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The Trial in Tom Belcher's Store by Samuel A. Derieux

From The American Magazine

It was a plain case of affinity between Davy Allen and Old Man Thornycroft's hound dog Buck. Davy, hurrying home along the country road one cold winter afternoon, his mind intent on finishing his chores before dark, looking back after passing Old Man Thornycroft's house to find Buck trying to follow him—trying to, because the old man, who hated to see anybody or anything but himself have his way, had chained a heavy block to him to keep him from doing what nature had intended him to do—roam the woods and poke his long nose in every briar patch after rabbits.

At the sight Davy stopped, and the dog came on, dragging behind him in the road the block of wood fastened by a chain to his collar, and trying at the same time to wag his tail. He was tan-coloured, lean as a rail, long-eared, a hound every inch; and Davy was a ragged country boy who lived alone with his mother, and who had an old single-barrel shotgun at home, and who had in his grave boy's eyes a look, clear and unmistakable, of woods and fields.

To say it was love at first sight when that hound, dragging his prison around with him, looked up into the boy's face, and when that ragged boy who loved the woods and had a gun at home looked down into the hound's eyes, would hardly be putting it strong enough. It was more than love—it was perfect understanding, perfect comprehension. “I'm your dog,” said the hound's upraised, melancholy eyes. “I'll jump rabbits and bring them around for you to shoot. I'll make the frosty hills echo with music for you. I'll follow you everywhere you go. I'm your dog if you want me—yours to the end of my days.”

And Davy looking down into those upraised beseeching eyes, and at that heavy block of wood, and at the raw place the collar had worn on the neck, then at Old Man Thornycroft's bleak, unpainted house on the hill, with the unhomelike yard and the tumble-down fences, felt a great pity, the pity of the free for the imprisoned, and a great longing to own, not a dog, but this dog.

“Want to come along?” he grinned.

The hound sat down on his haunches, elevated his long nose and poured out to the cold winter sky the passion and longing of his soul. Davy understood, shook his head, looked once more into the pleading eyes, then at the bleak house from which this prisoner had dragged himself.

“That ol' devil!” he said. “He ain't fitten to own a dog. Oh, I wish he was mine!”

A moment he hesitated there in the road, then he turned and hurried away from temptation.

“He ain't mine,” he muttered. “Oh' dammit all!”

But temptation followed him as it has followed many a boy and man. A little way down the road was a pasture through which by a footpath he could cut off half a mile of the three miles that lay between him and home. Poised on top of the high rail fence that bordered the road, he looked back. The hound was still trying to follow, walking straddle-legged, head down, all entangled with the taut chain that dragged the heavy block. The boy watched the frantic efforts, pity and longing on his face; then he jumped off the fence inside the pasture and hurried on down the hill, face set straight ahead.

He had entered a pine thicket when he heard behind the frantic, choking yelps of a dog in dire distress. Knowing what had happened, he ran back. Within the pasture the hound, only his hind feet touching the ground, was struggling and pawing at the fence. He had jumped, the block had caught, and was hanging him. Davy rushed to him. Breathing fast, he unclicked the chain. The block an chain fell on the other side of the fence, and the dog was free. Shrewdly the boy looked back up the road; the woods hid the old man's house from view, and no one was to be seen. With a little grin of triumph he turned and broke into a run down the pasture hill toward the pines, the wind blowing gloriously into his face, the dog galloping beside him.

Still running, the two came out into the road that led home, and suddenly Davy stopped short and his face flushed. Yonder around the bend on his grey mare jogged Squire Kirby toward them, his pipe in his mouth, his white beard stuck cozily inside the bosom of his big overcoat There was no use to run, no use to try to make the dog hide, no use to try to hide himself—the old man had seen them both. Suppose he knew whose dog this was! Heart pounding, Davy waited beside the road.

Mr. Kirby drew rein opposite them and looked down with eyes that twinkled under his bushy white brows. He always stopped to ask the boy how his mother was, and how they were getting along. Davy had been to his house many a time with eggs and chickens to sell, or with a load of seasoned oak wood. Many a time he had warmed before Mr. Kirby's fire in the big living-and bedroom combined, and eaten Mrs. Kirby's fine white cake covered with frosting. Never before had he felt ill at ease in the presence of the kindly old man.

“That's a genuine hound you got there, son, ain't it?”

“Yes, sir,” said Davy.

