Tricks to the Trade


SUNLIGHT and shadow and a faint wind ran in and out among the branches of the elm tree and across the Judge’s weather-beaten face; a little of the sunshine trickled down among the leaves and lay in greenish-yellow puddles on the ground, dappling the shaded piece of the barnyard with liquid freckles of light. It was a hot day for early June and the sun came down in an unbroken glare on most of the enclosure — flat and heavy and white on the hoofmarked dust. A pile of discarded horseshoes lay in one corner, and, a little way off, part of a wagon wheel rested brokenly on its back and stared up at the sun with a single, central eye. Above the slope which ran from the edge of the barnyard down to a shallow draw, the heat rose in great trembling waves from the corn; beyond the draw, a half mile away, a man was ploughing across the side of Irvine’s Hill. The lower part of the hill where he had turned up the damp undersoil stood out blackly; above him, where he had not yet ploughed, the ground seemed dry and slate-gray — it looked as though he had run a great pencil along and darkly underscored the straight green rows. He swore constantly at the horses and his words came faintly across the intervening fields, the distance robbing them of their conviction so that they sounded flat and obscene.

The Judge pushed the battered hat which he always wore to the farm to the back of his head so that the breeze would get under it, and came down from the top rail of the fence where he had been sitting like a ruffled, ungainly old crow. The tailor-made clothes which his wife insisted that he wear were an unhappy extravagance; indeed, they gave him the unfortunate air of a farmer at a funeral. His coat sat strangely and exotically on his bony shoulders, bulging here and there at unpredictable angles; his vest was an affair of wrinkles, and his trousers hung from their galluses in a remarkable state of continued genuflection. The Judge had never bent any part of his body to a living man and not overmuch to his Maker, so it was likely his great bony old knees that imparted the melancholy droop to every pair of trousers which he wore.

His face was a lean, puzzling ambiguity. The lips were full and might have pointed up slightly at the ends had it not been for the soft wad of tobacco which he always carried in his cheek and which gave his mouth a look of mild, reflective sorrow. From the bottom of his mouth to the top of his forehead his sallow skin was written over with fine little lines like the map of a mountain range, but from behind this lattice of wrinkles a pair of boyish eyes looked out like a couple of mischievous twins in church. At least they usually did. Their other expression was one of sudden, gusty anger, and they could change quickly.

Just now they seemed in a state of transition. The truth of the matter was that the Judge was being done up in a bargain. He leaned against a fence post and rubbed little balls of dirt from the back of his warm neck and sucked in his lips with vexation.

‘Look here, young fellow,’ he said to the farmer beside him, ‘I’m not going to bicker with you. That’s not a firstrate team, but it’s tolerable good and it’s worth fifty dollars. Maybe more. I’ll let you have them for that.’

The other had expected to pay half again as much. So he watched a fragment of cloud drift behind a distant hill and waited for it to emerge. Then he gazed at the hill itself. ‘I reckon you’d throw in a halter, Judge?’

The Judge rolled up another ball. ‘Yes, I’ll give you something to lead them home with.’

‘A real halter, I mean, Judge.’

‘All right.’

‘I reckon you’d let me have a look at it first, Judge?’

‘Napper, get that long halter from the loft.’

The Negro, Napper, took his sad eyes from the ant hill he had been considering and shuffled into the barn. Presently he returned with the halter, holding it gingerly, with the congenital distrust of his race for nooses.

The farmer looped the rope in his hands and looked at it critically. ‘It’s a bit frayed at the end, sir. Sort of frazzled-like.’ He haggled apologetically, as one who regretted his duty.

The Judge took out his knife and cut the loose strands and bound them neatly around the end. ‘Do you want those mules or not?’

‘I reckon I might. But I ain’t said so yet, Judge.’ He stood up and ran his hand over the broad, bony shoulders of the animals and across their high necks; he stooped to finger their legs again and held them by their muzzles and squinted at their bared teeth. The mules slanted back their ears and looked down their noses at him with dislike. At last the man dug a pouch from his trousers and carefully untied its mouth. From its bowels he selected five maculate bills which he handed to the Judge. ‘I hope them animals are worth that much, Judge.’

The Judge folded the bills without comment. ‘Help him there, Napper.’

