Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/216

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the buggy ready for their trip. The vehicle itself bore signs of recent washing; the harness, too, one would have said, had been freshly oiled.

“T wonder how we’re going to begin talking business to a man who treats us like members of his family,” the older stranger said as he climbed into the vehicle. “We'll have to use a lot of diplomacy.”

“We'll just remember,” the younger man reminded, “that we’ve come several hundred miles to secure a property at as favourable terms to ourselves as possible. And that business is business—always.”

Judge Holmsted waited only long enough to see his guests off. hing. he walked to one of the fields where a Negro was ploughing.

"Eph,” he said, ‘‘T’ll have to be using the mule for a few days."

"But, Judge, suh!”’ Eph stared, gaping. “Dis grass! It’s plum’ ram-pant since ’em las’ rains, suh. Can’t you see it’s jus’ nachelly chokin’ de cotton to death?”

The Judge could see, plainly enough. The spindling stalks of cotton were struggling weakly through mazes of Johnson and Bermuda grasses. But he saw something else, too; something that Eph, being a recent comer, could not have seen or, seeing, could not have understood: there were guests beneath Judge Holmsted’s roof.

It was the first time that he had ridden a mule since he was a boy. Often then, in a spirit of mischief, he had done so. Things had changed now. Horses . . . dogs . . . servants … gone. Everything! Everything save the will to be a hospitable host.

At the little bank in town he was courteously but firmly refused an additional loan. The bank officials liked the Judge—and sympathized with him—but his previous loans were still outstanding. And it was doubtful—exceedingly doubtful—that his crop that year would pay the cost of raising it.

But that evening, as he sat with his guests on the broad veranda, he was solicitous only as to the result of their investigations. Were they finding the hardwood timber of good quality? And was ‘t in sufficient quantity to justify them in purchasing and logging it? He hoped this might