Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/217

This page has been validated.



be the case; he was looking forward with a great deal of pleasure to welcoming them as permanent neighbours.

He proved himself to be a raconteur of rare ability and charm. The grave-faced stranger seemed fascinated by his stories as he spoke of the days when steamboats from Mobile lied the Tombigbee daily. Now there were only one or two ts weekly. But then many were the gay parties that made the round trip. There was always a Negro orchestra on board and stately men and beautiful women, after the dining saloon had been cleared, danced the schottische and the polka until the early hours of morning. More than once, too, a steamer had been forced to pull in to the bank while two young blades went ashore and settled their hot-blooded quarrels according to the code. Judge Holmsted sighed reminiscently. Those had been wonderful days.

The air was soft with the softness of Southern nights. There came to them, as they sat there, the odour of cape jasmine and the fainter but more caressing scent of honeysuckle. A light breeze rustled the leaves of the water oaks, shimmering now by the light of the full moon in a mantle of pure silver dust.

The younger stranger lighted a cigar and leaned back in his chair, sighing restfully. “Two weeks of this,” he said, “and I shouldn’t want to go home. You Southern planters lead an enviable life, Judge ”

“It’s enchanting,” his companion assented.

“We like it, sir—some of us,” the Judge admitted. He spoke with a tinge of regret of former neighbours who, one by one, had been lured away by the cities. Many fine old places had been left to the care of tenants and had speedily gone to ruin. But the Holmsteds, being lovers of the land, had always lived close to it. “Maybe we are more firmly rooted in the soil than some of the others were,” the Judge said.

“It seems to me, Judge,” the grave-faced stranger offered, “that you have a wonderful place here for a stock farm. Aren’t these native grasses—I believe you call them Johnson and Bermuda—good for grazing?”

“Excellent, sir.”

“That’s just what I’d do with this place if I owned it,” the younger stranger broke in. He was more outspoken than