Caveat Emptor


THIS is the story of the bartering and trading of Silas Ball’s old horse Dobbin in and about Forestport, and of Squire Palmer’s famous horse lawsuit: a simple statement of the facts for the consideration of the jury.

Everybody knew Dobbin, and as for Silas Ball and his good wife Mary— in the fifty years which they had spent together on the farm where Silas was born, not a shadow had fallen on their devotion to each other, not a day had passed unmarked by kindly, neighborly acts of loving-kindness.

For the last twenty of these years, Dobbin was the faithful family horse that took them on various drives for business and pleasure. Next to each other Silas Ball and his wife loved Dobbin.

It was a golden Saturday afternoon in October, with every tree on the hills and lowlands glowing with autumnal color, when Silas Ball hitched Dobbin to the time-honored family phaeton and set forth on a memorable drive to Forestport, six miles away, to collect some store-fixings for a neighborhood party which the Balls were giving on the Monday following.

Lured by the witching weather, scores of other Forestport suburbanites came to the village that Saturday, and one and all were delighted to see their good old friend Silas Ball. So, what with passing the time of day with these old-time tillycums of bygone years, Silas was unable to begin the return trip until the sun had set. When once he had untied Dobbin, and seated himself in the roomy phaeton, and said, ‘Gid ap, Dobbin boy,’ the old man with smiling face leaned far back on the comfortable cushions, closed his eyes, and began to dream, knowing that Dobbin would trot faithfully along the road home. And scarcely had Dobbin started when Silas Ball dropped off to sleep.

Perhaps he had slept an hour; possibly more. No one will ever know. But somewhere along the road home, a weary blood-vessel in the good man’s brain gave way, and the nap which had begun with smiling face became that long sleep from which there is no mortal waking.

Faithfully Dobbin trotted on and on until he came to the gateway leading to the Ball yard. There he turned and went straight ahead to the barn-door, where he stopped, waiting to be unhitched. How long he waited must remain a mystery, as must his actions, except in so far as Mrs. Ball was afterwards able to explain them. At the sound of the whinnying of the horse near the front veranda, she opened the door—to behold Dobbin pawing with one foot on the lowest step apparently to attract attention. A moment later, when, after trying in vain to waken him, she had caught her husband’s limp body in her arms, Mrs. Ball realized that the great tragedy of her life had come.

In the lonely days that followed, it was natural that good old Dobbin should creep more and more into the vacant place in Mary Ball’s heart, and that, when she died, a short time after, she should leave a provision for Dobbin in her will.

Therein she directed that five thousand dollars be set aside for the maintenance of Dobbin, and that he be kept in peace and plenty until such time as the ravages of years should make life a burden to him, when he should be humanely put away.

The remainder of her estate was left to her only nephew, George Ball, a successful young business man in a city fifty miles from Forestport. George Ball was named sole executor of the will, and on his arrival took charge of the funeral ceremonies and the estate, with a new sense of responsibility and a peculiarly loving desire to carry out his aunt’s wishes regarding Dobbin.

When he rented the Ball farm to Jethro Jenkins, he arranged for the board and care of Dobbin, with most, minute precautions to insure the complete comfort and happiness of the old horse’s declining years. The arrangement was made only after he had carefully investigated the tenants and had discovered that Jethro Jenkins was a reliable, industrious, and trusted citizen in the Ball community. The unanimous decision of the people for miles around was that George Ball could find no better tenant in the state, nor one to whom Dobbin could be more satisfactorily intrusted.

In discussing the daily routine in Dobbin’s previous life, George Ball found that he had been used for family driving, and for light work in one-horse agricultural implements. He found further, that Dobbin, in the opinion of all the worthy farmers whom he consulted, would be happier if he were allowed to exercise in moderation, as he had been accustomed to do in the past.

So George Ball settled with Jethro Jenkins as to the amount of exercise Dobbin should have, and with all provisions made, returned to his home and business.


Jethro Jenkins was an energetic man, and he and his wife and children found exceptional inspiration in the comfortable home and splendidly kept farm that had passed to their care. They were eager to conduct their tenancy in a way that would justify George Ball in continuing it, for the executor had been liberal in making the lease.

One and all, the family felt that Dobbin was almost one of them, and the old horse found loving hands at the reins whenever he was driven, or allowed to haul the light cultivator, or some other tool, for a short time.

The Ball place was larger than any on which Jethro Jenkins had lived before; and whereas Silas Ball had hired two hands regularly, Jethro set forth to work the place alone, except for an occasional hired hand for a day or two, on special jobs.

