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Title: The Sheriffs Bluff - 1908
Author: Page, Thomas Nelson
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE SHERIFFS BLUFF

By Thomas Nelson Page

Charles Scribner’s Sons New York, 1908

Copyright, 1891, 1904, 1906



I

The county of H------ was an old Colonial county, and even as late as
the time of my story contained many Colonial relics. Among them were the
court-house and the jail, and, at that time, the Judge and the Sheriff.

The court-house was an old brick edifice of solemn and grayish brown,
with a portico whose mighty columns might have stood before a temple
of Minerva overlooking the Ægean Sea. With its thick walls and massive
barred windows, it might have been thought the jail, until one saw the
jail. The jail once seen stood alone. A cube of stone, each block huge
enough to have come from the Pyramid of Cheops; the windows, or rather
the apertures, were small square openings, crossed and recrossed
with great bars of wrought iron, so massive that they might have been
fashioned on the forge of the Cyclops. Looking through them from the
outside, one saw just deep enough into the narrow cavern to see another
iron grating, and catch a suspicion of the darkness beyond. The entrance
was but a slit letting into a stone-paved corridor on which opened the
grinding iron doors of the four small cells, each door a grate of huge
iron bars, heavily crossed, with openings just large enough to admit
a hand. The jail was built, not to meet the sentimental or any other
requirements of a reasonable and humane age, but in that hard time when
crime was reckoned crime, when the very names of “gaol” and “prison”
 stood for something clear and unmistakable.

The Judge of the circuit was himself a relic of the past, for his youth
had been cast among those great ones of the earth whose memory had come
down coupled with deeds so heroic and far-reaching, that even to the
next generation the actors appeared half enveloped and magnified in the
halo of tradition. His life had been one of high rectitude and dignity,
to which habits of unusual studiousness and a great work on Executors
had added a reputation for vast learning, and in his old age both in his
manner and his habit he preserved a distance and a dignity of demeanor
which lent dignity to the Bar, and surrounded him wherever he went
with a feeling akin to awe. Though he had given up the queue and short
clothes, he still retained ruffles, or what was so closely akin to them
that the difference could scarcely be discerned. Tall, grave, and with a
little bend, not in the shoulders but in the neck; with white hair just
long enough to be brushed behind in a way to suggest the knot which
had once appeared at the back; with calm, quiet eyes under bushy white
eyebrows; a face of pinkish red inherited from Saxon ancestors, who once
lived in the sun and on the brine, and a mouth and chin which bespoke
decision and self-respect in every line and wrinkle, wherever he moved
he produced an impression of one who had survived from a preceding age.
Moreover, he was a man of heroic ideals, of Spartan simplicity, and of
inflexible discipline.

If he had a weakness it was his susceptibility to feminine testimony.

The county was a secluded one--a fitting field for such a judge. And the
great meetings of the year were the sessions of the Circuit Court.

The Judge’s name was then on every lip, and his passage to the
court-house was a procession.

Everyone except those unfortunates who had come under his ban, or might
be too far gone in drink to venture into his presence, drew up along
the path from the tavern to bow to him and receive his courteous bow in
return as he passed with slow and thoughtful step along, preceded by the
Sheriff and his deputies, and followed by the Bar and “the multitude.”

Whenever he entered the court or rose from the bench the lawyers stood.

If he was impressive off the bench, on the bench he was imposing.

At heart one of the kindest of men, he added to great natural dignity a
high sense of the loft-iness of a position on the bench and preserved,
with impartial and inflexible rigor, the strictest order in his court,
ruling bar and attendants alike up to a high accountability.

