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The Prodigal Judge   By: (1869-1911)

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THE PRODIGAL JUDGE BY VAUGHAN KESTER

By Vaughan Kester

CHAPTER I. THE BOY AT THE BARONY

The Quintards had not prospered on the barren lands of the pine woods whither they had emigrated to escape the malaria of the low coast, but this no longer mattered, for the last of his name and race, old General Quintard, was dead in the great house his father had built almost a century before and the thin acres of the Barony, where he had made his last stand against age and poverty, were to claim him, now that he had given up the struggle in their midst. The two or three old slaves about the place, stricken with a sense of the futility of the fight their master had made, mourned for him and for themselves, but of his own blood and class none was present.

Shy dwellers from the pine woods, lanky jeans clad men and sunbonneted women, who were gathering for the burial of the famous man of their neighborhood, grouped themselves about the lawn which had long since sunk to the uses of a pasture lot. Singly or by twos and threes they stole up the steps and across the wide porch to the open door. On the right of the long hall another door stood open, and who wished could enter the drawing room, with its splendid green and gold paper, and the wonderful fireplace with the Dutch tiles that graphically depicted the story of Jonah and the whale.

Here the general lay in state. The slaves had dressed their old master in the uniform he had worn as a colonel of the continental line, but the thin shoulders of the wasted figure no longer filled the buff and blue coat. The high bred face, once proud and masterful no doubt, as became the face of a Quintard, spoke of more than age and poverty it was infinitely sorrowful. Yet there was something harsh and unforgiving in the lines death had fixed there, which might have been taken as the visible impress of that mystery, the bitterness of which had misshaped the dead man's nature; but the resolute lips had closed for ever on their secret, and the broken spirit had gone perhaps to learn how poor a thing its pride had been.

Though he had lived continuously at the Barony for almost a quarter of a century, there was none among his neighbors who could say he had looked on that thin, aquiline face in all that time. Yet they had known much of him, for the gossip of the slaves, who had been his only friends in those years he had chosen to deny himself to other friends, had gone far and wide over the county.

That notable man of business, Jonathan Crenshaw and this superiority was especially evident when the business chanced to be his own was closeted in the library with a stranger to whom rumor fixed the name of Bladen, supposing him to be the legal representative of certain remote connections of the old general's.

Crenshaw sat before the flat topped mahogany desk in the center of the room with several well thumbed account books open before him. Bladen, in riding dress, stood by the window.

"I suppose you will buy in the property when it comes up for sale?" the latter was saying.

Mr. Crenshaw had already made it plain that General Quintard's creditors would have lean pickings at the Barony, intimating that he himself was the chiefest of these and the one to suffer most grievously in pocket. Further than this, Mr. Bladen saw that the old house was a ruin, scarcely habitable, and that the thin acres, though they were many and a royal grant, were of the slightest value. Crenshaw nodded his acquiescence to the lawyer's conjecture touching the ultimate fate of the Barony.

"I reckon, sir, I'll want to protect myself, but if there are any of his own kin who have a fancy to the place I'll put no obstacle in their way."

"Who are the other creditors?" asked Bladen.

"There ain't none, sir; they just got tired waiting on him, and when they began to sue and get judgment the old general would send me word to settle with them, and their claims passed into my hands. I was in too deep to draw out. But for the last ten years his dealings were all with me; I furnished the supplies for the place here... Continue reading book >>




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