The Jenkins family arose with the sun each day, and one and all spared not themselves to do the work of the big farm. Unusually favorable weather that spring made the crops grow luxuriantly, and with them the ever-present weeds kept pace. Bumper crops were sure, if only the weeds were kept cultivated out; and Jethro Jenkins energetically went about the task of accomplishing this.

Probably no horse ever lived that knew more about a horse’s part in cultivation than Dobbin. He walked steadily and evenly, always kept in the middle of the row, and turned neatly into the next row when he got to the end. Holding the hands of the cultivator steadily was all the help from humans that Dobbin needed. In the rush, while Jethro Jenkins drove the team to the wheel-cultivator, Mrs. Jenkins handled Dobbin in the light cultivator, and the farm-work went cheerfully along.

But the green-eyed monster JEALOUSY lurks ever in remote sections, even as in less sequestered places; and the success the Jenkins family were making of the Ball farm was not unnoticed by some one in the vicinity, nor was the value of Dobbin overlooked.

So it came to pass that George Ball one morning, at his business office, opened a letter which the green-eyed monster had prompted. It was an anonymous letter, which told at length how Jethro Jenkins was abusing Dobbin and working the old horse to death; and it stated that Dobbin had grown thin under the heavy burdens placed upon him.

Two days later, George Ball appeared at the home of Jethro Jenkins. Briefly, he told Jethro that Dobbin had grown thin, so thin that there was no doubt the horse had been abused.

Mr. Jenkins, with righteous indignation, denied that the horse had been misused. Further, he explained in honest detail the affectionate treatment and care which had been given to Dobbin, and he convinced George Ball that there had been no intentional neglect or over-exercise.

But Dobbin admittedly had grown thin, urged George Ball; and finally Jethro Jenkins ventured the opinion that old age was showing in the faithful animal, and that he was no longer able to build up strength and weight as rapidly as the action of time tore them down. It was then agreed that it would be humane to end the suffering of the horse, in strict accordance with the stipulations of Mrs. Ball’s will.

After some consideration of the labor involved in thus bringing about the peaceful demise of Dobbin, Mr. Ball agreed to pay Jethro Jenkins six dollars for services as executioner, undertaker, and sexton; and it was agreed that Mr. Jenkins should carry out the contract on that same afternoon or evening.

Having assured himself that the wishes of his aunt regarding Dobbin were to be carried out according to both the letter and the spirit of her will, and having selected a place for the horse’s grave on a pretty knoll at the far end of the orchard, George Ball started on his return home.

About four o’clock on the same day, Jethro Jenkins led Dobbin from the stable, intending to take the faithful beast out into the orchard and humanely send him to everlasting rest.

As he emerged from the barn-door, leading Dobbin in one hand and carrying a Winchester in the other, he met his brother Isaac Jenkins, who had come to swap visits for an hour or two. Ike Jenkins, totally unlike his brother Jethro, was lazy, shiftless, and irresponsible, living to-day on the wages of yesterday, except when he was able to discount the wages of to-morrow with some trusting soul.

After passing the time of day, Ike, with native curiosity, inquired what Jethro might contemplate doing with Dobbin and the gun.

Jethro patiently explained the story of George Ball’s visit and the impending demise and burial of Dobbin.

A considerable parley ensued, and finally Ike Jenkins proposed that Jethro give him the contract to kill and inter Dobbin, and agreed to do the entire job in a workmanlike manner for the sum of three dollars.

Ten minutes later, Ike Jenkins, with three silver dollars jingling in his overalls pocket, led Dobbin down the road to the small farm which he rented and pretended to work, and turned him into the barnyard.

Taking a pick and shovel, Ike then proceeded to the Ball orchard, and on the spot selected by George Ball dug a hole that should serve as a final restingplace for Dobbin. When this was done, he went back to the house, as it was supper-time. He ate hurriedly of a frugal meal, and shortly afterwards emerged from the house with the rifle which was to be the instrument of the taking-off of Dobbin.

Half-way between the house and the barnyard, he was hailed by a man who was driving down the road that passed the house. The signaler proved to be Sol Foggan, a horse-buyer from the city where George Ball lived. It was Sol Foggan’s business to scour the country for miles round his home, buying horses to sell in the city market; and at least six times a year in the course of his campaign he visited the farmers about Forestport.

