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His First Client

By Rupert Hughes

THE lawyer and the girl and the desperado make some new combinations, and if they did not come from Missouri they would need to show us—but, as a fact, the wild comedy in the court room was as natural to the Missouri of that day as the dog kennel in the street. This client adds to the evidence accumulated by Mark Twain and others going to show that Missouri is the most entertaining place on the map.


THAT snub was a complete success. It was meant for just what it accomplished.

The audience—or rather the spectators, for there were no auditors—saw a girl of glowing beauty strolling idly about a front yard and reaching the purple-flamed lilac bushes at the corner just as a young man came along and lifted his hat. They saw the girl stare at him, whirl on her heel, and stand with her hack to him till he passed. They saw him drop his hat in evident chagrin, stoop and fumble for it, put it on hindside foremost, and hurry past the house without daring to look toward the mother who stood watching from the porch.

There were two witnesses to the incident: the mother and Mr. Wesley Pennock, son of the most important grocery store in Nineveh, Mo. Wesley was on the opposite side of the street with Nettie Eldred, but Nettie had not seen the great snub. Nettie was too nearsighted, and even her moony spectacles gave her small range of vision.

Wesley exclaimed rather needlessly:

"Well, did you see that?"

It was rather an exclamation than a question, but Nettie took everything literally: "See what? O' course I didn't! I never see anything. What was it?"

 

WESLEY soothed her with a sweetmeat of gossip:

"Why, Audrey Moulton just came almost face to face with Harley Teele and turned her back on him till he got past. He was so flustered he dropped his hat. and now he's traipsin' down the street with his derby wrong end to."

"You don't tell me!" Nettie gasped. "And Harley and her thicker than thieves a few weeks ago!" She sighed with luxurious cynicism: "She's getting stuck-up, I suppose, since Jere Hutter was elected prosecuting attorney."

"Does she like Jere now?" said Wesley with a panicky realization of the shiftiness of the adorable but unreliable sex.

"He's there three evenings a week," said Nettie.

"Poor Harl!" Wesley moaned, wondering when he himself should be shut out of Nettie's little world. "She was crazy about him for years. And now he's been admitted to the bar for six months and hasn't had a case yet. Not going to get any, I guess, either, with Aud's father down on him. If he got one, I bet Judge Moulton wouldn't let him win it. It's a darned shame all the same. It's natural enough for Judge and Mrs. Moulton to mistreat any young fellow that hangs round Aud, but I didn't think And would be so dogon shabby. Harl certainly has the worst luck!"

The indignation the snub had aroused across the street hardly equaled the approval it won from the mother on the porch. To her it was the rare and encouraging spectacle of a daughter actually obeying her parents.

Mrs. Moulton had thought kindly enough of Harley Teele when he was a poor young candidate for the bar, reading law in the Judge's office. She had treated him with as much Christian condescension as one could waste on a sort of unpaid office boy, an inkwell filler, a letter filer, whose only salary was the privilege of grazing in the Judge's library till he should be able to pass the examination.

She had supposed that Audrey's interest in him was the same. Audrey often drove the Judge to his office in the buggy, or drove down to bring him back to meals, or to hold him up for shopping money. Mrs. Moulton did not know how often the Judge was out when Audrey arrived, or how frequently she left the horse standing at the curb and waited in the office, or how willing she was for her father to stay away as long as he wanted to or longer.

Mrs. Moulton never dreamed that Audrey's condescension to the young student was the condescension of an angel across the bar of heaven, or that Harley was reading in her eyes laws that are older than the codes of Hammurabi, Moses, or Justinian.

 

{{di|THE explosion came when Harley passed the examination, such as it was in that day and district, and was admitted to the privilege of breaking out a shingle with its gorgeous legend: "Harley Teele, Attorney at Law." The Judge had considerately made the examination a mere formality, and had slapped the young advocate on the shoulder and wrung his hand.

And then it was announced to the indignant Judge and his horrified wife that the young scoundrel was planning to marry Audrey—not at once, of course, but soon—say, in two or three years. He had been trespassing on her young affections, and now he claimed squatter rights there. Mrs. Moulton had tantrums for days, and the Judge ordered the young reprobate to get out of his office and stay out, also to keep out of his house and off the front porch and the grass, and a good distance from the daughter, under penalty of getting shot, cowhided, bound over to keep the peace, and locked in jail for contempt of court.