Napper and the farmer threw a slip knot into either end of the rope and placed it over the heads of the team; then the farmer led them out the gate into the lane. He stopped to light his pipe and looked back over its top.

‘Well, I’ll be sayin’ good mornin’ to you, Judge.’ Now that he was out in the lane he ventured a grin. ‘I reckon you know I bought this-here team back for the Major. I’m just actin’ for him, I reckon you know.’

The Judge exploded. ‘Confound the Major!’ But his face was in a shadow and he recovered himself with a lie. ‘Of course I know it, you fool. I’d have let you have them for forty, otherwise.’

The farmer went on down the lane, chuckling. The mules swung their black tails from side to side and twitched their ears in nervous semicircles; their hoofs kicked up little puffs of dust which drifted into the roadside hedge and coated the leaves there with a dull gray. The Judge threw an arm around the post and watched their diminishing rumps with anger. Napper leaned on the fence and shook his head mournfully.

‘And them was the mules you paid the Majah two hund’ed dollahs for. They was a likely-lookin’ pair then.’ He caught the white man’s eye and looked away.

The Judge gazed at him balefully. ‘Boy,’ he said, ‘you get down in the north field right now and thin out that corn. I ’ll be back out here Saturday, and I don’t want to see your black face unless it’s done.’ He looked at his watch. ‘Wait a minute. It’s time I’m getting back to town and you can saddle that horse of mine first.’

Napper sighed and went into the barn. Presently he called to the Judge that his horse was ready, and then he moved off toward the cornfield with the profound lameness which he always felt in approaching a task.

The Judge rode home to his dinner, where he buttered a piece of corn bread and looked at his wife over its yellow top.

‘Madam,’ he said in a measured bass voice, ‘I have been fried. Fried, madam, in the deep fat of dissimulation.’ His wife looked up placidly at this alarming metaphor and the Judge became more explicit. ‘Major Welch,’ he continued, ‘is a rogue and a scoundrel.’

Mrs. Dennis smiled and went back to her plate. ‘Eat your food, Judge, and don’t look so angry. I almost married him.’

Her husband snorted. ‘Almost married a scoundrel, then.’ He bit a good chew from his com bread and went on. ‘I reckon I’ve known the Major for forty years. Been sitting with him as County Commissioner for ten and I did n’t think he’d cheat me. Well, the old skinflint brought a couple of mules out to the place to sell me, last winter. They looked good, and I took his word that they were good, and I bought them.’ His voice rose and he shifted his fork to his right hand for better punctuation. ‘They were spavined, madam, and they were wind-broken. They could n’t pull a plough and they wore themselves out eating. I went out to the place this morning and I sold them and a good halter to Clem Doane for fifty dollars. They cost me two hundred.’ The Judge fell to digging the cloth. ‘Would you believe it, madam, Doane was buying back those animals for the Major. That damned old hound skinned me out of a hundred and fifty dollars. Cheated me. Deliberately.’

His wife murmured sympathetic things and went to the kitchen for pie. She cut the Judge a great slab, poured plenty of hot juice over it from the bottom of the pan, and piled some extra cherries on top. Then she came back and took it around the table to the Judge.

‘ I ’ve heard the Major is a hard one, dear. I guess he’s about the only one who ever got ahead of you.’ She patted his shoulder. ‘Now eat your pie, and don’t pick that way with your fork. You’ll ruin my tablecloth.’

The Judge lifted the top crust a little and had a look at the tempting insides. ‘A hard one, huh?’ He spread the extra cherries out on top of the pie and leveled them off with his fork and thought of a better adjective and strewed the cherries with sugar. And presently he and the pic cooled down a bit, and the pie was eaten, and his wife called him a crosspatch, and the Judge told her a yarn or two and felt better. Considerably so. But he did n’t forget.


A few weeks later the Judge sat in his office reading the Weekly Democrat. He had pulled out one of the drawers of the desk to rest his feet on, and his long body was tilted back in a yellow swivel chair.

