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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
الصفحة رقم: 6

future a practical thought or two.

In the "lounging room" were a long plain board writing-table, ten yellow kitchen chairs. Hiram took a seat by a window overlooking Kearny Street.

He could not plan, he found, for his ideas of seeking employment were of the vaguest; he did not know where to look for it, nor what duties he should state that he could perform. Dreaming of it up there in Mendocino County, climbing up in the world from the bottom rung had seemed so easy.

He began feeling a little lonesome. He had resolved to brave the fascinating eyes of the girl of the restaurant again, and perhaps speak to her if occasion offered, when the door opened and three men came into the lounging room.

Two of them scraped chairs to the table and from a drawer took a dirty pack of cards and a homemade cribbage board, with headless matches for markers. The third took from his pocket a folded newspaper and sat down at the window opposite Hiram. He at once began reading, and seemed not to be a companion of the other two. Hiram took note that he perused the want-ad sheets.

Hiram studied the two at cards. He resolved that he did not like their unkempt looks, so turned his attention to the man with the paper.

In dress this man was in a class with the other two, though perhaps a little better groomed. But a careful observer would have taken note of certain finer characteristics in the face. It was the face of a man in the thirties, robust and good-natured, with bushy brows, slate-blue eyes, and a nose that would have been termed Grecian if it had not been for a semiconical twist to the left. He was of stalky build, carefully shaved that morning, and wore a dingy turndown collar. His shoes, though scuffed with wear, were polished.

In the midst of this scrutiny the man suddenly lowered the paper and leveled his eyes at Hiram. The look almost said "What do you want?" in a disinterested though not antagonistic way. Hiram was caught unawares. He felt the question and had answered it, to cover his embarrassment, before he knew the words were coming.

"D'ye find any jobs in the paper?"

The two at cards looked quickly at Hiram and shrugged, and the game went on in silence, as before.

"What d'ye follow?" asked the man with the twisted nose in a sort of rollicking voice by no means unpleasant.

"D'ye mean what c'n I do?"

The man with the paper nodded.

Hiram scraped his chair a foot closer. "Why, I don't exactly know. I'm willin' to do anything—that is, try."

The slate-blue eyes quizzically studied Hiram a little longer, then settled on the paper once more.

A few moments they scanned the column. Then:

"Maybe some o' these'll look attractive ol'-timer. 'Wanted three bushelmen; one coat-maker; first-class pants operator; shoe shiner; two farm carpenters, Arizona, four dollars a day, fare refunded; two carpenters, city, five dollars a day; one hundred muckers, New Mexico, two-fifty day; one trammer, three-fifty day; one hundred laborers, New Mexico, three dollars day; porter in bakery, city, must be sober; boy, sixteen years old, make himself generally useful in pickle plant; two jerkline drivers—must be good, southern California; cooks, waiters, teamsters, muckers galore. Call and see us. Morgan & Stroud, Four-hundred-and-fifteen Clay Street.'"

He lowered the paper and once more fixed the slate-blue eyes on Hiram. "There you are, ol'-timer—pick yer road to wealth and prominence."

His smile brought Hiram's chair closer.

"How d'ye get any o' these jobs?" he asked.

"Part with two dollars to Morgan & Stroud for the address o' the advertiser, then beat the other fella to it," was the reply.

"But they wanted a hundred muckers, you read."

"Oh, that's different. They ship you out for two dollars to where the job is. The contractor deducts your fare from your first month's pay and refunds it to the railroad company, or sticks it in his pocket if he's wise. Le's see—where they shippin'?" He glanced at the column again. "N' Mexico, eh? Yes, they'll ship you down there for two dollars, and you c'n go to work and grow up with the country. C'n you drive a team?"

"Sure," said Hiram. "I c'n drive eight or ten, or even sixteen jerkline, too. You read something about jerkline skinners."

"Then I'd go as a jerkline skinner at—what is it?—fifty-five and found. Found means board, you know."

"And you're sure they'll send me down to southern California for two dollars and gi' me a job drivin' mules?"

"They'll be tickled to death to do it. Where you from?"

Hiram heaved a sigh. "Mendocino County," he replied.

"Hittin' the trail for the first time, eh?"

The questioner evidently knew it, so Hiram did not reply.

"M'm-m! Fine big country—Mendocino. You oughta stayed there. That country'll go to work and come out with a loud report some day."

"You've been there?" asked Hiram eagerly.

"Been everywhere."

"What do you follow?" Hiram used the new expression almost unconsciously.

"I'm a promoter and capitalist."

"A promoter and capitalist," Hiram repeated vaguely.

"Yep. At present, though, I ain't workin' at the capitalist end. But I'm always a promoter."

Hiram was growing uncomfortable. He had been warming toward this genial stranger; now he felt he was being ridiculed. He kept silent and looked out the window.

The other nonchalantly resumed his paper as if the conversation were over.

But Hiram did not wish it to end here. Despite the stranger's fantastic statement, there was that in his bearing which told Hiram he meant what he said, and that, furthermore, it was with him a matter of indifference whether any one believed him or not. He wished the two tramps would leave. He felt that then he could talk to the other man with less reserve.

As he sat there silently thinking, this wish was granted. A third unkempt individual thrust his head in at the door and remarked, "Hey, youse!"

The cribbage players looked up.

In explanation the man in the door held up a quarter between a calloused forefinger and thumb.

A broad grin broke on the face of one of the players as he scraped back his chair and rose. "Cheese, Thumbscrew, where'd youse glom it?" he gasped ecstatically.

"Never mind w'ere I glommed it, Scully," was the retort. "De point is, are youse guys in on helpin' me lick up a growler?"

The other tramp had risen, and spoke for both as he strode toward the door. "Lead us to it, Thumbscrew," he swaggered portentously; "lead us to it, ol'-timer!" And the door slammed behind the three.

Hiram glanced back at the man behind the newspaper. He had not so much as slanted a look toward the door.

Hiram's chance had come. After a silent minute he essayed:

"But I didn't come to the city to leave it right away and go to drivin' mules. I came here to get a start."

The other politely lowered his paper. "What're you doin'—breakin' loose from home to make yer fortune?" he asked.

Hiram nodded and smiled.

The man surveyed him for the first time from head to foot. "Been a farmer up in Mendocino?" he queried.

"Sorta," Hiram admitted. Then in a low voice: "To tell the truth, this is my first time in a city. I got in last night. I've never been out o' Mendocino County but once before."

A few wrinkles of puzzlement came between the other's brows. "How old are you?"

"Twenty-six," was Hiram's meek confession.

The stranger studied, a whimsical smile twisting his lips, a far-away look in the slate-blue eyes. With a little jerk he emerged from reverie and asked:

"And what d'ye expect to take up here in Frisco?"

Hiram scraped his chair still closer. "I don't know," he acknowledged. "To tell the truth, I'm pretty green. I don't know anybody here and don't know where to begin."

"Don't say green," corrected the other. "That's obsolete. Say raw, or that you're a hick, or a come-on. Well, what d'ye want to follow?"

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