“Good for rabbits an' 'possums an' coons, eh?”

“He shore is!”

“Well, next big fat 'possum you an' him ketch, you bring that 'possum 'round an' me an' you'll talk business. Maybe we'll strike a bargain. Got any good sweet potatoes? Well, you bring four or five bushels along to eat that 'possum with. Haulin' any wood these days? Bring me a load or two of good, dry oak—pick it out, son, hear? How's your ma? All right? That's good. Here—”

He reached deep down in a pocket of his enormous faded overcoat, brought out two red apples, and leaned down out of his saddle, that creaked under the strain of his weight.

“Try one of 'em yourself, an' take one of 'em home to your ma. Git up, Mag!”

He jogged on down the road, and the boy, sobered walked on. One thing was certain, though, Mr Kirby hadn't known whose dog this was. What difference did it make anyhow? He hadn't stolen anything. He couldn't let a dog choke to death before his eyes. What did Old Man Thornycroft care about a dog, anyhow, the hard-hearted old skin-flint!

He remembered the trouble his mother had had when his father died and Old Man Thornycroft pushed her for a note he had given. He had heard people talk about it at the time, and he remembered how white his mother's face had been. Old Man Thornycroft had refused to wait, and his mother had had to sell five acres of the best land on the little farm to pay the note. It was after the sale that Mr. Kirby, who lived five miles away, had ridden over.

“Why didn't you let me know, Mrs. Allen!” he had demanded. “I would have loaned you the money—gladly, gladly!” He had risen from the fire and pulled on the same overcoat he wore now. It was faded then, and that was two years ago.

It was sunset when Davy reached home to find his mother out in the clean-swept yard picking up chips in her apron. From the bedroom window of the little one-storied unpainted house came a bright red glow, and from the kitchen the smell of cooking meat. His mother straightened up from her task with a smile when with his new-found partner he entered the yard.

“Why, Davy,” she asked, “where did you get him?”

“He—he just followed me, Ma.”

“But whose dog is he?”

“He's mine, Ma—he just took up with me.”

“Where, Davy?”

“Oh, way back down the road—in a pasture.”

“He must belong to somebody.”

“He's just a ol' hound dog, Ma, that's all he is. Lots of hounds don't belong to nobody—everybody knows that, Ma. Look at him, Ma. Mighty nigh starved to death. Lemme keep him. We can feed him on scraps. He can sleep under the house. Me an' him will keep you in rabbits. You won't have to kill no more chickens. Nobody don't want him but me!”

From her gaunt height she looked down into the boy's eager eyes, then at the dog beside him. “All right, son,” she said. “If he don't belong to anybody.”

That night Davy alternately whistled and talked to the dog beside him as he husked the corn he had raised with his own hands, and chopped the wood he had cut and hauled—for since his father's death he had kept things going. He ate supper in a sort of haze; he hurried out with a tin plate of scraps; he fed the grateful, hungry dog on the kitchen steps. He begged some vaseline from his mother and rubbed it on the sore neck. Then he got two or three empty gunnysacks out of the corncrib, crawled under the house to a warm place beside the chimney and spread them out for a bed. He went into the house whistling; he didn't hear a word of the chapter his mother read out of the Bible. Before he went to bed in the shed-room, he raised the window.

“You all right, old feller?” he called.

Underneath the house he heard the responsive tap-tap of a tail in the dry dust. He climbed out of his clothes, leaving them in a pile in the middle of the floor, tumbled into bed, and pulled the covers high over him.

“Golly!” he said. “Oh, golly!”

Next day he hunted till sundown. The Christmas holidays were on and there was no thought of school. He went only now and then, anyway, for since his father's death there was too much for him to do at home. He hunted in the opposite direction from Old Man Thornycroft's. It was three miles away; barriers of woods and bottoms and hills lay between, and the old man seldom stirred beyond the boundaries of his own farm; but Davy wanted to be on the safe side.

There were moments, though, when he thought of the old man, and wondered if he had missed the dog and whether he would make any search for him. There were sober moments, too, when he thought of his mother and Mr. Kirby, and wished he had told them the truth. But then the long-drawn bay of the hound would come from the bottoms ahead, and he would hurry to the summons, his face flushed and eager. The music of the dog running, the sound of the shots, and his own triumphant yells started many an echo among the silent frosted hills that day. He came home with enough meat to last a week—six rabbits. As he hurried into the yard he held them up for the inspection of his mother, who was feeding the chickens.