The room was dim with long, high rows of books, — Blackstone and Coke and Kent, Bouvier’s Dictionary and the Missouri Reports, — all bound alike in sallow, legal calfskin. An old spool cabinet with a multitude of shallow drawers had found its way from some dry-goods store to the Judge’s office and sat now in one corner; in the corner opposite the desk was a great safe, its top covered with a litter of documents held down by a dappled stone monkey who sat cross-legged upon them. From their frames above the desk Lord Mansfield and Daniel Webster gazed stonily across the room at a nameless young lady in a calendar. In the middle of the floor was a fat spittoon — a battered, round-bellied old veteran who squatted there and looked at the shots that had missed him.

The Judge was reading about rats. Almost a plague of them in the county, according to the paper. They had increased greatly during the last year or two, the article said, and had recently descended on the corncribs in alarming numbers. In the past, as long as their thieving had been confined to pantries and chicken yards, the men had ignored them, and the warfare carried on against them by the women had been in much the same savage but ineffective manner as that waged against their three blind cousins in the song. Now that they were in the corncribs, however, it was a different matter. Measures, the article wisely concluded, must be taken.

The Judge read the article through with a faint concern for his own corn and tossed the paper back on the desk. Then he had a crack at the spittoon and leaned back again. Suddenly he sat very still; then he straightened up, put the paper in his pocket, and went over to the window, where he stood with his chin on his breast and a splendid thought unwinding itself in his mind. His tall, angular figure was outlined blackly against the morning outside. He stood for a few minutes with his hands in his pockets and his lips moving quietly with his thoughts, then he threw back his head and gave a long boyish laugh, took his hat from a chair, descended the rachitic stairway that led from his office, and crossed the Square to the Racket Store on the other side.

It was cool and dark there, and smelled of harness leather. The change from the dusty glare of the streets to the dim interior was too much for the Judge’s eyes; he could barely make out the long counters and the dusty shelves. A clerk came forward from the back room. ‘Well, Judge, what can I do for you?’ His tone was crisp; he had been obliged to lay down a good rummy hand.

The Judge leaned leisurely against the counter; he had no intention of buying goods in a temporary state of blindness. ‘We need rain, Sam, we need rain. An uncommon amount of it. They tell me the dust is ankle-deep out by that place of mine.’ The clerk prodded his customer with a cough. But the Judge was not to be hurried. ‘I can recollect years ago when I was a boy on the farm it got drier than time. The roof blew off the Sharon Church about the middle of June and the farmers were a month getting it back on — too busy ploughing corn to fix it. Well, sir, not a drop of rain fell till the church roof was mended, and the corn crop, sir, was a flat failure. The preacher had n’t taken sides, but he had to allow when it was all over that the Lord had been tolerably severe. Well — ’ He paused to experiment with his vision; he could see the eye of a potato across the room. He slapped the counter briskly. ‘Well, young fellow, I’m in a hurry. I want some heavy wire screening.’

He bought six rolls of screening — all that was in the store. The clerk tied them with stout cord. ‘You must be gettin’ ready to do considerable fixin’ up out at that farm of yours.’

The Judge caught a fly and listened noncommittally to its buzz. ‘Yes,’ he said; ‘I want ten pounds of cheese, too. Put the stuff together and I’ll send a rig over for it directly.’

He left the store and walked through the dust to Wilson’s livery stable. The proprietor was sitting in the shade of a catalpa tree; he brought all four legs of his chair to the ground and got unsteadily to his feet.

‘Wilson, I want a buggy and that black mare of yours for the rest of the day. Hitch her up, will you, and drive around to the Racket Store for some stuff I left there. You ’re sober enough to do that. I ’ll wait for you here.’ He took the abdicated chair and tilted back.

In a half hour the other returned. He had lashed the screening behind and the cheese was on the seat. The man climbed slowly down, holding the reins in one hand; with the other he broke off a chew and tucked his beard out of harm’s way into his shirt. His vacuous eye rested on the screening. ‘Well, Judge, you appear to be fixin’ to do some work out at that place of yours.’

‘Yes.’ The Judge climbed up and took the reins; he read another question in the liveryman’s eye and went on quickly. ‘Wilson, this gaunt animal, here, puts me in mind of the mule I used to ride to college. I began my freshman year at college the same time that Lem Dowdy came from there to teach school on my father’s place. I’d ride the mule twenty miles to Clintonville, Sunday night; Lem’d feed her and ride her back in time to open school on Monday morning; Friday night he’d ride her to Clintonville and I’d come home on her back. Lem and I had our week-ends at home, the mule ploughed five days a week and walked the other two. It was an excellent arrangement, sir, for everyone but the mule; it appeared she objected to inheriting the responsibilities of both her parents and she died, sir, during my senior year, in protest.’