No one would any more have thought of taking a liberty with Judge Lomax
than he would have done it with an old lion. Just one man, possibly,
might have thought of it, but he would not have done it--and this was
Aleck Thompson, the Sheriff of the county, a jovial man past middle age,
a rubicund bachelor, who had courted half the girls in the county and
was intimate with more than half the people in the circuit. He was
daring even to rashness. He had held the office of Sheriff--not so long,
perhaps, as the Judge had sat on the bench, but, at least, since he
first stood for the place; and he could hold it as long as he wished it.
He was easily the most popular man in the county. He treated everybody
with unvarying joviality and indiscriminate generosity, and it was known
that his income, though large, was, except so much as was absolutely
necessary for his support, distributed with impartial fairness among the
people of his county, a part over the poker-table, a part over the bar,
and the balance in other popular ways. He had a face that no one could
read, and bluffed as well with a pair of treys as with four aces. But
he used to say that such a bluff was to be used rarely, and only on
important occasions.

Now and then some opposition to him would arise and a small headway
would be made against him. As, for instance, after he advised Squire
Jefford’s plump and comely daughter, Mary, not to marry Dick Creel,
because Dick was too dissipated. There were some who said that the
Sheriff had designs himself on Sam Jefford’s buxom, black-eyed daughter,
while others held that he was afraid of young Dick, who was an amiable
and popular young fellow, and that he did not want him to get too much
influence in the lower end of the county. However it was, Mary Jefford
not only married her young lover, but sobered him, and as she was young,
pretty, and ambitious, and worshipped her husband, Dick Creel at the
next election, to use the vernacular, “made cornsideruble show runnin’
ag’inst the Sheriff, and give him cornsideruble trouble.” Still,
Thompson was elected overwhelmingly, and few people believed Mary
Creel’s charge that the Sheriff had got Dick drunk on purpose to beat
him. Thompson said, “Did n’t anybody have to _git_ Dick drunk--the work
was t’other way.”



II

The session of the Circuit Court in the “------ year of the
Commonwealth,” as the writs ran, and “in the sixteenth year of Aleck
Thompson’s Sheriffalty,” as that official used to say, was more than
usually important. The noted case of “_Dolittle et al. vs. Dolittle’s
Executrix_” was tried at the autumn term of the court, and caused
considerable excitement in the county; for, in addition to the amount
of property and the nice questions of law which were involved, the two
sides had been severally espoused by two sister churches, and nearly
half the county was in attendance, either as witnesses or interested
spectators. Not only was every available corner in the little village
filled to overflowing with parties, witnesses, and their adherents, but
during the first week of the term the stable yards and road-sides were
lined with covered wagons and other vehicles, in or under which some
of those who had not been fortunate enough to obtain shelter in the
inn used to sleep, and “Briles’s bar” under the tavern did a thriving
business.

As the case, however, wore on, and the weather became inclement, the
crowd dropped off somewhat, though a sufficient number still remained to
give an air of life to the little roadside village.

Certain of these visitors found the bar-room on the ground floor of
the tavern across the road more attractive than the court-room, and as
evening came the loud talking in that direction told that the visits had
not been fruitless.

Perfect order, however, prevailed in the court, until one evening one
of these visitors, a young man named Turkle, who had been spending the
afternoon at the bar, made his way into the court-room. He was clad in
a dingy, weather-stained overcoat and an old slouch hat. He sank into
a seat at the end of a bench near the door and, being very drunk, soon
began to talk aloud to those about him.

“Silence!” called the Sheriff over the heads of the crowd from his desk
in front, and those near the man cautioned him to stop talking. A moment
later, however, he began again. Again the Sheriff roared “Silence!” But
by this time the hot air of the court-room had warmed up Mr. Turkle, and
in answer to the warning of those about him, he declared in a maudlin
tone, that he “Warn’t goin’ to keep silence.”

“I got ‘s much right to talk ‘s anyone, and I’ma goin’ to talk ‘s much
‘s I please.”

His friends tried to silence him, and the Sheriff made his way through
the crowd and endeavored to induce him to leave the court-room. But it
was to no purpose. Jim Turkle was much too “far gone” to know what he
was doing, though he was in a delightfully good humor. He merely hugged
the Sheriff and laughed drunkenly.