“He's the finest rabbit dog ever was, Ma! Oh, golly, he can follow a trail! I never see anything like it, Ma, I never did! I'll skin 'em an' clean 'em after supper. You ought to have saw him, Ma! Golly!”

And while he chopped the wood and milked the cow and fed the mule, and skinned the rabbits, he saw other days ahead like this, and whistled and sang and talked to the hound, who followed close at his heels every step he took.

Then one afternoon, while he was patching the lot fence, with Buck sunning himself near the woodpile, came Old Man Thornycroft. Davy recognized his buggy as it turned the bend in the road. He quickly dropped his tools, called Buck to him and got behind the house where he could see without being seen. The buggy stopped in the road, and the old man, his hard, pinched face working, his buggy whip in his hand, came down the walk and called Mrs. Alien out on the porch.

“I just come to tell you,” he cried, “that your boy Davy run off with my dog las' Friday evenin'! There ain't no use to deny it. I know all about it. I seen him when he passed in front of the house. I found the block I had chained to the dog beside the road. I heered Squire Jim Kirby talkin' to some men in Tom Belcher's sto' this very mornin'; just happened to overhear him as I come in. 'A boy an' a dog,' he says, 'is the happiest combination in nater.' Then he went on to tell about your boy an' a tan dog. He had met 'em in the road. Met 'em when? Last Friday evenin'. Oh, there ain't no use to deny it, Mrs. Allen! Your boy Davy—he stole my dog!”

“Mr. Thornycroft”—Davy could not see his mother, but he could hear her voice tremble—“he did not know whose dog it was!”

“He didn't? He didn't?” yelled the old man. “An' him a boy that knows ever' dog for ten miles around! Right in front of my house, I tell you—that's where he picked him up—that's where he tolled him off! Didn't I tell you, woman, I seen him pass? Didn't I tell you I found he block down the road? Didn't know whose dog it was? Ridiculous, ridiculous! Call him, ask him, face him with it. Likely he'll lie—but you'll see his face. Call him, that's all I ask. Call him!”

“Davy!” called Mrs. Allen. “Davy!”

Just a moment the boy hesitated. Then he went around the house. The hound stuck very close to him, eyes full of terror, tail tucked as he looked at the old man.

“There he is—with my dog!” cried the old man. “You didn't know whose dog it was, did you, son? Eh? You didn't know, now, did you?”

“Yes!” cried the boy “I knowed!”

“Hear that, Mrs. Allen? Did he know? What do you say now? He stole my dog, didn't he? That's what he done, didn't he? Answer me, woman! You come here!” he yelled, his face livid, and started, whip raised, toward boy and dog.

There were some smooth white stones the size of hen eggs arranged around a flower bed in the yard, and Davy stood near these stones—and now, quick as a flash, he stooped down and picked one up.

“You stop!” he panted, his face very white.

His mother cried out and came running toward him, but Thornycroft had stopped. No man in his right mind wants to advance on a country boy with a rock. Goliath tried it once.

“All right!” screamed the old man. “You steal first—then you try to assault an old man! I didn't come here to raise no row. I just came hear to warn you, Mrs. Allen. I'll have the law on that boy—I'll have the law on him before another sun sets!”

He turned and hurried toward the buggy. Davy dropped the rock. Mrs. Allen stood looking at the old miser, who was clambering into his buggy, with a sort of horror. Then she ran toward the boy.

“Oh, Davy! run after him. Take the dog to him. He's terrible, Davy, terrible! Run after him—anything—anything!”

But the boy looked up at her with grim mouth and hard eyes.

“I ain't a-goin' to do it, Ma!” he said.

It was after supper that very night that the summons came. Bob Kelley, rural policeman, brought it.

“Me an' Squire Kirby went to town this mornin',” he said, “to look up some things about court in the mornin.' This evenin' we run into Old Man Thornycroft on the street, lookin' for us. He was awful excited. He had been to Mr. Kirby's house, an' found out Mr. Kirby was in town, an' followed us. He wanted a warrant swore out right there. Mr. Kirby tried to argue with him, but it warn't no use. So at last Mr. Kirby turned to me. 'You go on back, Bob,' he said. 'This'll give me some more lookin' up to do. Tell my wife I'll just spend the night with Judge Fowler, an' git back in time for court in Belcher's sto' in the mornin'. An', Bob, you just stop by Mrs. Allen's—she's guardian of the boy—an' tell her I say to bring him to Belcher's sto' to-morrow mornin' at nine. You be there, too, Mr. Thornycroft—an,' by the way, bring that block of wood you been talkin' about.”

