from Blue Book
Testy and Stubborn
by Ellis Parker Butler
My uncle Daniel C. Jeppers was one of those small men with a perky little goatee sticking straight out on his chin. He was a very testy man, Uncle Daniel was, and stubborn. I remember what he said when he got the news that he had been elected Justice of the Peace. He said:
"Thunderation hell's-bells doggone-it! Well now I've got the confounded job, I'll show them I'm good at it, dad blast 'em!"
Nobody in Riverbank was more surprised than Uncle Daniel. For years and years he had been nominated on the Democratic ticket, but that was only because some one had to be nominated. He was not expected to be elected; Riverbank was overwhelmingly Republican. The vote was always something like:
Henry C. Morleton, Rep. ..... 8762
Daniel C. Jeppers, Dem. ..... 2437
Henry C. Morleton had been reelected Justice of the Peace since before I was born, but this great landslide came, and the count was:
Daniel C. Jeppers, Dem. ..... 5762
Henry C. Morleton, Rep. ..... 5208
"Well, now," Aunt Effie said, when Uncle Daniel had recovered from the first shock and had stopped cussing, "now that you'll be out of the house most of the time, maybe you'll let me have a radio."
All Uncle Daniel answered for a minute or so was to glare at Aunt Effie while his goatee twitched and trembled. One of his set notions was that he hated radios.
"No, b'gosh!" he snapped. "There don't one of them cussed things come into this house whilst I'm out of my grave!"
And that settled that. Aunt Effie was a plump and good-natured lady, and she knew better than to talk back at Uncle Daniel. She went right on knitting the sweater she was making for me, rocking placidly while Uncle Daniel's goatee palpitated angrily like a teeter-bird on a rock.
Uncle Daniel took over the room that Henry C. Morleton had used as a Justice's office.
It was over Jim Ott's notion-store, and had a railing behind which was a raised platform with a desk on it for the justice to sit at, and there were chairs outside the railing, and half a dozen tin cuspidors, and on the desk a Bible to swear witnesses on, and a book called "The Complete Justice of the Peace" or "The Complete Manual for the Justice of the Peace," or something like that.
Uncle Daniel had his hair cut and his goatee trimmed, and on the morning when he was to make his first official appearance, he put on his Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, and Aunt Effie brushed his hat carefully.
"Well, Daniel," she said, "I wish you well. I dare say you'll be real grand today, what with everybody sending you flowers."
"Drat their flowers!" snapped Uncle Daniel. "A justice's office ain't no place for flowers. This ain't no wedding -- nor no funeral, either. Eddie --"
"Yes, Uncle Daniel?" I answered meekly.
"You come along with me, and if any idjits try to make my courtroom look like a hothouse, you fetch 'em home to your Aunt Effie."
He meant the flowers; but there were no flowers. I believe Uncle Daniel was a little annoyed by this; he expected at least one floral horseshoe; but a Justice of the Peace rates rather low in town politics. The new mayor probably got the flowers.
But if there were no flowers, there was business to be done. Flannery, one of our policemen, was there with a culprit and witnesses and others. Uncle Daniel straightened his back when he saw them. He gave them a stern glance, and entered the enclosure, and hung his hat on a hook and seated himself at the desk. He adjusted his steel-rimmed spectacles and picked up the gavel and hit the desk with it.
Court's open," he said. "What you you got, Flannery?"
"Judge," said Flannery, walking to the railing, "is this burglary or plain theft or what, I dunno. Come up here, Stiggins, an' tell His Honor what Johnson done to you."
The man who came briskly forward at this summons was short and chunky and bullet-headed, and his face held the grim look of a man who has been deeply injured and who means to get even somehow. He unhesitatingly swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
"Who are you?" Uncle Daniel asked. "What's this all about?"
"Yas sah, Judge," said Mr. Stiggins. "Mah name is Gawge W. Stiggins, an' Ah lives at Two-two-two Jaspah Street. Las' week Ah buys me a radio set off'n Mistah Nussbaum at his radio-store fo' twenty-fo' dollahs an' fifty cents.... Yondah it is."
He pointed to a radio set on one of the chairs outside the railing.
"That's it, Judge," the complainant said. "Ah fotch it home an' leave it on mah kitchen table by where a window is open, whilst Ah go fetch me a laddah from Wilyum Coleman to put up mah eerial with, an' when Ah gets home, mah radio is done gone."
"You mean it was stolen?" asked Uncle Daniel.
"Yas sah, Judge," said Mr. Stiggins. "No radio don't walk away from nowhere alone! Ah look under mah kitchen window and Ah see this here Silas Johnson's foot marks."