“Aleck, you jist go ‘way f’om here. I ain’t a-goin’ to shet up. You shet
up yourself. I ‘m a-goin’ to talk all I please. Now, you hear it.”

Then as if to atone for his rudeness, he caught the Sheriff roughly by
the arm and pulled him toward him:

“Aleck, how ‘s the case goin’? Is Mandy a goin’ to win? Is that old
rascal rulin’ right!”

The Sheriff urged something in a low voice, but Turkle would not be
silenced.

“Now you see thar,” he broke out with a laugh to those about him, “did
n’t I tell you Aleck wa’ n ‘t nothin’ but a’ ol’ drunkard? What d’
you s’pose the ol’ rascal wants me to do? He wants me to go over there
to the bar and git drunk like ‘im, and I ain’t goin’ to do it. I never
drink. I ‘ve come here to see that my cousin Mandy’s chil’ern gits
their patrimony, and I ain’ a goin’ to ‘sociate with these here drunken
fellows like Aleck Thompson.”

The Sheriff made a final effort. He spoke positively, but Turkle would
not heed.

“Oh, ‘Judge’ be damned! You and I know that ol’ fellow loves a dram jest
‘s well ‘s the best of ‘em--jest ‘s well ‘s you do. Look at his face.
You think he got that drinkin’ well-water! Bet yer he ‘s got a bottle in
‘s pocket right now.”

A titter ran through the crowd, but was suddenly stopped.

A quiet voice was heard from the other end of the court-room, and a
deathly silence fell on the assemblage.

“Suspend for a moment, gentlemen, if you please. Mr. Sheriff, bring that
person to the bar of the Court.”

The crowd parted as if by magic, and the Sheriff led his drunken
constituent to the bar, where his befuddled brain took in just enough of
the situation to make him quiet enough. The Judge bent his sternest look
on him until he quailed.

“Have you no more sense of propriety than to disturb a court of justice
in the exercise of its high function?”

Turkle, however, was too drunk to understand this. He tried to steady
himself against the bar.

“I ain’t is-turbed no Court of function, and anybody ‘t says so, Jedge,
iz a liar.” He dragged his hand across his mouth and tried to look
around upon the crowd with an air of drunken triumph, but he staggered
and would have fallen had not the Sheriff caught and supported him.

The Judge’s eyes had never left him.

“Mr. Sheriff, take this intoxicated creature and confine him in the
county gaol until the expiration of the term. The very existence of a
court of justice depends upon the observance of order. Order must be
preserved and the dignity of the Court maintained.”

There was a stir--half of horror--throughout the court-room. Put a man
in that jail just for being tight!

Then the Sheriff on one side and his deputy on the other, led the
culprit out, now sufficiently quiet and half whimpering. A considerable
portion of the crowd followed him.

Outside, the prisoner was sober enough, and he begged hard to be let
off and allowed to go home. His friends, too, joined in his petition and
promised to guarantee that he would not come back again during the term
of court. But the Sheriff was firm.

“No. The Judge told me to put you in jail and I ‘m goin’ to do it.” He
took two huge iron keys from his deputy and rattled them fiercely.

Turkle shrank back with horror.

“You ain’t goin’ to put me in thar, Aleck! Not in that hole! Not just
for a little drop o’ whiskey. It was _your_ whiskey, too, Aleck. I was
drinkin’ yo’ health, Aleck. You know I was.”

“The Judge won’t know anything about it. He ‘ll never think of it
again,” pleaded several of Turkle’s friends. “You know he has ordered a
drunken man put there before and never said any more about it--just told
you to discharge him next day.”

Turkle stiffened up with hope.

“Yes, Aleck.” He leaned on the Sheriff’s arm heavily. “He ‘s drunk
himself--I don’t mean that, I mean _you ‘re_ drunk--oh, no--I mean _I’m_
drunk. Everybody ‘s drunk.”

