Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/219

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’LIJAH

185

to discharge him he’d refuse to stay discharged. He’d simply come sneaking back and I'd have to feed him.”

The younger man’s interest in ’Lijah was more intrigued than ever. Returning with his companion earlier than usual one evening, he sought out "Bama. He was eager, he said, to see ’Lijah. But that worthy, as usual, failed to answer even when ’Bama, standing on the kitchen porch, called his name lustily several times.

"When does he sleep?” the stranger asked. "He doesn’t seem to be around the place of nights.”

“Sleep? Him sleep? You neentuh worry “bout ’at, Cap’n. All ’Lijah needs is a sof’ place on de shady side of a tree when dey’s somep’m needs doin’ round de house. He'll ’tend to desleepin’. Dey’s jus’ two things ’Lijah’s good foh: he de sleep-lovin’es’ an’ de catfish-ketchin’es’ nigguh you eveh seed.”

“‘He’s typical all right,” the stranger laughed. “And I must see him—I’ve simply got to see him before I leave.”

Judge Holmsted found himself gradually forming a sneaking fondness for his creation. Maybe it was because he was unconsciously bringing into being an ideal. For ’Lijah was just the shiftless, work-dodging, cigar-pilfering type that the Judge would have loved—the kind that would run rabbits with his bird dogs—provided the Judge could afford the dogs—or slip his pack of fox hounds out on cold autumn nights—if the Judge should ever own a pack—for surreptitious ’coon and ’possum hunting. Yes . . . that would be just like ’Lijah. Indolent, grumbling always, complaining of a mis’ry in his side; absolutely dependent, thoroughly undependable—and utterly likable. In short, he would be perfect. The Judge even caught himself at times murmuring aloud, “That trifling black rascal!”

But such ‘things—oh, well!—they were dreams, visions that an old man was seeing.

As the strangers showed no signs of terminating their visit, ’Bama, with visions of a rapidly depleted larder, began to experience a real concern. With only the Judge and herself to care for, she could have made shift of some sort. Maybe a hint to Judge Holmsted of the real state of affairs might not prove unavailing. So she tried, very diplomatically, one evening at the supper table, to sound a warning.