The feud made a sensation in Nineveh. Almost anything except a snore made a sensation in Nineveh, for Nineveh, Mo., as a town, is about as lively as the place it was named after is now. Harley was the best advertised lawyer in the county. But he was advertised too well, and as a man on whom a powerful Judge had scowled. If a guileless old farmer left a sick old cow on the railroad track and sued the iniquitous railroad corporation for the wanton destruction of a blue-beribboned thoroughbred, he would hardly put his case in the hands of the Judge's pet aversion. It mattered not what form of litigation amused that Missourian community, nobody was gambler enough to trust his chances to Harley Teele.

Audrey wept and pleaded and stormed and made her home almost intolerable for her parents, but she could not move them to relent, and she did not dare invite Harley to his destruction by braving the wrath of her father, an ex-warrior who still ate fire on occasion and felt that as a man's home was his castle, his revolver was his sword of knightly dignity.

 

THE parents in self-defense encouraged Jere Hutter to take Audrey off their hands of evenings. Hutter's father had money, and Hutter had a practice. When he was recognized as the favored candidate for son-in-law to Judge Moulton, he got more practice. And the Judge helped him to the post of prosecuting attorney.

That was a long, cold winter for Harley Teele. He was tongue-tied and idle, for he had no cause to plead, he was exiled from the forum of his ambitions and from the fireside of his affections. He had next to no money from his humble parents.

There was not always heat in the old stove in the little office with the tiny bedroom off. Of nights he walked and walked to keep warm and to keep from going mad of loneliness in his cell.

He walked oftenest past the Moulton house, the big four-square, mansard-roofed, central-balled, white-stepped, brick residence of the aristocracy of that sort of town. Harley might have been a sentinel or a private watchman there, so resolutely he paced back and forth, so hauntingly he wore down the snow on his rounds.

It gave him small cheer as he loitered in the dual chill of marrow and soul to see through the half-lowered curtains the prosecuting attorney prosecuting his attentions to Audrey. Jere Hutter sat in the parlor with the family till the family was adroitly withdrawn on various pretexts, bidding Jere Hutter good night but forbidding him to go so early, leaving him flagrantly alone with Audrey.

 

THE sentinel never saw Audrey encourage Hutter to stay. He saw that her lips moved little in conversation. He saw her yawn more or less candidly, God bless her, when Hutter was evidently most earnest. He saw her shake her head often.

At last he would see Hutter rise, then Harley would duck behind a tree. Audrey would open the front door for Hutter and close it on him without delay. Harley could sometimes see her "Good night" float out on the frosty air, and it seemed to have a polite frost on it, though it came from those so warm and rosy lips.

Harley was partly repaid for his shivers by the rapture of seeing Hutter come down the steps. His head drooped, rebuffed; his very heels thudded dejectedly. Then Harley would pluck up hope and go to his lonely cell whistling with chapped lips roundelays of joy made visible on the wintry air.

 

BUT the next night he would he afraid that this time Hutter would not come forth defeated. And he would watch again.

The winter was long enough and cold enough, but it could not last forever, and by and by spring came in. It brought violets out of hard soil: it pinned green bibs and tuckers on old trees; it brought from dripping lilac shrubs opulent purple explosions of beauty. It brought hope back home. Surely, if spring could work all these miracles, it could bring a client out of nothingness, even to Harley Teele's wintry office.

The lilacs were never so glorious as the day of the snub. The day was so warm that Audrey had sat at an open window reading a book. It could not have been a very fascinating book, because she looked up from it so much, looked up from the book and looked down the street.

Her mother sat crocheting and watching her. After a while Audrey put aside the book, rose, and yawned; it was a very soulless yawn, for she was trembling with sweet hypocrisy. She murmured:

"Aren't the lilacs wonderful this year, mamma? I'll get you a bunch, mamma."

"I'll go with you."

"No, no. the ground is damp—your rheumatism." Audrey made needless haste, it seemed to her mother, who followed to the porch, her suspicions roused by the laborious yawns and the intense tone of indifference. She watched Audrey move lazily from the oleander tub to the peonies, to the little cluster of upward-pleading tulips. She saw her reach the lilac bush, and then Mrs. Moulton quivered with rage, for she saw Harley Teele coming up the street. And next the mother was rejoiced to see the snub.