Mr. Foggan, in his travels, would buy, sell, or trade — it mattered not to him so long as he might turn a nimble dollar. It happened, therefore, that he was not finicky about what sort of beasts he dealt in. He would pay boot on a trade for a better horse, or swap a prime animal for an equine wreck, always in consideration of a cash difference. He was a man of financial responsibility, and known as a square trader as traders went around Forestport; but in justice to his abilities it should be said that he made it a point to emerge from a trade with a profit on his side.

Having attracted Ike’s attention, Sol queried, ‘Got any horses to swap?’

‘Naw,’ drawled Ike disinterestedly. ‘Ain’t got nuthin’ but an old plug that I’m just goin’ out to kill with this here rifle.’

‘Where is he?’ asked Sol with ready interest, quickened by the conviction that there was some possible margin of profit in any sort of a live horse.

Hitching his own steed to a tree, Sol followed Ike to the barnyard, where the faithful Dobbin was browsing on some clumps of clover. Critically he inspected the animal from his teeth to his tail, passing comments to the effect that the horse was thin and old and otherwise of little value.

Isaac Jenkins said not a word.

‘What you want to kill him for?’ Sol inquired, leading at last to the point, for he saw that conversation was Ike Jenkins’s short suit.

‘Family horse,’ answered Ike laconically. ‘Wife thinks so much of him she don’t want him sold to strangers where he might be abused; and I’ve promised her to put him away decent like, as a reward for his sixteen years of faithful service.’

‘He must ’a’ been quite along in years when you bought him, if you’ve only got sixteen years’ service out him,’ returned Sol.

‘Naw, he warn’t more’n a two-yearold, I reckon,’ declared Ike. ‘It ain’t a matter of age, though, but of sentiment; so I’m goin’ to put him away.’

‘What’ll you take for him?’ asked Sol, bluntly.

‘Don’t want to sell,’ parried Ike; ‘but what’d you give if I was sellin’?’

A long conversation ensued, which finally resulted in an offer of ten dollars from Sol and a price of sixty dollars from Ike. More conversation and Sol Foggan became the owner of Dobbin, while Ike Jenkins added thirty paper dollars to the three silver ones already jingling in his overalls.

As Sol Foggan drove away from the Ike Jenkins place, old Dobbin, led by a halter, trotted cheerfully behind; and the enveloping folds of night threw darkness over the surrounding countryside.

When they had disappeared down the road, Ike Jenkins proceeded to the knoll in the Ball orchard where he had dug the grave. Bang! Bang! went the Winchester, sending echoes resounding from the neighboring hills, and telling the family of Jethro Jenkins, who were at their tardy supper, that poor old Dobbin was no more. Then Ike Jenkins gathered some brush and stones, which he placed in the excavation to fill the space that Dobbin’s corpse was to have occupied, and carefully covered them with the dirt. After this, he sodded the grave over to give final proof that he had spared no pains in giving Dobbin a decent burial. Darkness was heavy over him as, like the grave-robber of fiction, he took a circuitous route home through the back fields, clutching ever and anon his unheard-of fortune of thirty-three of those incentives that are commonly supposed to make the fabled female horse go.


It was about nine o’clock when Sol Foggan drove up to Watt Brick’s livery-stable at Pompton, a village ten miles west of Forestport, where he engaged accommodations for his driving horse and Dobbin for the night. Then he went off to the Pompton House, to arrange for his own refreshment and lodging.

The following morning Mr. Foggan, having breakfasted, appeared at Brick’s livery stable at seven o’clock, planning to continue his horse-dealing pilgrimage toward his home city.

Now, Watt Brick was a horse-dealer in a small way, who not infrequently bartered ant! traded with Sol Foggan; so he was interested when Mr. Foggan asked him if he had any horses to sell. Brick had none, but he did want to buy a good, safe, cheap horse that women could drive with comfort and enjoyment.

‘Got just what you want!’ declared Sol briskly. ‘He’s some old and thin, but a little rest and feeding will make him good for ten years of service. Sound in wind anti limb, free traveler, true in all harness, ain’t afraid of automobiles or anything, and ’ll stand without hitching. Hook him up and see what a likely critter he is,’

In the next half hour, old Dobbin, hitched to a single buggy, displayed his exceptional qualities to Brick and Foggan. Mr. Foggan, after due deliberation while Dobbin was being hitched up, decided that he would ask fifty dollars for him. At the end of ten minutes his decision had been raised ten dollars. In half an hour, when Dobbin was driven back to the barn, Sol’s price had risen to ninety dollars.