“Yes, you ‘ve gone and called me a drunkard before the Court. Now I ‘m
goin’ to show you.” Thompson rattled his big keys again savagely.

Turkle caught him with both hands.

“Oh, Aleck, don’t talk that a-way,” he pleaded in a tremulous voice.
“Don’t talk that a-way!” He burst into tears and flung his arms around
the Sheriff’s neck. He protested that he had never, seen him take a
drink in his life; he would go and tell the Judge so; if necessary, he
would swear to it on a Bible.

“Aleck, you know I love you better than anybody in this world--except my
wife and children. Yes, better than them--better than Jinny. Jinny will
tell you that herself. Oh! Aleck!” He clung to him and sobbed!

His friends indorsed this and declared that they would bring him back if
the Judge demanded his presence. They would “promise to bring him back
dead or alive at any time he sent for him.”

As Turkle and his friends were always warm supporters of the Sheriff, a
fact of which they did not fail to remind him, Thompson was not averse
to letting him off, especially as he felt tolerably sure that the Judge
would, as they said, forget all about the matter, or, if he remembered
it, would, as he had done before, simply order him to discharge the
prisoner. So, after dragging the culprit to the jail door to scare him
well and make his clemency the more impressive, he turned him over to
the others on condition that he would mount his mule and go straight
home and not come back again during the term. This Turkle was so glad to
do that he struck out at once for the stable at what Thompson called a
“turkey trot,” and five minutes later he was galloping down the road,
swinging mightily on his sorrel mule, but whipping for life.

That night Thompson was much toasted about the court-house for his
humanity. Several of his admirers, indeed, got into somewhat the same
condition that Turkle had been in.

Even Dick Creel, who had come to court that day, lapsed from virtue and
fell a victim to the general hilarity.



III

The next morning when court was opened, the Judge was even more than
usually dignified and formal. The customary routine of the morning
was gone through with; the orders of the day before were read and
were signed by the Judge with more than wonted solemnity. The Clerk, a
benignant-looking old man with a red face and a white beard, took up his
book and adjusted his glasses to call the pending docket: the case of
“_Dolittle vs. Dolittle’s Ex’ex._,” and the array of counsel drew their
chairs up to the bar and prepared for the work of the day, when the
Judge, taking off his spectacles, turned to the Sheriff’s desk.

“Mr. Sheriff, bring in that unfortunate inebriate whom I sentenced to
confinement in the gaol yesterday. The Court, while sensible of the
imperative necessity of protecting itself from all unseemly disorder and
preserving its dignity undiminished, nevertheless always leans to the
side of mercy. The Court trusts that a night’s incarceration may have
sufficiently sobered and chastened the poor creature. The Court will
therefore give him a brief admonition and will then discharge him.”

The Judge sat back in his large arm-chair and waited benignantly with
his gaze resting placidly in front of him, while a deathly silence fell
on the crowd and every eye in the courthouse was turned on the Sheriff.

Thompson, standing at his desk, was staring at the Judge with jaw
dropped and a dazed look like a man who had suddenly to face judgment.
He opened his lips twice as if to speak, then turned and went slowly out
of the court-house like a man in a dream, while those left behind looked
in each other’s eyes, some half scared and others more than half amused.

Outside, Thompson stopped just between two of the great pillars.
He rammed his hands deep in his pockets and gazed vacantly over the
court-green and up the road.

“What will he do with you! Remove you!” asked two or three friends who
had slipped out of the door behind him and now stood about him.

“He ‘ll put me in jail--_and_ remove me.”

*****

“No matter if he says black ‘s white and white ‘s black, don’t you open
your mouth or you ‘ll get it. It ‘s much as I can do to keep you out of
jail this minute.”