Before the other could say anything the Judge flicked his horse and turned down the street. ‘I’ll be back about nine.’ He leaned back and chuckled to himself as the horse gained a trot; he had passed safely through two centres of gossip without divulging his plans. Anecdotes, he reflected, were useful things.

When he reached the country he drove along briskly. The roadside was heavy with sumac bushes and young goldenrod; in the secret places close to the ground were wild roses and strawberry vines. The corn stood head-high in the fields, jacketed with dust. He leaned the back of his head on the shoulder of the seat and closed his eyes. As the buggy passed a row of hedge trees the sunlight shot through in little bursts, playing a staccato of color on his lidded eyes — rose and purple, rose and purple. He dozed off and awakened a quarter of a mile from his destination.

When he got down in the yard the place was deserted. He looked about for Napper. ‘Napper!’ he shouted. ‘Napper!’

There was silence. The Judge picked up a stick and walked without hesitation down to the corncrib. A rat scurried away as he approached. There, as he had expected, he found the Negro stretched out on the yellow ears of grain, a hat over his eyes. The Judge gave him a smart rap over the shins.

‘Napper, you black rascal, get out of there! ’

The Negro scrambled to his shoeless feet and looked wildly at the Judge. ‘Good mornin’, Jedge. ’Clare I must a dozed off, dare I must. Much ableeged to you, Jedge, for wakin’ me up.’ He was momentarily startled out of his chronic sorrow.

The Judge folded his arms and arraigned the Negro in silence. Napper shifted from one foot to the other and dug his woolly head. '’Clare I must a dozed off, Jedge.’

‘The next time I catch you asleep in there, you scoundrel, I’m going to skin you with a buggy whip. Now get along up to the buggy and bring me that screening and the package on the seat. Then get a hammer and nails and fetch some of that scantling over there.’

When the Negro returned, the Judge gave him a few instructions and sat down in the shade. Under his direction Napper completed by nightfall three large cages, each about thirty feet square and five feet high, floored, roofed, and walled with the screening. In each of the cages was a small door a few inches square, which opened inwardly; in the top of each was a trapdoor.

When the job was completed the Judge rose. ‘Now then, Napper, rustle up some supper. Coffee and eggs and batter-bread will do.’

He sat on the steps of the Negro’s shanty and ate from the top of a box. The summer evening waned; the clouds shed their brilliance and became gray; the hills grew old and tired. Somewhere back in the woods a dove lamented.

‘Napper, how many rats are in that corncrib, do you suppose?’

Napper was mourning over his finger nails. ‘I dunno, Jedge. They must be hund’eds. Right on to sev’ral hund ’ed, I ’speck.’

The Judge nodded approval and got up. ‘Well, put one of those traps at each end of the crib and the other inside. Bait them with that cheese and with plenty of corn. I’11 be back in a few days.’

He returned within the week. His plan, so far, had worked well; there were, a couple of hundred big, squeaking fellows in each of the traps.

‘Now then, I want you to see that these animals get enough food and water. They’ll eat about anything; when it’s necessary, give them a little corn. And you’re to keep quiet about this rat catching. Nobody ever comes out here, and if news of this leaks out I’ll know it came through you.’

‘Naw suh, Jedge, I won’t say nothin’. But what you keepin’ these things fo’? Ah you gonna breed ’em fo’ their hides?’ The Judge ignored the question and drove back to town. The Negro shook his head. He fed and watered the rats once a day. They multiplied in good Biblical fashion and in three months their number had quadrupled. The Judge was immensely pleased.

One evening early in October he drove out to the Major’s farm. The Major had harvested his corn and was enjoying the leisure of the mild jungle which he called a front yard. He rose to meet the Judge at the gate. As he came forward with his rolling walk he looked like a fine ripe old apple; he had a chest and a sound-enough middle and a splendid, great red nose. Three or four grandchildren followed him to the gate, each keeping hold of a handful of his trousers for protection.