And such a snub!

The treacherous girl had plucked a little spray of lilacs and flicked it over the fence at Harley's feet before she turned her back on him. Before she turned her back on him she had swept him with a look like a shaft of sunset sunbeams breaking through a cloud. He had lifted his hat, and received the snub in the form of a softly murmured phrase:

"I love you, Harley honey!"

 

IT WAS then that he dropped his hat—she was so all-fired pretty he could hardly keep his foothold on this swirling planet. He stooped for his hat and for the lilac spray that he valued more, and he sent a shrill whisper through the pickets of the fence:

"I love you. too. And I've got a client!"

"No!"

"Yes. A client at last."

By now he had stuffed the lilacs in his hat and he must march on, not daring to risk another word, for he saw Mrs. Moulton glaring from the porch. He did not lift his hat to her. She would have given him a real snub, and the lilacs would have fallen out.

In view of the perfect smoothness with which this double-eyed villainy was performed, it is not unreasonable to wonder if it had not been practiced. One wonders if, during the long winter with its prayer meetings, sociables, straw rides, and bobsled parties, this Missouri Romeo and Juliet may not have exchanged other messages. A very cynical or very sportive person might even be willing to bet that on some of those cold nights, after Jere Hutter had gone, a girl with a hasty shawl over her head may have tiptoed from that Moulton front door and hastened out to the gate to press those warm, red lips to the cold, white mouth of her sentinel.

And now he had a client! Next to a wedding chime itself, this was the best rewakening of hope. Audrey hid her blushing face in the lilacs, kissed the flowers and told him things they never repeated. She ripped off an armload of fragrance, enough almost to hide her burning cheeks, and she carried them to her mother! And when her mother praised her for not speaking to that Harley Teele, she said she was glad her mother was pleased. The hypocrite! how can men ever trust the creatures!

 

AUDREY was punished with a blazing curiosity. Who could the client be, and what was the case? Jere Hutter had talked law to her till she had wanted to scream, but he had mentioned no important legal event for weeks.

Nothing, indeed, had happened in town except the burning of the new barn on the Daspin place. But, then, other barns had been burned and nothing legal had happened.

Her curiosity consumed her. Who was the client? He must be rich, he must be wise to select the brilliant luminary whom everybody was trying to hide under a bushel. There would be a lot of money in it, with a retainer and a gorgeous contingent fee. Harley would handle the case wonderfully, and be called to a great practice or a big railroad position in Jefferson City or Moberly or some other metropolis, and she would go with him as his wife. She had her wedding gown all designed before the Judge came home to dinner. She did not drive down for him so often now that Harley's office was on the other side of the square.

Greatly as she was tempted to ask her father about the new lawsuit, she feared to waken suspicions long lulled to slumber. But the Judge appeased her curiosity without the asking.

As he sat down to the table—or as near as he could get to it—and tucked his napkin in his balloonish waistcoat, he began to shake with laughter. He shook a fat finger at Audrey and chuckled:

"Well, honey, your late lamented friend, Harley Teele, do you remember him?"

"Yes, father," most demurely.

"Well, he's got a client."

She was just about to exclaim, "I know he has, and who is he?" but she caught herself and merely tossed her head with indifference. Mrs. Moulton supplied the necessary query: "Oh, he has, has he? And who has been so thick-witted as to give him a case?"

"I did."

"You did?" Mrs. Moulton gasped. "You don't mean to sit there, John Moulton, and look me in the face and tell me that, after all we've endured from that man, you gave him a case?"

"I had to, mother."

"Had to! What nonsense!"

"Now, mother, in the first place, I'm on the bench and I can't allow family prejudices to influence my judicial actions. In the second place, I have no objections whatever to Harley as a man or an attorney at law—it's only as a son-in-law that I don't hanker after him. He's kept away very well from pestering Audrey, and I don't mind helping him."

"The idea of you—"

"And in the third place, mother, I gave him the case because nobody else would take it."

"And who was the client?" Mrs. Moulton snapped, and the Judge grinned: "Jed Bolen."