“But, Sheriff--! But, Aleck--! Just wait a minute! I don’t----”

The next instant he was inside the courthouse and the Sheriff was
marching him up the aisle between the upturned faces. He planted him at
the bar immediately before the Court, pulling off his hat in such a way
as to drag his hair over his face and give him an even more dishevelled
appearance than before. Then he moved around to his own desk, keeping
his eye fixed piercingly on the astonished Creel’s bewildered face. A
gasp went over the court-room, and the Bar stared at the prisoner in
blank amazement.

The Judge alone appeared oblivious of his presence. He had sat
absolutely silent and motionless since he had given the order to the
Sheriff to produce the prisoner, his face expressive of deep reflection.
Now he withdrew his eye from the ceiling.

“Oh!”

With impressive deliberation he put on his large gold-rimmed spectacles;
sat up in his chair; assumed his most judicial expression, which sat
curiously on his benignant face, and looked severely down upon the
culprit. The court-room shivered and Thompson’s round face grew
perceptibly whiter; but his eyes, after a single glance darted at the
Judge, never left the face of the man at the bar.

The next second the Judge began to speak, and Thompson, and the
court-room with him, heaved a deep sigh of relief.

“Young man,” said the Judge, “you have committed an act of grievous
impropriety. You have been guilty of one of the most reprehensible
offences that any citizen of a Commonwealth founded upon order and
justice could commit, an act of such flagrant culpability that the
Court, in the maintenance of its dignity and in the interest of the
Commonwealth found it necessary to visit upon you punishment of great
severity and incarcerate you in the gaol usually reserved for the most
depraved malefactors. Intemperance is one of the most debasing of
vices. It impairs the intellect and undermines the constitution. To
the inhibition of Holy Writ is added the cumulative if inferential
prohibition of the Law, which declines to consider inebriety, though
extreme enough in degree to impair if not destroy the reasoning faculty,
in mitigation of crime of the highest---- dignity. If you had no beloved
family to whom your conduct would be an affliction, yet you have a duty
to yourself and to the Commonwealth which you have flagrantly violated.
To shocking inebriety you added the even grosser misdemeanor of
disturbing a Court in the exercise of its supreme function: the calm,
orderly, and deliberate administration of justice between the citizens
of the Commonwealth.”

“But, Judge--?” began the young man.

A sharp cough from the Sheriff interrupted him and he glanced at the
Sheriff to meet a menacing shake of the head.

The strangeness of the scene and the impressive solemnity of the Judge
so wrought upon the young man that he began to whimper. He looked at the
Judge and once more opened his mouth to speak, but the Sheriff, called,
sharply:

“Silence!”

Creel glanced appealingly from the Judge to the Sheriff, only to meet
another imperative shake of the latter’s head and a warning scowl. Then
the Judge proceeded, in a tone that showed that he was not insensible to
his altered manner.

“The Court, always mindful of that mercy whose quality ‘is not strained,
but droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath,’
trusts that your recent incarceration, though brief, may prove adequate
to the exigencies of the occasion. It hopes that the incarceration
of one night in the common gaol may prove in case of a young man like
yourself sufficiently efficacious to deter you from the repetition of
so grave a misdemeanor, and at the same time not crush too much that
generous spirit of youth which in its proper exercise may prove so
advantageous to its possessor, and redound so much to the benefit of
the Commonwealth. The order of the Court, therefore, is that the Sheriff
discharge you from further imprisonment.

“Mr. Sheriff, conduct the young man to the door, caution him against a
recurrence of his offence, and direct him toward his home.

“We will now proceed to call the docket.”

The court-room with another gasp broke into a buzz, which was instantly
quelled by the sharp command of the Sheriff for silence and order in the
court.

“But, Judge--” began Creel again, “I don’t understand--”

What he did not understand was not heard, for Thompson seized the
prisoner before he could finish his sentence, and, with a grip of steel
on his arm, hustled him down the aisle and out of the court-room.