‘Come in, Judge, come in. Lookin’ for another good buy in mules?’ He laughed Homerically, the sound rising deep in his insides and coming up for air and then whistling back to where it came from. The children, after a little doubt, joined in. Suddenly the Major sobered and wiped his red nose and put his handkerchief away. ‘There ain’t no hard feelings about them mules, are there, Judge? Doane sort of talked like there might be.’

The Judge put his foot on the dashboard. ‘That fellow’s a rattle-brain. Why should there be? “Let the buyer beware ” — it’s an old maxim. I should have kept my eyes open.’ He shrugged good-humoredly.

‘Well, now, that’s about the way I feel. Here, you’re a lawyer,’ he elaborated, ‘and I’m a bit of a hoss trader. There’s tricks to both trades.’

The Judge inwardly agreed, but did n’t care to pursue the matter. He looked at the small upturned faces. ‘Those Sally’s children? Fine youngsters.’

He bit off a chew and offered the other his plug. ‘Fine youngsters. I have n’t but a minute, Major, so I won’t get out. I stopped by to see you about this rat plague.’

The Major became serious. ‘ Y’know, them little devils are getting a good piece of my corn. Don’t seem like I can keep ’em out of the cribs.’

The Judge nodded. ‘I know. There are plenty out at my place. Fact is, it appears that they are taking the county, now that the crop is in. Now here’s my idea, sir. You and I are up for reëlection as County Commissioners, next month. If we’d offer, say, a ten-cent bounty on rat scalps for the next two weeks — to be paid out of our own pockets — it would be good campaigning and would n’t be expensive. I figure it would n’t cost us over twentyfive or thirty apiece and it’d be the best electioneering we could get.’

The Major leaned down and pulled up a weed and looked at its white root and reflected. When he was in a stable lot with plenty of sweat and horseflesh and hot sunshine around him he was a match for any man in the county, but in his front yard on an Indian-summer evening with his work done and a fresh shirt on his back he was as guileless as his grandchildren. ‘Well, Judge, I reckon you’re a better politician than a hoss trader.’ He had another hearty laugh and pulled out his handkerchief again. ‘I’m with you on that.’

‘All right, sir, I ’II put a notice in the Weekly Democrat.' The Judge turned his buggy around. ‘Sorry I can’t stay. I expect, Major, I’d better pay the bounties from time to time and we can strike an account later.’


Just west of the Square was an anonymous street paved with mud or dust as the season might be, and lined with a row of rickety, unpainted saloons. Many of them were covered with a tin imitation of brick, which their owners, as though ashamed of so thin a deception, had never troubled to paint red; some had two-storied false fronts; all of them leaned vaguely and drunkenly toward one another like men grown old together in the dilapidated freemasonry of sin. The town hitch racks had been moved from the Square, when it was paved, to this street; they ran up and down its length on either side, and on Saturday afternoon the entire county tied up here before getting its weekly provisions.

All afternoon there would be two solid lines of buggies and sway-backed surreys, fine rubber-tired phaetons, buckboards, and high, boxlike farm wagons, some of them bright green with newness; the horses would patiently stamp flies away, and sneeze damply now and then, and break out in whinnies up and down the line. Toward evening there would be a great bustle and backing of vehicles and scraping of wheels, and the hungry teams would stick up their ears and forget that they were tired, and everyone would move off homeward to supper in a cloud of dust and clamor, their wagons filled with a week’s store of flour, the men with whiskey, the women with gossip, and the children with a great deal of licorice and wonder.

About two o’clock on one of these Saturday afternoons Napper drove his wagon into a vacant space along the rack and threw out his hitch weight. He seemed to have lost his air of deep infelicity for the day and looked almost cheerful. The Judge met him there. A canvas was spread over the top of the wagon, concealing its burden; Napper unlashed one edge of it and the Judge looked under with satisfaction. He spoke to the Negro for a few minutes in a low tone and then walked across the Square to the Court House. He entered the building and went to the office of the County Commissioners, where the Major, dressed in his town suit, was waiting for him.

‘I thought, Major, that we’d better settle up for these rat bounties. This is the last day, you know, and I’ve paid out a little for you.’ He brought a memorandum from his pocket; the Major glanced at it, and with much pressing of lips and preliminary flourishing of the pencil made out a check to the other.

‘That was a right good idea of ours, Judge. It’s cost us only about twenty apiece and I would n’t be surprised if we got some votes out of it.’