That was all the squire had said, declared the rural policeman. No, he hadn't sent any other message—just said he would read up on the case. The rural policeman went out and closed the door behind him. It had been informal, hap-hazard, like the life of the community in which they lived. But, for all that, the law had knocked at the door of the Widow Allen, and left a white-faced mother and a bewildered boy behind.

They tried to resume their usual employments. Mrs. Allen sat down beside the table, picked up her sewing and put her glasses on, but her hands trembled when she tried to thread the needle. Davy sat on a split-bottom chair in the corner, his feet up on the rungs, and tried to be still; but his heart was pounding fast and there was a lump in his throat. Presently he got up and went out of doors, to get in some kindling on the back porch before it snowed, he told his mother. But he went because he couldn't sit there any longer, because he was about to explode with rage and grief and fear and bitterness.

He did not go toward the woodpile—what difference did dry kindling make now? At the side of the house he stooped down and softly called Buck. The hound came to him, wriggling along under the beams, and he leaned against the house and lovingly pulled the briar-torn ears. A long time he stayed there, feeling on his face already the fine mist of snow. To-morrow the ground would be white; it didn't snow often in that country; day after to-morrow everybody would hunt rabbits—everybody but him and Buck.

It was snowing hard when at last he went back into the warm room, so warm that he pulled off his coat. Once more he tried to sit still in the split-bottom chair. But there is no rage that consumes like the rage of a boy. In its presence he is so helpless! If he were a man, thought Davy, he would go to Old Man Thornycroft's house that night, call him out, and thrash him in the road. If he were a man, he would curse, he would do something. He looked wildly about the room, the hopelessness of it all coming over him in a wave. Then suddenly, because he wasn't a man, because he couldn't do what he wanted to do, he began to cry, not as a boy cries, but more as a man cries, in shame and bitterness, his shoulders shaken by great convulsive sobs, his head buried in his hands, his fingers running through his tangled mop of hair.

“Davy, Davy!” The sewing and the scissors slipped to the floor. His mother was down on her knees beside him, one arm about his shoulders, trying to pry his face from his hands, trying to look into his eyes. “You're my man, Davy! You're the only man, the only help I've got. You're my life, Davy. Poor boy! Poor child!”

He caught hold of her convulsively, and she pressed his head against her breast. Then he saw that she was crying, and he grew quiet, and wiped his eyes with his ragged coat sleeve.

“I'm all right now, Ma,” he said; but he looked at her wildly.

She did not follow him into his little unceiled bedroom. She must have known that he had reached that age where no woman could help him. It must be a man now to whom he could pin his faith. And while he lay awake, tumbling and tossing, along with bitter thoughts of Old Man Thornycroft came other bitter thoughts of Mr. Kirby, whom, deep down in his boy's heart he had worshipped—Mr. Kirby, who had sided with Old Man Thornycroft and sent a summons with—no message for him. “God!” he said. “God!” And pulled his hair, down there under the covers; and he hated the law that would take a dog from him and give it back to that old man—the law that Mr. Kirby represented.

It was still snowing when next morning he and his mother drove out of the yard and he turned the head of the reluctant old mule in the direction of Belcher's store. A bitter wind cut their faces, but it was not as bitter as the heart of the boy. Only twice on that five-mile ride did he speak. The first time was when he looked back to find Buck, whom they had left at home, thinking he would stay under the house on such a day, following very close behind the buggy.

“Might as well let him come on,” said the boy.

The second time was when they came in sight of Belcher's store, dim yonder through the swirling snow. Then he looked up into his mother's face.

“Ma,” he said grimly, “I ain't no thief!”

She smiled as bravely as she could with her stiffened face and with the tears so near the surface. She told him that she knew it, and that everybody knew it. But there was no answering smile on the boys set face.

The squire's gray mare, standing huddled up in the midst of other horses and of buggies under the shed near the store, told that court had probably already convened. Hands numb, the boy hitched the old mule to the only rack left under the shed, then made Buck lie down under the buggy. Heart pounding, he went up on the store porch with his mother and pushed the door open.

