The Trial in Tom
by Samuel A.
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
“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
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
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
“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.”
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
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?”
“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?
“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
“It was worse than that,” declared Davy, “till I rubbed vase-leen on
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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
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!”