‘A good idea of mine, you mean,’ corrected the Judge.

The door opened and Napper put in his head. ‘How do, gen’men. Is this here where I colleck for rat bounties?’

The Major tilted back in his chair. ‘You’re just in time, boy. Bring them in.’

The Negro hesitated. He was playing his part well. ‘I ’speck you all better come with me. I ’se got a wagonload of scalps down heah on the street.’

The Major’s white brows went up. ‘A wagonload! Why, what the hell, Judge!’ They followed the Negro out. ‘Whose nigger is that?’

The Judge wore a sombre look. ‘He farms out here north of town, I think.’

When they reached the wagon Napper threw the cover off. The wagon was loaded to the seat with dried skins.

The Major looked apprehensively at the Judge, and the Judge pulled his long jaw.

‘Boy,’ he said, ‘how many of those plaguy things have you got?’

‘Mighty neah three thousand, I reckon.’

The Major groaned. He and the Judge sat down at a savory distance, with their backs to a billboard, while the Negro counted the skins, spreading them first on the ground and telling them off by twos into sacks. He counted aloud; the two white men sat in silence. When he reached the first thousand the Major said, ‘Good Gad!’ and went into Duffy’s saloon for a long bracing drink. He returned and walked up and down and envied the Judge his stoicism and glared at a cluster of small boys who stood gravely watching the Negro.

In a half hour Napper finished and straightened up. ‘They’s a little mo’ than three thousand theah, gen’men.’

‘Three thousand!’ The Judge muttered. ‘Look here, boy, where did you get all those rats?’

The Negro grinned. ‘Me and anothah fellah caught ’em and killed ’em, Jedge. I been workin’ mighty hard fo’ that bounty.’

The Major rose with an air of finality. Even his nose was a trifle pale. ‘We’ll give you fifty dollars for the lot, Rastus.’

Napper scratched his head. ‘That ain’t hardly fair, suh. You and the Jedge said a dime a scalp and I done figgered these makes three hund’ed dollahs. You-all said a dime a rat.’

The Major pulled the Judge aside. ‘ What are we going to do with this coon? He ain’t got but one vote, you know.’

The Judge looked the Major in the eye. ‘There is such a thing, sir,’ he said, ‘as obligation. A promise, sir, is a promise.’ He pulled out his check book.

The Major looked away and sighed deep down in his pendulous middle and did the same. ‘Yes,’ he muttered, ‘I reckon he’s got us. But great Gad, Judge, that’s a bag of money.’

Napper took the slips of paper and looked at them for a minute, then handed them both to the Judge with a grin. ‘Well, Jedge, we sho’ly got a powah of rats in that cawncrib of yours.’

The Major caught his breath. ‘ “ We! Your corncrib!”’

The Judge restrained a queer sound. ‘All right, Napper, you can break up those traps to-night.’ He tore up his own check and put the Major’s in his pocket; he was shaking with laughter. ‘A hundred and fifty dollars, Major. That’s a bag of money, all right.’ He turned and looked back. ‘Well, I reckon we ’re about even for those mules.’

Napper drove slowly home. There was a bottle in his jacket and his stomach was pleasantly warm and he talked in low tones to the posteriors of his team. ‘Ah’m a right good rat skinnah,’ he said, ‘but Lawd, Lawd, it takes the ol’ Jedge to skin a hoss tradah!’


An honest man — may Heaven preserve the good platitude — is the noblest work of God. And, unlike most nobilities, he is far from rare. It is true, of course, that Mrs. Johnson’s cook may slip into the pantry after the evening dishes are done and load up her paper satchel with half a chicken or a side of bacon, and tiptoe out the back way with the satchel carried on the far side of her black, amorphous person. But she is an honest soul and would be the last in the world to touch the dime and the five coppers on the bureau upstairs; she is merely taking along a little something for her trilling son to eat. And Mrs. Johnson herself, when she goes to market the next day, may eat two or three macaroons from their box on the counter while the grocer is busy on the other side, or five or ten, depending on how long his back is turned, but she is sampling them with a view to buying. And when the old cook comes in on Saturday night the grocer, perhaps, will sell her four pounds of musty flour as five pounds of good fresh flour; but darkies are notoriously spendthrift, and it is doubtless better that their money should come into whiter, more provident hands.