There was a commotion when they entered. The men, standing about the pot-bellied stove, their overcoats steaming, made way for them. Old Man Thornycroft looked quickly and triumphantly around. In the rear of the store the squire rose from a table, in front of which was a cleared space.

“Pull up a chair nigh the stove for Mrs. Allen, Tom Belcher,” he said. “I'm busy tryin' this chicken-stealin' nigger. When I get through, Mrs. Allen, if you're ready I'll call your case.”

Davy stood beside his mother while the trial of the negro proceeded. Some of the fight had left him now, crowded down here among all these grown men, and especially in the presence of Mr. Kirby, for it is hard for a boy to be bitter long. But with growing anxiety he heard the sharp questions the magistrate asked the negro; he saw the frown of justice; he heard the sentence “sixty days on the gang.” And the negro had stolen only a chicken—and he had run off with another man's dog!

“The old man's rough this mornin',” a man whispered to another above him; and he saw the furtive grin on the face of Old Man Thornycroft, who leaned against the counter, waiting.

His heart jumped into his mouth when after a silence the magistrate spoke: “Mr. Thornycroft, step forward, sir. Put your hand on the book here. Now tell us about that dog of yours that was stole.”

Looking first at the magistrate, then at the crowd, as if to impress them also, the old man told in a high-pitched, excited voice all the details—his seeing Davy Allen pass in front of his house last Friday afternoon, his missing the dog, his finding the block of wood down the road beside the pasture fence, his over-hearing the squire's talk right here in the store, his calling on Mrs. Allen, the boy's threatening him.

“I tell you,” he cried, “that's a dangerous character—that boy!”

“Is that all you've got to say?” asked the squire.

“It's enough, ain't it?” demanded Thornycroft angrily.

The squire nodded and spat into the cuspidor between his feet. “I think so,” he said quietly, “Stand aside. Davy Alien step forward. Put your hand on the book here, son. Davy, how old are you?”

The boy gulped. “Thirteen years old, goin' on fo'teen.”

“You're old enough, son, to know the nater of the oath you're about to take. For over two years you've been the mainstay an' support of your mother. You've had to carry the burdens and responsibilities of a man, Davy. The testimony you give in this case will be the truth, the whole truth an' nothin' but the truth, so help you God. What about it?”

Davy nodded, his face very white.

“All right now. Tell us about it. Talk loud so we can hear—all of us.”

The boy's eyes never left Mr. Kirby's while he talked. Something in them held him, fascinated him, overawed him. Very large and imposing he looked there behind his little table, with his faded old overcoat on, and there was no sound in the room but the boy's clear voice.

“An' you come off an' left the dog at first?”

“Yes, sir,”

“An' you didn't unfasten the chain from the block till the dog got caught in the fence?”

“No, sir, I didn't.”

“Did you try to get him to follow you then?”

“No, sir, he wanted to.”

“Ask him, Mr. Kirby,” broke in Thornycroft angrily, “if he tried to drive him home!”

“I'll ask him whatever seems fit an' right to me, sir,” said Mr. Kirby. “What did you tell your ma, Davy, when you got home?”

“I told her he followed me.”

“Did you tell her whose dog he was?

“No, sir.”

“Ain't that what you ought to have done? Ain't it?”

Davy hesitated. “Yes, sir.”

There was a slight shuffling movement amoung the men crowded about. Somebody cleared his throat. Mr. Kirby resumed.

“This block you been tellin' about—how was it fastened to the dog?”

“Thar was a chain fastened to the block by a staple. The other end was fastened to the collar.”

“How heavy do you think that block was?”

“About ten pound. I reckon.”

“Five,” broke in Old Man Thornycroft with a sneer.

Mr. Kirby turned to him. “You fetched it with you, didn't you? I told you to. It's evidence. Bob Kelley, go out to Mr. Thornycroft's buggy an' bring that block of wood into court.”

The room was silent while the rural policeman was gone. Davy still stood in the cleared space before Mr. Kirby, his ragged overcoat on, his tattered hat in his hand, breathing fast, afraid to look at his mother. Everybody turned when Kelley came in with the block of wood. Everybody craned their necks to watch, while at the magistrate's order Kelley weighed the block of wood on the store's scales, which he put on the magistrate's table.

“Fo'teen punds,” said Mr. Kirby. “Take the scales away.”

“It had rubbed all the skin off'n the dog's neck,” broke in Davy impulsively. “It was all raw an' bleedin'.”

