. Then he sought the squint-eyed landlord and paid a week's room rent in advance, thereby saving fifty cents.

He wished to strike out at once after breakfast to begin justifying Uncle Sebastian's faith in him, but so far he had not laid a plan. He noticed lettering on a door in the hall which dignified what lay beyond as a "lounging room." The door stood ajar, and he saw that the room was empty. He decided to go in and think. A thousand and one wonders awaited his curious eyes, but they must wait. His hundred dollars had dwindled perceptibly; it was time to give his

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