Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/213

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’Bama had cast the die. Judge Holmsted’s creation of ’Lijah had been the result of a sudden—and now inexplicable—impulse; probably, upon reflection, he would have made no further reference to him. But ’Bama had given entity to the myth; with a word or two she had made of it an outstanding personality: a house servant who, by implication at least, took whatsoever liberties he chose.

And suddenly the realization came to the Judge that his creation had been nothing short of inspiration. With the present state of affairs at Holmacres, numberless things were sure to happen which might cause embarrassment to one who sought to fill the rôle of dutiful host; and the lack of a perfect hospitality, in many instances, could be blamed on the erring—though mythical—’Lijah.

“He’s one of the older servants about the place,” the Judge explained casually to his guests. “Does pretty much as he pleases.”

He followed this with a laughing remark about ’Lijah’s fondness for fishing. It was almost impossible to keep a Negro and a river apart when the catfish were biting.

“I’d like very much to see ’Lijah.” It was the younger stranger speaking. “I’ve read so many stories dealing with Southern plantation life—and especially the old family servants—that I’ve often wanted to see one of them. And your man, “Lijah, seems to be typical.”

“Oh, he’ll be about the place—off and on,” the Judge assured, carelessly. “And if you’re interested in types, sir, you’ll probably like ’Lijah.”

Thus for the moment he dismissed ’Lijah. But ’Bama, apparently, was determined not to let the errant one off so easily, for, later, as the Judge and his guests entered the high-ceilinged living room, where portraits of earlier Holmsteds gave greeting from their oval walnut frames, she came to the doorway.

“Judge,” she observed, meaningly, “I don’t s’pect you’ll hahdly find no seegars. I seed ’Lijah sof’-footin’ it round ’at sec’ta’y whilse I was dustin’ ’is mawnin’.”

Mechanically, Judge Holmsted’s eyes sought the old rosewood secretary in one corner of the room, but before he could speak the younger stranger broke in with:

“Oh, that’s all right, Judge.” He was laughing heartily