Considerable conversational sparring followed; but shortly Watt Brick became richer by the ownership of Dobbin and poorer by the transfer of seventy-five dollars, and Sol Foggan drove on, leisurely and not discontentedly, over the country byways, buying, selling, or trading a horse here and there as opportunity afforded.

Now, despite the fact that Watt Brick was a promoter of horses and made his living by grinding dollars from horse-flesh, he had a real consideration for the creatures, and a horse sense that made him treat any animal in his possession with humanity and consideration. For more than three weeks old Dobbin enjoyed a carefully considered rest and diet cure in Brick’s comfortable stable; and as the treatment was essentially wise and superior, and Dobbin was otherwise healthy, the old horse responded promptly to his new master’s veterinary skill and grew plump and youthful.

It is now necessary to explain that Pompton was an attractive place for widows and old maids, and that its chief business enterprise was a state normal school. Thus it happened that Watt Brick’s livery-stable catered largely to the many female souls who broke the monotony of the little place by frequent drives. Dobbin sprang into instant favor with this class of retired gentlewomen, and became one of the valuable productive factors of Brick’s livery-stable.

Pompton was but four miles from Ashland, a modest city of about fifteen thousand population; and superior institutions native to Pompton soon gained notice in Ashland.

Hence, entirely aside from any reasonable connection with the circumstances surrounding events in the previous life of old Dobbin, Henry Green of Ashland came to a time when, endowed with a delightful wife and three children and with a substantial raise in salary, he desired to possess a reliable driving horse that would furnish outdoor recreation for his wife and his three youngsters. But Mr. Green, in his search for a steed that would fit his peculiar needs, soon discovered that horses of the type he desired were most uncommon. He canvassed the horse markets of Ashland without finding what he wanted; but the course of his search at home developed the fact that probably he could find the sort of horse he wanted at the livery-stable of Watt Brick in the neighboring town of Pompton. Whereupon Mr. Green took a day off from his work, and the morning train from Ashland to Pompton, and at noon appeared at Brick’s stable.

With proper circumstance and detail Green explained to Brick the kind of horse he was seeking. Brick listened attentively, and with honesty confessed that he had no horse that would measure up to Green’s desires and needs. But he had scarcely made this announcement, when a carriage drawn by a single horse drove into the barn. The solitary occupant of the buggy was a gray-haired woman, and she was obviously pleased and happy. After she had alighted and paid for the use of the horse and buggy she asked, —

Mr. Brick, what is the name of the horse I had this morning? He is the finest horse I have ever driven. He is n’t afraid of anything and can travel along at a comfortable pace, and when I want a carriage in the future, I want this horse. Also, I want to know his name, so that, a number of my friends can know the joy and safety of riding and driving such a fine horse.’

Mr. Brick told her the horse’s name was Dobbin, and then turned his courteous attention to Mr. Green. But Green had been listening to the conversation and was so impressed that he blurted out enthusiastically, ‘There’s the sort of a horse I want! What do you ask for him, Mr. Brick?’

‘Oh, he ain’t worth much as horses go,’answered Brick, ‘and I would n’t sell him. Why, he’s one of the best money-making horses I’ve got. He’s old and commercially ain’t worth much of anything; but for me he’s mighty valuable. He earns a heap. I could n’t sell him because I ’d have to get eight or ten times his intrinsic worth. Why, Dobbin is the old maids’ one best bet. They all want him, and he’s an ideal critter for them, and he’s in such demand that he’s on the go all the time. If I ever sold him, more’n twenty good women customers would never forgive me nor patronize me again.’

But Mr. Green was obdurate. He wanted Dobbin. Further, he intended to have him. He insisted that Watt Brick put a price on the horse, and, cornered at last, Brick declared that he would n’t take a cent less than two hundred and fifty dollars for Dobbin, adding, ‘He ain’t really worth more’n half that, and I’d hate to sell him even at that price.’

A lengthy parley followed, with the result that Dobbin passed to the ownership of Green for a cash consideration of two hundred and ten dollars.

During the next several weeks, the Green family daily became more and more satisfied with their purchase and more and more attached to the faithful steed. It is certain that Dobbin would have lived out his worthy life as a member of the Green family, had not the green-eyed monster once more set its emerald orbs upon him.

Some one who lived near the old Ball homestead one day drove to Ashland, and after hitching his own horse to a post, observed a horse at the next post. This other horse looked strangely familiar. There could be no doubt about it—it was Dobbin, supposedly dead and buried. Further, it was all clear to the shrewd mind of the observer: he realized instantly that Jethro Jenkins had sold Dobbin instead of keeping his word to George Ball, and had pocketed a neat sum in the operation.