A good many persons poured out of the court-room after them and with
subdued laughter followed the Sheriff and his charge across the green.
Thompson, however, did not wait for them. The young man appeared
inclined to argue. But the Sheriff gave him no time. Hurrying him down
the walk, he unhitched his horse for him and ordered him to mount.

“But, Sheriff--Mr. Thompson, I ‘m darned if I understand what it is all
about.”

“You were drunk,” said Thompson--“flagrantly inebriated. Go home. Did
n’t you hear the Judge?”

“Yes, I heard him. He ‘s doty. I might have been drunk, but I ‘m darned
if I slept in jail last night--I slept in----”

“I ‘m darned if you did n’t,” said the Sheriff. “The Judge has ruled
it so, and so you did. Now go home and don’t you come back here again
during this term, or you will sleep in jail again.”

“That old Judge is doty,” declared the young man with a tone of
conviction.

“So much the worse for you if you come back here. Go home now, just as
quick as you can.”

Creel reflected for a moment.

“Well, it beats my time. I ‘ll tell you what I ‘ll do, Mr. Thompson,” he
said, half pleadingly. “I ‘ll go home and stay there if you will promise
not to tell my wife I was in jail.”

“I promise you,” said Aleck, solemnly. “I give you my word I won’t.”

“And what ‘s more,” continued Creel, “if you ‘ll keep anybody else from
doing it, I ‘ll vote for you next time for Sheriff.”

“I promise you that, too,” said Aleck, “and if anybody says you were
there, let me know, and I ‘ll come up there and--and tell her you were
n’t. I can’t do any more than that, can I?”

“No, you can’t do any more than that,” admitted Creel, sadly, and,
leaning over and shaking hands with the Sheriff cordially for the first
time in some years, he rode away in profound dejection.

“Well, I ‘ve got to face Mary,” he said, “and I reckon I might as well
do it. Whiskey is a queer thing. I must have been a lot drunker than I
thought I was, because if the Court had n’t ruled it, I would have sworn
I slept in that there wing room last night.”

“Well, that ‘s the best bluff I ever put up,” said Thompson to the
throng about him as he turned back to the court-house.

The Sheriff’s bluff became the topic of the rest of the term. Such
audacity, such resourcefulness had never been known. Thompson became
more popular than ever, and his re-election the following spring was
admitted to be certain.

“That Aleck Thompson ‘s the smartest man that is,” declared one of his
delighted adherents.

Thompson himself thought so, too, and his imitation of the Judge, of
Dick Creel, and of himself in court became his most popular story.

Only the old Judge moved among the throng of tittering laymen calm,
dignified, and unsuspecting.

“If ever he gets hold of you, Aleck,” said one of that worthy’s
worshippers, “there ‘s likely to be a vacancy in the office of sheriff.”

“He ‘ll put me in jail,” laughed Aleck. “Dick Creel says he ‘s kind o’
doty.”



IV

The Court was nearing the end of the term, _Dolittle et al. vs.
Dolittle’s Executrix_, with all its witnesses and all its bitternesses,
had resulted in a mistrial, and the sister churches were wider apart
than ever. The rest of the docket was being daily disposed of.

The Sheriff was busy one day telling his story to an admiring throng on
the court-green when someone casually observed that Mrs. Dick Creel had
got off the train that morning.

The Sheriff’s face changed a little.

“Where is she!”

“Waitin’ in the tavern parlor.”

“What is she doing here! What is she doing in there!”

“Jest a settin’ and a waitin’.”

“I ‘spect she is waitin’ for you, Aleck!” hazarded one of his friends.

There was a burst of laughter, for Squire Jefford’s daughter, Mary, was
known to be “a woman of her own head.”

The Sheriff laughed, too; but his laughter was not as mirthful as usual.
He made an ineffectual attempt to keep up his jollity.

“I reckon I ‘ll go and see Mary,” he said at length.

