Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/208

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seat. Did Judge Holmsted know of such a place? They would be in the vicinity for several days.

Masters of Holmacres, since that first one who had erected a mansion in what was at that time a wilderness, had been famed for their hospitality. Nor had they been content with the thought that the neighbouring gentry only should be the recipients of their bounty, for that first one, a little strangely perhaps for one of cavalier forbears, had caused to be carved beneath the broad fire mantel in the central hall this inscription:

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Judge Holmsted was of that breed. “I couldn’t think of letting you gentlemen stay anywhere but here.” He spoke with a soft slurring of r’s and a dropping of final g’s which any attempt to put into print serves only to distort and make grotesque. “You must do me the honour of becoming my guests during your stay.”

The older stranger demurred. “Why . . . that’s awfully kind of you, Judge. But we really couldn’t take advantage of your hosp——

“You’ll be taking no advantage at all, sir.” There was no hint of subservience in the way the Judge said “sir.” It was the courteous form of address toward strangers which had been the custom during his youth. ‘On the contrary, you’ll really be doing me a favour. I’m an old man, gentlemen ”—his smile would have won them had they really been hesitant at accepting his hospitality—“a little lonely at times, and I like company. And visitors, nowadays, are rare.”

The strangers accepted the invitation with suspicious readiness. They hailed the ancient driver of the surrey, who had remained waiting in the driveway and who now brought in their luggage. For just a moment Judge Holmsted seemed ever so slightly embarrassed, a slight flush mantled his cheeks. And then, without stopping to think what it might mean, he created—’Lijah.

“Be seated, gentlemen,” he invited, “while I call someone to bring in your baggage.” He took a step toward the broad doorway. ’Lijah!” he called. There was no answer. He called again, more loudly, ’Lijah!” and still no one answered. Frowning, he walked to the end of the veranda, and peering