Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/227

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A RIVER COMBINE—PROFESSIONAL

193

Lordy, but it took nerve for her to come down that coiling old running lake if she didn’t have to! But she wasn’t the kind of a girl anybody asks questions of, free and easy. When she danced she found her skirt too tight, and slipped it off so casual and easy that in trying to run the music right I didn’t really notice she was in knickerbockers till afterward. Course, professional people are thataway. In no time we knowed we’d be teaming it.

We both were tired after supper. I stirred up the soft coal I’d found in a tow barge wreck on a sandbar, opening up the front gates in the fireplace stove I had for a heater. She sat into a low rocking chair, and I kittering across from her in an old armchair I'd picked up in a drift pile. I’d relined my shanty cabin with building paper, but some curling wisps of cold circled around from the north wind so the fire felt mighty comfortable.

“How come hit you’re a shanty boater?” she asked, quick as that.

Course, nobody asks questions like that down the rivers if you ain’t off the bank, or one of them writin’ fellers or a sneakin’ detective. I couldn’t answer first off. A man don’t tell even a pretty girl some things, and I mout say, specially a pretty girl. I knewed, though, I’d tell her when I'd laid tongue to words quiet enough to use.

“Why,” I answered, careless like, after a minute, “I jes’ come down. I jes’ took my fiddle an’ come down——

“No, you didn’t!” She shook her head. “It wa’n’t thataway. You know theory. You’ve taken lessons—real lessons, on the violin. Nobody who hadn’t done that could play river music the way you do. Besides, you talk river talk like you learned it in school.”

’Tain’t no use trying to fool some women. I never met one I could fool. That’s be’n my experience. Perhaps some’rs there’s women I could hoodwink, but they ain’t on old Mississip’!

“Course, I’m from up the bank,” I admitted. “I just tripped away down same’s anybody.”

“Same as anybody!” she nodded. “That’s so—I came because I couldn’t stand bein’ a dancing girl in a hick town! And you?”

“Why—why——” You know how a man don’t talk of