“Aw, that ain't so!” cried Thornycroft.

“Is the dog out there?” asked Mr. Kirby.

“Yes, sir, under the buggy.”

“Bob Kelley, you go out an' bring that dog into court.”

The rural policeman went out, and came back with the hound, who looked eagerly up from one face to the other, then, seeing Davy, came to him and stood against him, still looking around with that expression of melancholy on his face that a hound dog always wears except when he's in action.

“Bring the dog here, son!” commanded Mr. Kirby. He examined the raw place on the neck. “Any of you gentlemen care to take a look?” he asked.

“It was worse than that,” declared Davy, “till I rubbed vase-leen on it.”

Old Man Thornycroft pushed forward, face quivering. “What's all this got to do with the boy stealin' the dog?” he demanded. “That's what I want to know—what's it got to do?”

“Mr. Thornycroft,” said Kirby, “at nine o'clock this mornin' this place ceased to be Tom Belcher's sto', an' become a court of justice. Some things are seemly in a court, some not. You stand back there!”

The old man stepped back to the counter, and stood julling his chin, his eyes running over the crowd of faces.

“Davy Allen,” spoke Mr. Kirby, “you stand back there with your ma. Tom Belcher make way for him. And, Tom, s'pose you put another stick of wood in that stove an' poke up the fire.” He took off his glasses, blew on them, polished them with his handkerchief and readjusted them. Then, leaning back in his chair, he spoke.

“Gentlemen, from the beginnin' of time, as fur back as records go, a dog's been the friend, companion, an' protector of man. Folks say he come from the wolf, but that ain't no reflection on him, seem' that we come from monkeys ourselves, an' I believe, takin' all things into account, I'd as soon have a wolf for a ancestor as a monkey, an' a little ruther.

“Last night in the libery of my old friend Judge Fowler in town, I looked up some things about this dog question. I find that there have been some queer decisions handed down by the courts, showin' that the law does recognize the fact that a dog is different from other four-footed critters. For instance, it has been held that a dog has a right to protect not only his life but his dignity; that where a man worries a dog beyond what would be reasonable to expect any self respectin' critter to stand, that dog has a right to bite that man, an' that man can't collect any damages—provided the bitin' is done at the time of the worryin' an' in sudden heat an' passion. That has been held in the courts, gentlemen. The law that holds for man holds for dogs.

“Another thing: If the engineer of a railroad train sees a cow or a horse or a sheep on the track, or a hog, he must stop the train or the road is liable for any damage done 'em. But if he sees a man walkin' along the track he has a right to presume that the man, bein' a critter of more or less intelligence, will git off, an' he is not called on to stop under ordinary circumstances. The same thing holds true of a dog. The engineer has a right to presume that the dog, bein' a critter of intelligence, will get off the track. Here again the law is the same for dog an' man.

But—if the engineer has reason to believe that the man's mind is took up with some object of an engrossin' nater, he is supposed to stop the train till the man comes to himself an' looks around. The same thing holds true of a dog. If the engineer has reason to suspect that the dog's mind is occupied with some engrossin' topic, he must stop the train. That case has been tested in this very state, where a dog was on the track settin' a covey of birds in the adjoinin' field. The railroad was held responsible for the death of that dog, because the engineer ought to have known by the action of the dog that his mind was on somethin' else beside railroad trains an' locomotives.”

Again the magistrate spat into the cuspidor between his feet. Davy, still watching him, felt his mother's grip on his arm. Everyone was listening so closely that the whispered sneering comment of Old Man Thornycroft to the man next to him was audible, “What's all this got to do with the case?”

“The p'int I'm gettin' to is this,” went on Mr. Kirby, not paying attention to him: “a dog is not like a cow or a horse or any four-footed critter. He's a individual, an' so the courts have held in spirit if not in actual words. Now this court of mine here in Tom Belcher's sto, ain't like other courts. I have to do the decidin' myself; I have to interpret the true spirit of the law, without technicalities an' quibbles such as becloud it in other an' higher courts. An' I hold that since a dog is de facto an' de jure an individual, he has a right to life, liberty an' the pursuit of happiness.