At the mere mention of this name Mrs. Moulton's anger changed to laughter. She laughed so heartily, and her husband joined her so uproariously, that they did not heed the face of Audrey. The girl was fighting down the tears that crept to her eyes, for hope and pride were both crushed under the one bludgeon of that name.

 

JED BOLEN was the town joke and the town terror. He and his class were products of the Civil War, and, when it ended it had them sprawling like strange sea monsters flung ashore by a tidal wave.

After the war Missouri reverted almost to chaos for a time. North and South had met and mixed there like the fringes of two rugs. Families, town, churches had been split wide, and remained unreconciled. For years and years afterward even the churches refused to reunite. Little cities where there were not enough Presbyterians or Methodists or Baptists to fill one church had two for each denomination. The milder element in the parishes doubtless half counted on finding a Mason and Dixon's line drawn through heaven about midway. The more vigorous haters among the Northern Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists expected that the Southern Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists would not be in heaven at all, but would hold their prayer meetings much farther south, while the Southerners took the same comfort to themselves, vice versa.

 

THE bitterness was easy to understand if one understands how the war affected Missouri. Few great battles were fought in the State, but there were incessant skirmishes, lynchings, and outrages for four long years. One of Mrs. Moulton's brothers had been a Union soldier, and another brother a Confederate. Both factions alternately raided her father's property, destroying buildings, driving off cattle and horses, and burning crops.

When peace was declared, ruffians, who hardly deserved the name of guerrilla, came back to the neighborhoods they had harried; and their feelings were hurt, their tempers murderously aroused, if they were not treated as honorable warriors returned from noble strife. But it was against human nature to forgive them, especially as they continued to be a nuisance or a menace.

Among the trouble makers in Nineveh, Mo., was Jed Bolen, a huge bushwhacker, who had been rather a gorilla than a guerrilla. He was a giant of uncouth ferocity and power.

He lived among the good-for-nothing white trash gathered along the river bottom, most of them wretches as lazy, as stupid, as ignorant, and as vicious as the snapping turtles that basked in the mud and the sun. Jed Bolen went barefooted in the warm weather; his beard was continuous along arms and chest, and his poll looked like a straw stack after a cyclone.

He hated the rich, and anybody that owned a pair of shoes was rich. He was suspected of having something or everything to do with a series of incendiary fires that had destroyed several fine stables and some of Missouri's best blooded stock.

 

ONE day he and another man were passing the homestead of James Daspin, a respectable citizen of means, who had recently built a big stable. Their conversation was overheard:

"That's right smart of a barn," said Jed's companion.

"It would make a right purty fire," said Jed.

Some nights later the barn made a beautiful fire.

There had been a heavy rain the day before, and the town marshal discovered in the mud about the barnyard the tracks of enormous bare feet. Few feet in the neighborhood were so important as Jed's; his remark about the barn was remembered, and he was elected guilty by acclamation.

The marshal called upon him at his shanty and pried him out of it with difficulty. Several deputies received black and blue souvenirs of Jed's theory that a man's shanty is his citadel. Jed used his hands like battle-axes and his feet like a mule's hind legs, but he was persuaded to jail somehow and locked in a white-washed stone cell, with an iron-barred door of even greater strength than his, though Jed was not to be convinced of this.

When the papers for his commitment and trial were drawn, Harley Teele happened to be in court. A young and briefless attorney, eager for any any chance to show his mettle, usually happens to be in court. It was necessary for Jed Bolen to be defended if he were to be prosecuted. None of the established lawyer felt inclined to risk his time and reputation defending such a public nuisance. Judge Moulton twiddled his [st?]ump thumbs a while, then caught sight of Harley and appointed him. A roar of laughter went up, and the Judge rolled in his chair. But Harley did not laugh. He thanked the Judge and said he would do his best for the defendant.

The fee was hardly large enough to be called "merely nominal." But it was a case!

Harley was in a hurry to visit his brand-new client, but he was in a greater hurry to let Audrey know. So he made a grand detour on his way to the jail, and received the delicious snub and the surreptitious spray of lilacs.

