Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/221

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mounted the stairs softly, undressed silently, and went to bed.

The next morning as they seated themselves at the breakfast table, ’Bama’s voice, raised in loud and indignant self-communion, was heard in the kitchen.

“Co’se, he don’t keer! Out dere diggin’ yearthworms to go fishin’ wid an’ lettin’ all ’em cows an’ ca’fs git together! Don’t make no diffe’nce to him if us don’t have no milk foh de cawfee.”

It was much better, ’Bama reasoned, to blame this lack on ’Lijah than be compelled to admit that their only cow, bitten by a snake two days previously, had died.

But the younger stranger, usually so talkative when reference was made to ’Lijah, was strangely silent now. Another day, as the visitors were dressing in their room, the more taciturn one spoke of their business. “I wonder,” he asked, “if the Judge knows anything about the value of the property?”

“Oh, yes!” The younger man’d loquaciousness had returned. “He knows all about it. I was talking to ’Lijah only yesterday”—he made sudden pretence of searching for something in his travelling bag—“and he said the Judge had received several offers for the property, but that he wasn’t eager to sell. Saving it as a sort of nest egg, I was given to understand. In fact, ’Lijah said——

“So, you’ve seen him?” At the first mention of the name, the serious-faced stranger had seemed surprised—almost startled. Then a look of comprehension—of complete and sympathetic understanding—lighted his grave features. And, as he smiled softly, tiny wrinkles creased the corners of his eyes. “What’s ’Lijah like?”

“Just what I expected. Quite a character. Unique. He let me understand how these Southern planters feel about parting with any of their landholdings. From what ’Lijah said, the Judge probably wouldn’t even name a figure if we were to approach him on the matter. And don’t forget that it would be fatal even to think of trying any haggling or ‘jewing down.’ He doesn’t want for money, with this plantation bringing in a steady income and all the servants he needs. That’s not even considering what he gets out of his law practice. Now, I’d suggest——