Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/214

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as he extended a cigar case. “Take one of these. So, he borrows’ your cigars, does he? I’ve simply got to see him."

The strangers spoke of their business in the vicinity. The timber which they wished to inspect lay some miles away and, although their actual cruising of it would be done on foot, they would need some kind of conveyance to take them to their starting point. They supposed an automobile could be obtained in Wynnesborough?

Guests beneath Holmacres’ roof had never been compelled to hire conveyances. It would have been unthinkable. The Judge explained that the swamp roads were in such condition that an automobile would be impracticable. He had never bought a car himself for this reason. His guests must use one of the numerous horses about the place. He would have ’Lijah hitch one of them to the buggy. It would be the very thing for their trips.

When one of them, giving as an excuse their long railroad journey, suggested retiring, Judge Holmsted, first ascertaining that ’Lijah was nowhere to be found, led them up the broad, winding stairway to their room. He lighted the kerosene lamp. Then, carelessly turning back the bed covering, he stopped in sudden horror. There was only one sheet on the bed!

He turned, his face crimsoning, to his guests They had seen. ‘That trifling, worthless——-” he began, and stopped. “It’s "Lijah—of course, gentlemen—as usual,”’ he said, helplessly. ‘‘Come with me.”

He led them to another room—his own—which for more than forty years no one save himself had occupied. This, he knew, would be in readiness. It always was, for he was fastidious about certain things, among them fresh bed linen. ’Bama attended to that.

“Just leave your shoes outside the door, gentlemen,” he said in parting. ‘“’Lijah will polish them.”

He found ’Bama in the kitchen. Her answer to his question about the sheets brought home to him dishearteningly the scarcity of household linen.

In the library he picked up the latest issue of the Wynnesborough Clarion, a weekly newspaper published in the county seat, but he could not fasten his thoughts on the printed page.