When he entered the jail he wore a lilac nosegay in his lapel. He found Jed gripping the iron bars and snarling through them like an infuriated ape; also he was trying to bend or break them with his hands. He was so ferocious that it seemed quite possible for him to succeed if he would only save the strength he wasted in yelling like a circus steam calliope:

"I want out! I want out. I tell you! Lea' me outen here, or I'll nach'ly bust this old jail to pieces."

When Harley introduced himself as Jed's protector, Jed welcomed him with a storm of contemptuous abuse and demanded instant release. He was rendered all the more impatient by Harley's soothing reassurance: "I'll have you out of there in a jiffy, sir. If I can't find bail, I'll get a writ of habeas corpus!"

Jed was not soothed even by the unwonted term of "sir." He shouted defiance and demanded instant release.

Thrilled with the powers of attorney at law. Harley made out his papers and hastened to the Judge for their execution. And the Judge said with an amused kindliness:

"Now, Harley, I advise you to leave your client right where he is. From the talk I hear round town, the minute Jed puts his ugly head out in the street, he'll he lynched and lynched unanimous. It's more than likely that some of our best people won't wait for him to come out. They'll go and get him. Of course. I don't know this officially, but folks are so tired of barn burning they're getting peevish. They never liked Jed anyhow. And as a friend, not as a judge, my boy, it's my opinion that if you want to keep that client of yours, you'll keep him in the calaboose as long as ever you can. If you let him loose you'll lose him sure. We haven't had a lynchin' here in so long that folks are afraid they'll get out of practice."

The young counsel was dejected, but he took the advice with the gratitude it deserved, and returned to tell his client how kind and thoughtful the Judge was.

Jed proceeded to call the Judge every name a practiced guerrilla and occasional steamboat roustabout could find in his kit. He committed contempt of court in every way he could think of. He yelled the names so loud that it was almost impossible to hear them. And when his anxious attorney ordered him to keep still he shot his great hand through the bars like a grappling hook.

A quick leap backward saved the legal débutant from finding his last client in his first. It was far from his precious dreams of his first consultation.

 

JED danced and plunged and threatened. "You come here to me," he roared; "You come just close enough for me to lay one finger on you, and I'll break you up into kindlin' wood. You call yourself a lawyer, do you, well I call you a—"

It is not practical to report this verbatim. Later Jed went on: "I'll git outen here some way ef I have to bite these here bars in two. And when I'm loose I'm going to kill you fust off. And next I'm goin' to kill the prosecutin' attorney. You go tell Jere Hutter that Him and you and that Judge are a gang of black-livered consperators, and I'm goin' to kill you—all three of you, you hear me? I ain't killed sence the war, and I'm just hongry thusty for blood. Hear?"

There was no doubt that Jed was making himself heard. There was no doubt that he meant what he shouted. Harley, as a loyal advocate, tried to quiet him and promise him justice, mercy, and all the rights the law allowed. But Jed trusted nobody. and he added to his threats the final cruelty in demanding a new lawyer—a real lawyer, not a long-legged, lop-eared, et cetera.

But Jed meant more to Harley than his ugly, worthless self. He meant a future, a wife, a beginning of a career, the hope of a wife. Harley declined to resign, even at the client's request. He endured the laughter of the townspeople and denied the prayers of those who begged him to withdraw lest his own client murder him.

There were pitiful interviews with Audrey on several nights by the moonlit lilacs. She whispered her prayers that he give up the case. But he kissed her with tight lips and begged her not to rob him of his first chance to fight.

Meanwhile Jed raved about his cell, as open to reason and advice as a hyena in a cage. He never quite succeeded in breaking his bars, and he never ceased to hope that they would bend the next time. His uproar kept his guards in a state of insomnia and vigilance.

When the day of his trial arrived a new problem presented itself. How were they to get the grizzly bear to court without giving him the opportunities he had been howling for? He refused to put his hands out for the handcuffs, and none of the guards was so indifferent to life and the pursuit of happiness as to be willing to enter the cell to put them on him.

The court was kept waiting, and Harley hurried over to the jail to beg his client not to prejudice the jury further against him by keeping them waiting. He found the prisoner in a state of triumphant hydrophobia. Harley was so infuriated that he seized a crowbar and, going to the cell door, whaled away at the bars a few times to show Jed the quality of his bludgeon. Then he announced in a convincing tone that he was coming in to knock Jed senseless unless he put his hands out instanter. Yet he begged Jed not to do it, because he said he was aching to bash Jed's skull in. Jed was sufficiently impressed for a moment to push out his hands. His arms were as big as ordinary legs, and the handcuffs would barely meet around his wrists. But at last they were locked in.

