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She seethed, but forced at least a show of civility. “Mister Littlejohn.” She spoke in a stiff staccato. “A week ago. Before everyone left. You promised three-and-a-half to four cents a pound! You said depending on the quality. That is the main reason. The biggest reason. That I didn’t go with the others.”
The man smiled. “Oh, I might have said two-and-a-half or maybe even three, but things change. You know that.”
She couldn’t stand being talked down to, especially by such a lying loafer.
“I wish I could help you, but two cents it is. I mean, besides, anyone can see.” He held the sample up. “It’s shoddy lint.” He shook his head. “Pardon me for saying, Mis’ess Baylor, but a granger you are not.”
“Anyone can see its excellent quality, you mean.”
A bit of breeze, a very little bit, stirred the top layer of dust from the street; it cooled her skin, but her insides still steamed.
He stuck out his bottom lip. “I’d advise you to take my offer. I can pay half now, the rest when I return.”
Sue studied his face while a hundred calculations ran through her mind. He certainly didn’t look like the weasel he’d turned out to be. Her cotton was as good, if not better, than any of the loads that left last Thursday. She reached up and massaged her neck, then lifted her braid to let some air dry her sweat.
She glanced over at her wagons. Levi had Becky laughing hard. The children would be so disappointed. Maybe if –
No. She would not allow this thief to take advantage of her family. How could he even think to? The loathsome, immoral oaf! She’d worked too hard getting her crop in. Everyone had, even her nine-year-old Becky. Why, at two cents, she’d hardly realize any profit at all after the extra seed and what she paid the pickers.
She squared her shoulders and determined anew, faced him again. “I’ll accept three-and-a-half cents per pound. All cash. Not a fraction less.”
“Two cents, ma’am. Half now, half when I get back.” He jingled the coins in his vest pocket.
Perspiration trickled down to the small of her back. The sun, though its climb had barely began, already shone bright on the eastern horizon and heated the mid-September air so that every breath scorched her throat. Much like Jack Littlejohn, it offered no mercy. And like the air, her throat held no moisture, though she needed to swallow.
“You’re wasting my time. Good day, Mister Littlejohn.” She whirled and headed toward her wagons. Her face burned, and she knew full well that it had turned red. How dare that man! A grubby hand grabbed her arm, and, whirling her around, jerked her to an abrupt stop. She yanked away from his grasp and glared; she wished the fire inside her would somehow leap forward and set the despicable excuse of a human being ablaze.
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