Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/274

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“You’re smart, ain’t you?” His tone was resentful. “These is the pick of the camel crop! That big feller there was a present to the United States from the King of Tunis—and kings don’t give away no second-handed camels!”

Meg was properly impressed. “I never seen none before. I don’t know a thing about ’em,” she apologized.

“Your talk showed that! I guess you’re like the Turk camel doctor in Tunis that tried to come along with the herd; he aimed to cure colds with cheese, an’ swelled legs with tea an’ gunpowder; if they didn’t get better then, he tickled their noses with chameelyuns’ tails,” he commented, loftily, then unbent: “A sailor who came over on the ship with ’em did tell me that them heathens in Tunis worked off two camels that had the itch, on us.”

“For the land’s sake! . . . How can you tell the itchin’ ones? They all look so kinda fretted an’ mussed up!”

He stiffened again. ‘The partic’lar reason is, that neither of ’em was brought home; soon’s they found out what was their complaint they sold ’em to a Turk butcher who’s cust’mers wasn’t int’rested in peddygrees.” He paused to glance down at the fascinated Jem. “Say, young feller, how’d you like for me to lift you up on one of the camels?” Then, as the little boy drew back, the camel man addressed the storekeeper’s wife: ‘Your kid’s shy, ma’am.”

Meg Brown had no intention of relinquishing any advantage she might gain with the masterful stranger: “He ain’t hers. He’s mine!”

“Well, bein’ shy, he sure don’t favour you!” commented the Texan, and turned away to give some directions concerning the care of the camels for the night.

Having looked their fill, the people began to disperse. Meg Brown stayed on. The man in charge had attracted her vagrant interest; she hung about him laughing and talking. And since the youthful tinge of abundant health was in her colouring, the gleam of bronze in her heavy shining hair, her evident preference for the stranger’s society found response.

Late that evening, half aroused from deep sleep, small Jem heard the voice of the man in charge raised in argument with: his mother: “You say that you don’t like it here, that the women is uppish with you—why d’you stay? . . . I always say: when you only have one life to live, have a good