 

JED drew his coupled hands inside and waited impatiently for the cell door to he thrown open.

"He can still run," said the hesitating jailer.

"Worse'n that, he can still kick," said the sheriff.

So Harley called for a stout rope and hobbled him with it, leaving one end free as a sort of ankle bridle. He turned this over to the sheriff and hastened to the court room, and sat at the counsel table, trying his best to look like a lawyer.

It was not easy with his youth and inexperience and the grins and audible whispers of the big crowd. Everybody in Nineveh, it seemed, was there. Even Mrs. Moulton had brought Audrey. She had felt that it would be a splendid chance to contrast the clever and victorious prosecuting attorney, Hutter, representing the outraged dignity of the people, with the gawky lawyer for the hopeless, the ridiculous defense.

Audrey's eyes and Harley's met once or twice. He saw in her look devoted terror and pity. She knew he was doomed to fail, but she loved him. She was afraid for his life, but she wanted to be near his danger.

There was a long and irritating delay while Jed Bolen was conducted in his hobble skirt of rope across the square to the courthouse like a huge bear held in leash by a trainer and escorted by a bodyguard of club men.

 

HE climbed the stairs quietly and entered the court room with proper humility. And then he caught sight of the prosecuting attorney. His bloodthirst overcame him. He let out a nerve-shivering war whoop and charged. Prosecuting Attorney Hutter made for an open window.

He would have broken his neck to save his life had the clerk of the court not caught him by his heel and restrained him from taking the dive until he could look back and see that Jed had been brought up short by the anchor rope. The monster was hopping about on one foot while the guards pulled the other backward, and Jere Hutter also was held by one foot. The courthouse shook with thunders of rural joy.

 

EVENTUALLY Jed was quieted down and led to a chair. Jere Hutter returned to his place with uneasy and reluctant steps. And then Jed glanced across the table and saw his own attorney sitting there all prepared to plead for him. Forth came another Cyclops yell. He raised his fettered arms like a huge war club and made a lionlike leap at Harley, who once more made good his alibi. He had been prepared for this, and simply stepped nimbly aside, lifted his chair away, and watched.

He stood at a safe distance while the deputies rammed Jed back into his seat and restored the table to its legs. Then the Judge leaned over his desk and said to him with a merciful smile:

"Mr. Teele, I reckon I better relieve you from your embarrassing position. I reckon you don't really want to appear for that man!"

"Oh, yes, I do, if your Honor pleases," Harley answered stoutly; "and I'm going to clear him if I don't have to kill him."

The spectators quit laughing and stared at Harley with a sudden respect. But Jed answered with a snort of rage and another torrent of abuse and further swinging of his flail arms.

And now the young lawyer produced from his hip pocket the first of his equipment for the defense—a large revolver. He leaned across the table, pushed the muzzle into Jed's beard, and addressed him in language which was certainly unusual from a lawyer to a client in the presence of judge and jury.

"Look here, Jed," he said. "I'm your Lawyer, and I'm going to do my best for you. But if you call me any more names or so much as crook your finger at me I'll put every one of these six bullets into you. Do you hear?"

 

JED BOLEN'S answer was an eloquent silence. His eyes gaped and his chest caved. His whiskers quivered till the muzzle was removed from their midst and laid on the table, handy.

It was characteristic of the community that the Judge only smiled and the jurymen only took an added interest in the case. They were willing to forego even the pleasure of finding Jed Bolen guilty of anything he was charged with for the rare privilege of seeing an attorney execute his own client. For this act of sanity Harley would probably have been sentenced to a vote of thanks.

As it was he received a salvo of applause, which the Judge silenced in a leisurely fashion. He could not silence Audrey's heart, rolling like a small drum.

To the acute disappointment of the spectators, Jed made no further outbreak, and the six-shooter lay unused on the table. But Harley used other weapons: eloquence like a sword and fervor like a fire. The prosecutor was heavily handicapped by the fact that whenever he waxed ferocious in his language everybody recalled the tableau of his trying to dive from the window. He heard constant detonations of giggle and snicker from the audience, and in the jury's eyes he saw always a disheartening grin.