The observing one made suitable inquiries, with the result that he possessed himself of a part of the chain of events which attended the passing of Dobbin from Jethro Jenkins’s possession to that of Mr. Green. And a few days later, George Ball, in his busy office, opened an anonymous letter which told the despicable tale of the fraud that had been perpetrated in the sale of Dobbin, and contained only the one error of accusing Jethro Jenkins of being the person who had sold the horse to Sol Foggan.


Of course, George Ball was no less shocked than angry when he heard the shameful news, and forthwith took the train to Forestport to verify the story, and, in the event of its being true, to avenge the wrong, and with his own hands to carry out the provisions of his aunt’s will concerning Dobbin.

At Forestport he quickly retained Squire Palmer, a fighting lawyer of the county, and together they traced out step by step the story of the exploitation of Dobbin.

Learning the truth, Ball followed the plan that Squire Palmer advised for righting the wrong. This consisted in compelling Henry Green to hand Dobbin over to Mr. Ball, as he had acquired no title to Dobbin, since the horse under the circumstances was really stolen property, and therefore the property of the person from whom he had been stolen.

Then, after securing possession of Dobbin, George Ball caused the old horse to be killed humanely, decently buried in the Ball orchard, and thus laid at rest in conformity with Mrs. Ball’s will.

But the ghost of his grievance still stalked the countryside, for Henry Green, as an injured and innocent party to the affair, consulted Squire Palmer as to his own rights; and finding them clear-cut and plain, retained the squire to collect the price paid to Walt Brick for Dobbin.

Forthwith, Squire Palmer called on Brick and explained the statutes in such case made and provided, and collected the purchase price of two hundred and ten dollars from Brick.

Also Squire Palmer received a retainer from Brick to collect from Sol Foggan the money that he had paid him for Dobbin.

A brief letter explaining the circumstances, written by Squire Palmer to Sol Foggan, caused the latter to journey to Forestport, ascertain all the facts, reimburse Brick for the seventyfive dollars paid for Dobbin, and retain Squire Palmer to collect from Ike Jenkins the thirty dollars that Foggan had paid him.

At this point the horse lawsuit caught up with its shadow that had so long been projecting ahead.

But Ike Jenkins long since had spent the thirty dollars received for Dobbin, as well as the three dollars received for dispatching the old horse. Further, he maintained that, as the horse was to be killed, no value attached to the animal and no damage had been done by selling him; and that legally he had a right to profit by his ability to make a worthless thing valuable. Also he was sure that no time was set in the contract for bringing about the demise of Dobbin, and as the horse was dead and buried, the contract that he, Ike Jenkins, had agreed to perform had been carried out.

Also, that, as Jethro Jenkins had a legal right to sublet the job of seeing Dobbin laid away under the turf, he himself was within his legal rights in subletting the contract. Also, that the doctrine of caveat emptor prevailed in dealing with Sol Foggan, and Foggan could cave and empt to a fare-you-well before Ike Jenkins would pay him one cent of the thirty dollars except on the tip end of an execution from the court of last resort in the state.

And so Sol Foggan, through Squire Palmer, sued Ike Jenkins in the Justice Court of Forestport for the thirty dollars. And Ike Jenkins, through Squire Pikerman, hated rival of Squire Palmer, defended the action.

A jury of good men and true was drawn, and everyone for miles around crowded the village hall of justice to hear the trial of this hotly contested horse lawsuit.

All day the bitter battle raged, with the two squires contesting every inch of the ground. For two hours each the opposing counsel addressed the jury, in pleas that sent thrills through the spectators.

Finally, almost at the witching hour of midnight, the case was given to the jury, who thereupon retired to consider their verdict.

The early hours waned and passed, while the jury wrestled with the facts and the law that the case presented. Convictions ran high. The debate was acrimonious. Hour after hour passed, and agreement grew remote.

Eventually all but one of the jurors agreed that Sol Foggan was entitled to a verdict for thirty dollars. That one, Silas Hugaboom, who had been a juror for many years and never lost a verdict, stuck by his guns, declaring that, ‘This here lawsuit is one of equity, not law, and in such a case, equity must control. And equity,’ he announced with finality, ‘clearly provides that there is no justice in making a man pay for a dead horse.’

At nine o’clock the following morning, the tired and bedraggled jury crawled into court, announced that they could not agree on a verdict, and were discharged.

So Squire Palmer’s horse lawsuit will be tried over again before another jury next Wednesday.