None of the three is dishonest. Each is following that best and most reliable and most elastic of things, his conscience. Naturally enough, however, each might be furious if he caught the other at his peccadillos. The Major, indeed, was furious. Horse swapping, he reflected during the ensuing week, was like love or war. He had won from the Judge fairly; there were tricks to that trade. And there were tricks to the law, of course, and he would be the last to stick at them in their place. That thought suggested another.

He hitched up his best team of bays, put two boxes of apples in the back of his spring wagon, and drove to the seat of the adjoining county in search of a lawyerHe pulled up in front of Simeon and Hahn, Attorneys, and hired a boy to carry the apples upstairs. He presented each of the partners with a box and then sat down between them and unburdened his broad bosom. When he had finished, old Simeon sat and tapped his teeth with a pencil.

‘Major, I would n’t drag the Judge into court. It would cost you money and you have n’t a case to start with. Even if you had a case, that man would turn you wrong side out and hang up your naked soul in front of the jury.’ He cleared his throat. ‘If you want to settle with the Judge, you’d better settle out of court.’ He bit an apple and laughed at his pun and charged the Major two dollars more than he should have.

The Major went home, regretting his apples and his money and the legal profession. Those fellows had merely told him what he already knew and did n’t want to hear. He had no opinion of their advice. But he decided to bide his time.

The lazy Indian summer lengthened into autumn. Flocks of blackbirds came in at evening, their wings black against the sunset, to roost in the town elms and hackberries, and were gone with a whirr in the morning. Occasionally a thin dark angle of wild ducks flew southward; high and silently, with dignity and long, purposeful wings.

The hills from a distance seemed lean and cleaner of line; they were light blue in the morning and deep blue in the afternoon and purple like a rich cloak at evening; there were bonfires at dusk in the street edges, with small faces and hands around them, and dogs barked faintly and clearly in the distance.

One morning the Judge’s wife reminded him of approaching winter. ‘Judge,’ she remarked over the vase of goldenrod which centred their breakfast table, ‘it’s getting rather chilly around here, evenings. Don’t you think it would be well to order some firewood ? ’

The Judge looked up. ‘You are right, madam. I’ll stop at Huston’s place and have him send down two or three cords.’

But the Judge forgot the matter in the absorptions of election time. He had never been a methodical man.

His wife waited patiently a week. ‘Judge, if you don’t get that wood I’m going to order it myself. I’m tired of shivering about this place.’

‘Very well, madam, I’ll attend to it to-day.’

He passed by Huston’s place on the way back to the office. The owner was just closing for lunch; he put his key in his pocket and grinned at the Judge. ‘Well, Judge, I hear you was almost sued.’

The Judge stopped, his trousers sagging about his knees. ‘How’s that?’

The little man came out to the walk and stood confidentially by the other. ‘Cousin of mine was over from Macon County, Sunday, and said the old Major was there a while back, scoutin’ around and sort of aimin’ to bring an action against you.’ He put his left hand in front of his stomach, cupped his right elbow in it and held his chin between thumb and forefinger; at the Major’s name he tittered. The Judge had included the whole town in his joke. ‘He changed his mind, though — knew better, I reckon. I told my cousin you and the old Major would n’t have no trouble. “They’re good friends,” I said. “Do right smart of business together."' He nudged the Judge and they both laughed, and the little man felt quite pleased and put on his plug hat and went home to embellish the anecdote. The thought of fuel never entered the Judge’s head.

The next evening as he was washing his hands for supper he glanced out the back window and saw a tall parapet of wood stacked neatly against the back fence. His wife straightened up from the kitchen range and started to speak. The Judge looked quickly away and buried his face in the basin.

The matter was not mentioned during supper. ‘She’s saving herself up till we’re in front of the fireplace,’ he thought. ‘I wish I had remembered to order it myself.’

Supper over, he went into the next room and stretched his gnarled legs in front of the fire; his wife clattered the dishes about in the kitchen. An open fire made you think of many things; of the old days, for instance, when he and Lucy were first married, and she was a girl with smooth cheeks and they were the finest-looking couple in town.