So shrewdly did Harley cross-examine and confuse the witnesses for the prosecution that he started a reaction in Jed's favor. He brought out the fact that in the footprints in the mud the toe of the right foot was missing. When Jed was escorted to the stand by his anxious retinue he was asked to expose these two great feet, and he revealed ten of the largest toes in existence, all intact.

 

APPARENTLY Jed was already acquitted. But a stubborn witness, called in rebuttal by the prosecuting attorney, insisted that Jed had tied his big toe back with a string in order to divert suspicion from himself.

This fascinating possibility interested some of the jurymen to such an extent that they refused to join the majority in a verdict of not guilty on the first ballot. The twelve peers took off their coats, lighted their pipes, and settled down for a tug of war.

Long before the jury had filed out, Mrs. Moulton had repented her technical error in bringing Audrey to see the despised suitor win the affection of the town. She dragged her home, and the girl endured agonies of suspense. Her father came in late to supper with the news that the jury was still bickering.

Now Audrey did not fight back her tears. She let them gush from her young heart and her great longing eyes. She poured out in Harley's defense a speech as eloquent and as ardent as the one he had squandered on Ted Bolen.

 

HER jury of two sat silent till she dashed from the room. And this jury also disagreed. Mrs. Judge was bitterer than ever, but the Judge groaned comfortably:

"He's got me scared, mother. When a young cub like that has the nerve to take a revolver to bis own client, the Lord knows what he'll take to me if I cross him. And if he once decides to be our son-in-law I don't know what on earth is going to stop him."

Harley's young heart beat furiously up and down on a seesaw of hope and fear. But his hand was much squeezed as he left the court room. He was informed by many people that they had always known he was made of the right stuff and needed only a chance. One or two people said that their next cases should be put in his hands; since the man that could put up such a fight for Jed Bolen could have got an acquittal for Benedict Arnold. Also, the superstition that Judge Moulton was a bar to Harley's success was dissipated by the meekness with which the Judge had permitted him to keep his client and to discipline him with a Colt's .45.

The greatest amazement was to come to Harley when he sought out his client in spite of himself. Jed had been profoundly impressed by the solemnity of court procedure. He had been astounded by the eulogy Harley pronounced upon him in his closing address—probably the first words of flattery Jed had ever heard. He was now convinced that he had found in Harley not only a great lawyer, but also that unknown luxury, a great admirer.

The Judge finished his supper and a long cigar, and sauntered back to the courthouse to lock up the jury for the night. Audrey, dreading the double strain of suspense and her mother's angry chatter, pleaded a headache and went to her room. She sat in the dark by the open window and looked forth into the stars.

 

THEY seemed like cottage lights on a lotus island of contentment that she could never reach. And then a shooting star drew a dotted line across the sky and seemed to say: "If you cannot come to the stars, a star or two may come to you."

The moonlight and the Milky Way light blended on the lilacs swaying their heads as if they gossiped together. And then she saw a blur coming up the street; the blur paused by the lilacs and beckoned with tremendous eagerness.

She was so excited that she dared to attempt an escapade she had not tried since she was a little girl. She crept out of her window to the tin roof of the ell and trod its thunderous surface with all stealth. She let herself down to a rain barrel, and caught her skirt on a nail and tore it; put one foot in the water, and almost fell, but saved herself, and ran across the drenched grass to Harley, who vaulted the fence and caught her in his arms, and told her in a whisper of deafening importance:

"They acquitted him! They acquitted him!"

He never heard what she had to say, for he crushed her to him with a smothering ferocity. He brought her a triumph, and he had a right to celebrate. When finally he permitted her to speak, she demanded, already taking a domestic command of the purse:

"And what did Jed Rolen give you?"

"A kiss!"

He could almost hear her stare as he explained how the client had executed a bear dance of joy, seized his attorney in his huge arms, almost crushed him in his embrace, and—kissed him!

"Is that all?" she sighed, thinking of the fee.

"Once was enough!" said the lawyer. "I never dreamed he would, or I'd have had my revolver with me. But it's the only fee he'll ever pay me, and I've scoured my cheek with pumice stone."


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1956, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.