He left the group with affected cheerfulness, but his heart was heavier
than he liked to admit. He made his way to the “ladies’ parlor,” as
the little sitting-room in the south wing of the rambling old tavern,
overlooking the court-green was called, and opened the door.

On one side of the wood fire, in a stiff, high-backed chair sat a young
woman, in her hat and wrap and gloves, “jest a settin’ and a waitin’.”
 She was a well-made and comely young woman under thirty, with a ruddy
face, smooth hair and bright eyes that the Sheriff knew could both smile
and snap. Her head was well set on rather plump shoulders; her mouth was
well formed, but was now close drawn, and her chin was strong enough to
show firmness--too much firmness, as Thompson mentally decided when he
caught its profile.

The Sheriff advanced with an amiable smile. He was so surprised.

“Why, you here, Mary! When did you come?” His tone was affable and even
testified pleasure. But Mary did not unbend. She was as stiff as the
chair she sat in. Without turning her head she turned her eyes and
looked at him sideways.

“_Mrs. Creel_.”

There was a glint in her black eyes that meant war, and Thompson’s
countenance fell.

“Ah-ur-Mrs. Creel.”

“I did n’t know as you ‘d know me!” She spoke quietly, her eyes still on
him sidewise.

“Not know you! Why, of course, I know you. I don’t forget the pretty
girls--leastways, the prettiest girl in the county. Your father and
I------”

“I heard you made a mistake about my husband and Jim Turkle. I thought
maybe you might think I was _Mrs_. Turkle.”

There was the least perceptible lifting of her shoulders and drawing
down of her mouth, but quite enough to suggest Jenny Turkle ‘s high
shoulders and grim face.

The Sheriff tried to lighten the conversation.

“Oh! Come now, Mary, you must n’t get mad about that. It was all a joke.
I was comin’ right up after court adjourned to tell you about it--and--.
It was the funniest thing! You ‘d ‘a’ died laughing if you ‘d been here
and seen----”

“I heard they was all laughin’ about it. _I_ ain’t so easy to amuse.”

“Oh! Yes, you would, too,” began Thompson, cajolingly. “If you ‘d
seen----”

“What time does Court adjourn!” she asked, quietly and irrelevantly,

“Oh, not for two or three--not for _several_ days yet--Probably ‘t will
hold over till well into next week. But if you ‘d seen----”

“I mean what time does it let out _to-day?_”

Thompson’s face fell again.

“Why--ah--about--ah--Why! What do you want to know for!”

“I want to see the Judge.” Her voice was dead level.

“What about!”

“About business!”

“What business!”

“_Co’te_ business,” with cold irony.

“You don’t mean that you ‘re goin’ to----!”

He paused without framing the rest of the question.

She suddenly stood up and flamed out.

“Yes, I am--that ‘s just what I am goin’ to do. That ‘s what I ‘ve come
here for. You may take a liberty with the Judge--he ‘s doty; but you
can’t take a liberty with _me_--I ‘m Squire Jefford’s daughter, and I ‘m
goin’ to show you.”

She was facing him now, and her black eyes were darting fire. Thompson
was quite staggered.

“Why, Mary! I am surprised at you. Your father’s old friend--who has had
you on his knee many a time. I am shocked and surprised--and mortified
and--astonished--and mortified----”

“You ‘ve done said that one once,” she said, icily.

“Why, Mary, I thought we were friends--” he began. But she cut in on
him.

“Friends!” She spoke with contempt. “You ‘ve had it in for Dick ever
since he was a boy.” Her voice suddenly broke and the tears sprang to
her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.

“Why, Mary--no such thing--I assure you--Dick and I are the best of
friends--_dear_ friends.”

Her sniff was more forcible than words. She wiped her eyes and looked at
him with freezing contempt.