Presently she came in to sit beside him. A burning fragment snapped off and dropped like a little meteor to the hearth. His wife started to speak. He anticipated her; he was going to postpone the reckoning, if only for a moment . ‘Madam, this open fire here puts me in mind of the unfortunate experience of poor old Joe Craddock last winter. It was the night Buskirk opened up his new saloon. Joe got an overdose and stumbled down to the basement of the Court House to sleep it off by that furnace they have there. Joe had never seen a furnace and he could n’t see it then. Meanwhile, madam, the nigger came in to stoke the fire and left open the door to the furnace while he stepped into the coal room. Joe woke up and he found himself staring into the yawning mouth of that contraption with the flames shooting two feet high and not another soul about. He jumped up, madam, and he shouted, “I’m in Hell, sir, I’m in Hell! And by God, sir, I’m in full possession!” And would you believe it, madam, he has n’t taken another drink since.’

His wife smiled. ‘You tell such long stories, dear, and you always begin them when I start to say something. I’ve forgotten, now, what I was going to say.’

Her husband was satisfied. The matter of the wood was not mentioned that night, nor for the rest of the winter.

Early in March, when the last stick was gone, the Judge addressed a question to his wife. ‘Madam,’ he said, ‘I’ve never gotten a bill for that wood you ordered last fall. Where did you get it, and how much did it cost?’

‘The wood I ordered? I did n’t order it. Did n’t you?’

The Judge was almost embarrassed. ‘I forgot to. It just slipped my mind. I thought you had done it.’

‘Why, no.’

‘Where did it come from, then?’

‘I don’t know. A darky brought it out one afternoon and stacked it in the yard.’

The Judge was puzzled and made several inquiries around town. No one had sold him the wood. Apparently someone had given it to him. That was all right with the Judge.

That evening he looked at his wife’s ample proportions with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Madam,’ he said, ‘it seems that three cords of wood have dropped in your lap.’ And he forgot the matter. But not for long. About a week later the Major climbed the steps to the Judge’s office. ‘Afternoon.’ There was an air of triumph about him.

‘Hello, Major. How’s the Pied Piper?’

The other ignored the allusion. ‘I want some legal advice, Judge.’ He took off his hat and wiped the top of his shining head and the tip of his shining nose. For one bent upon an unholy errand of vengeance, he had a completely innocuous look. His face glowed like a healthy cherub’s, and the white fringe of hair which circled his lower scalp looked like a pale halo that had slipped down over his pink ears. He drew up a chair and crossed his legs with forced deliberation; his plump hands were picking excitedly at a ravel in his jacket. ‘Well, sir, it’s this way, Judge. If a parcel of goods had been delivered to a man’s place by mistake, and that man had n’t ordered the goods but went ahead and used them anyway, would he be liable for the price of the stuff?’ He gave an elaborate cough. ‘The delivery was a mistake, you understand.’

‘Hm.’ The Judge half-opened his mouth and put his jaw on one side. He saw the trap, but the law was the law. ‘Why, certainly, Major. If he used the goods he would be liable for their price whether he ordered them or not. A matter of quasi-contract.’

The Major stretched forth a fat and triumphant finger and arraigned the Judge in the manner of Nathan, the prophet. ‘You’re the man, sir, you’re the man. That load of wood you found in the back yard last fall was sent there by me. And you used it up. Put there by mistake, you understand.’ He leaned forward and poked the Judge gleefully.

The Judge did n’t flicker an eyelash. ‘Name your price, sir.’

The other took out his handkerchief and slid back in his chair to look at the ceiling. ‘Well, sir,’ he calculated slyly, ‘ there was three cords and my ordinary price would be about twenty-five dollars. But under the circumstances, Judge, — y’ know, there was right smart of timber in there I prized, — under the circumstances I reckon I’ll have to add a hundred and fifty to that. That’ll make a hundred and seventyfive. And, Judge,’ he concluded on a high, hilarious note, ’don’t never try to do up a hoss trader.’ He rested either hand on a round, tight-trousered thigh and laughed splendidly up at Daniel Webster.

The Judge reached quietly for his pen and made out a check. He waved it about in the air to dry. ‘And now, Major,’ he said slowly, ‘I’m going to charge you just a hundred and seventyfive dollars for legal advice. Shall we exchange checks, or shall I tear this one up? And I want to thank you, sir, for the wood.’