“Therefore, gentlemen, I hold that that houn' dog, Buck, had a perfect right to follow that boy, Davy Allen, there; an' I hold that Davy Allen was not called on to drive that dog back, or interfere in any way with that dog followin' him if the dog so chose. You've heard the evidence of the boy. You know, an' I know, he has spoke the truth this day, an' there ain't no evidence to the contrary. The boy did not entice the dog. He even went down the road, leavin' him behind. He run back only when the dog was in dire need an' chokin' to death. He wasn't called on to put that block an' chain back on the dog. He couldn't help it if the dog followed him. He no more stole that dog than I stole him. He's no more a thief than I am. I dismiss this case, Mr. Thornycroft, this case you've brought against Davy Allen. I declare him innocent of the charge of theft. I set it down right here on the records of this court.”

“Davy!” gasped Mrs. Allen. “Davy!”

But, face working, eyes blazing, Old Man Thornycroft started forward, and the dog, panting, shrank between boy and mother. “Jim Kirby!” cried the old man, stopping for a moment in the cleared space. “You're magistrate. What you say goes. But that dog thar—he's mine! He's my property—mine by law!” He jerked a piece of rope out of his overcoat pocket and came on toward the cowering dog. “Tom Belcher, Bob Kelley! Stop that dog! He's mine!”

“Davy!” Mrs. Alien was holding the boy. “Don't—don't say anything. You're free to go home. Your record's clear. The dog's his!”

“Hold on!” Mr. Kirby had risen from his chair. “You come back here, Mr. Thornycroft. This court's not adjourned yet. If you don't get back, I'll stick a fine to you for contempt you'll remember the rest of your days. You stand where you are, sir! Right there! Don't move till I'm through!”

Quivering the old man stood where he was. Mr. Kirby sat down, face flushed, eyes blazing. “Punch up that fire, Tom Belcher,” he said. “I ain't through yet.”

The hound came trembling back to Davy, looked up in his face, licked his hand, then sat down at the side opposite his former master, looking around now and then at the old man, terror in his eyes. In the midst of a deathly silence the magistrate resumed.

“What I was goin' to say, gentlemen, is this: I'm not only magistrate, I'm an officer in an organization that you country fellers likely don't know of, an organization known as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. As such an officer it's my duty to report an' bring to trial any man who treats a dumb brute in a cruel an' inhuman way. Mr Thornycroft, judgin' by the looks of that houn', you ain't give him enough to eat to keep a cat alive—an' a cat we all know, don't eat much, just messes over her vittles. You condemned that po' beast, for no fault of his own, to the life of a felon. A houn' that ain't happy at best, he's melancholy; an' a houn' that ain't allowed to run free is of all critters the wretchedest. This houn's neck is rubbed raw. God only knows what he's suffered in mind an' body. A man that would treat a dog that way ain't fitten to own one. An' I hereby notify you that, on the evidence of this boy, an' the evidence before our eyes, I will indict you for breakin' the law regardin' the treatment of animals; an' I notify you, furthermore, that as magistrate I'll put the law on you for that same thing. An' it might be interestin' to you to know, sir, that I can find you as much as five hundred dollars, or send you to jail for one year, or both, if I see fit—an' there ain't no tellin' but what I will see fit, sir.”

He looked sternly at Thornycroft.

“Now I'm goin' to make a proposition that I advise you to jump at like you never jumped at anything before. If you will give up that houn' Buck—to me, say, or to anybody I decide will be kind to him—I will let the matter drop. If you will go home like a peaceable citizen, you won't hear no more about it from me; but if you don't—”

“Git out of my way!” cried Old Man Thornycroft. “All of you! I'm goin'—I'm goin'!”

“Hold on!” said Mr. Kirby, when he had got almost to the door. “Do you, in the presence of these witnesses, turn over this dog to me, relinquishin' all claims to him, on the conditions named? Answer Yes or No?”

There was a moment's silence; then the old man cried out:

“Take the old hound! He ain't wuth the salt in his vittles!”

He jerked the door open.

“Yes or no?” called Mr. Kirby inexorably.

“Yes!” yelled the old man, and slammed the door behind him.

“One minute, gentlemen,” said Mr. Kirby, rising from the table and gathering his papers and records together. “Just one more thing: If anybody here has any evidence, or knows of any, tendin' to show that this boy Davy Allen is not the proper person to turn over a houn' dog to, I hope he will speak up.” He waited a moment. “In the absence of any objections, an' considerin' the evidence that's been given here this mornin', I think I'll just let that dog go back the way he come. Thank you, gentlemen. Court's adjourned!”