“I ‘m a fool! And I don’t want you to be _Mary_-in’ me, either. If Dick
chooses to let you get him drunk and make a beast and a fool of him and
drag him up before the Court like a--a--like that drunkard, Jim Turkle,
what don’t know how to behave himself seemly in Court, and Circuit Court
at that--he may; but I ‘ll let you know, _I’m_ not goin’ to do it. I
don’t mean the Judge to think my husband’s a thing like that. I mean to
set him right. And I ‘ll tell him you are nothing but an old gambler who
spends your time ruinin’ young men, and braggin’ as how you can bluff
anybody.”

“Mary!--ur--Mrs. Creel!” gasped the Sheriff.

She stalked by him wiping her eyes, and marched straight to the door;
but the Sheriff was too quick for her. His office, his reputation,
everything hung on his pacifying her. He sprang to the door and,
standing with his back against it, began to apologize in so humble a
tone that even the angry wife could not but listen to him.

He said everything that any mortal could have said, and declared that he
would do anything on earth that she might ask.

She reflected, and he began to hope again. When their eyes met, hers
were still hard, but they were calmer.

“I know you think you are making a fool of me,” she began, and then as
he protested she shut him up with a sharp gesture.

“Yes, you do, you think so; but you are not. There is but one thing I
will accept in apology.”

“What is that!”

“You are to make Dick your deputy.”

“But, M----”

“I knew you would n’t. Stand aside.” She gave a sweep of the arm.

“But, Mary!”

“Stand aside, I say--I ‘d rather have you removed anyway.”

“But, Mary, just listen----”

“Stand aside, or I will call.” She straightened herself and looked past
him, as if listening.

“But, Mary, do be reasonable!”

She opened her mouth as if to cry out. The Sheriff threw up both hands.

“Mary, please--For kingdom’s sake, don’t! What unreasonable creatures
women are!”

“You ‘d better let women alone. One is as much as you can manage now.”
 She spoke witheringly. “I give you one more chance.”

“More than I can manage. You know Dick will get drunk----”

“Not unless you make him. Who was drunk at that barbecue at Jones’s
Cross Roads last summer!”

“Oh, Mary!”

“Who set up till after Sunday mornin’ playin’ kyards--. Yes, _gamblin’_
the last night of last County Cote!”

“Oh, Mary!--All right. I lay down my hand.”

She drew paper and pencil from her little bag and held them out to him.

“Write it down.”

“Ain’t my word good enough!”

“If you mean to do it, why are you afraid to write it!”

“I ‘m not afraid.”

“Then write it.” She held the paper to him with outstretched arm.

“What shall I write!”

“Write what I say: ‘I Aleck Thompson, promise and bind myself if I
remain in office for another term to appoint my _dear_ friend, Dick
Creel’--underscore that--‘my first deputy, and to keep him in as long as
he keeps sober and attends to his business.’ Now sign it.”

“What consideration do I get for this!” Thompson looked up from the
paper at her ca-jolingly. She met his gaze with a little flash.

“Oh! I forgot the consideration,” she murmured, “and I Squire Jefford’s
daughter, too!

“Write: ‘The consideration for the above is the love I bear the
aforesaid Richard Creel, and the fear I have that his wife will tell the
Judge what a smart Aleck I am.’”

“Mary, you don’t want me to write that!”

“Them very words. I little more forgot the consideration.”

The paper was written.

She glanced out of the window.

“Now I want a witness. I see the court is broken up.”

“Tain’t necessary.”

“I want a witness, and I ‘m goin’ to _have_ him.”

“Who!”

“The Judge.”

“Look here, Mary----”

“I ‘m goin’ to have him. You come and introduce me.”

“Mary, are you after all goin’ to----”

She met his gaze frankly.

“No--unless you go back on me. If you do, I ‘ll tell him and show him
the paper; and what ‘s more, I ‘ll show it all around this county.”

A flash of genuine admiration sprang into the Sheriff’s eyes.

“Mary, you ought to have been a man, or--Mrs. Aleck Thompson.”

The paper was signed and witnessed.





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