"One minute," said Uncle Daniel severely. "How d'you know they was this Silas Johnson's footprints? And where is he?"
Officer Flannery pulled the defendant to his feet. As the defendant unfolded himself, he proved to be seven feet of skinny thinness, slouchy and round-shouldered, with a head too small and feet that were enormous.
"Ah's Silas Johnson, Judge," he squeaked in a thin high treble. "Ah didn't steal nuffin'. Judge, you lemme tell you --"
"Silence!" thundered Uncle Daniel, pounding with his gavel. "'Taint your turn yet. Sit down!"
"Yas sah, Judge, no sah," said Silas meekly, and he folded himself like a pocket-rule and sat down. Uncle Daniel glared at him and told Mr. Stiggins to continue.
Mr. Stiggins said he knew Silas' footprints because no one but Silas had feet that big. With this as a clue, he went straight to Silas' house, and there he found the radio set. Silas refused to give it up.
"He won't let me have it, Judge," Stiggins said. "He say he gwine give it to a lady-friend. Yas sah. An' he chase me away from there wif a razah. So Ah gets Mistah Flannery, an' he arrests this Silas. So Ah wants mah radio back, Judge, an' this here Silas sont to jail. If you please, Judge."
Uncle Daniel pulled at his goatee and looked fierce.
"This case," he said, "is a clear case of stealing and attempt to do bodily injury. I sentence Silas Johnson to give back that radio to George Stiggins, and to sixty days in --"
"Ah ain't gwine give no radio back," the thin voice of Silas Johnson piped up. "Ah didn't steal no radio from him. This here Stiggins owes me fo' dollahs fo' work Ah done fo' him, an' fo' three months he won't pay me, Judge. All Ah does, Judge, is collect what he owes me. Ah got a lady friend, Judge, what hankers to possess a radio, so Ah collects this radio fo' what he owes me."
"What's that?" demanded Uncle Daniel. "He owes you four dollars, and you take a twenty-four-dollar radio?"
"No sah, Judge," said Silas. "Ah ain't done take no twenty-fo'-dollah radio from him, because fo' dollahs is all this Stiggins has paid to Mistah Nussbaum. He pays him fo' dollahs down --"
"Ah got to pay twenty-fo' dollahs an' fifty cents in all," interrupted Mr. Stiggins. "That's what that radio gwine cost me."
"You shut yo' big old mouf," squeaked Silas. "You don't have to pay Mr; Nussbaum nuffin'. Ah's gwine pay Mistah Nussbaum one dollah a week from now on."
"Don't you call me no big old mouf!" cried Mr. Stiggins -- but Officer Flannery pulled him back. Uncle Daniel pounded the desk with his gavel.
"This case -- hum!" he said and then paused. "This case -- " he began again and stopped. "There are points in this case -- hum!"
He picked up the "Complete Compendium" and turned the pages frontward and backward, but he was too unfamiliar with the book to be able to find help in it. He put the book down.
"This is a complicated case," he said gravely. "The first question is: did this Silas Johnson steal from this George Swiggins a radio valued at twenty-four dollars and fifty cents, or did he collect from said Swiggins a debt of four dollars? Flannery, what does Nussbaum say to this?"
"I ast him, Yer Honor," said Flannery, "an' 'tis all right with Nussbaum. He don't care a dang which of thim pays him the dollar a month. All he wants is twinty dollars an' fifty cints more out of either of thim."
"Hum!" said Uncle Daniel. "Hum!" and he reached for his "Complete Compendium" again. Then a good-looking colored woman seated on one of the chairs behind Silas got to her feet.
"Judge, Your Honor --" she said and Uncle Daniel looked at her over his spectacles. "Ah don't know if'n what Ah's gwine to say is testimony or ain't testimony," she continued, "but Ah's the young lady what Silas done got this radio for. Yas sah. Mah name is Sally Jackson, Judge, an' Ah lives at the present time at 423 Jaspah Street. Ah jes wishes to say, Judge, that Silas ain't never gwine take this radio off'n Mistah Stiggins ef'n Ah don't put him up to it. Silas he been courtin' me for gwine on a year, Judge, an' all dat time Ah keeps pesterin' him fo' a radio. Ah's keen fo' a radio. Judge. Ah urged him."
"You did, did you?" said Uncle Daniel. "What's that got to do with it?"
"If anyone's guilty, Ah is, Judge," said Sally Jackson. "Ah meets this Gawge Stiggins when he is fetchin' home this radio, an' Ah says: 'You got a radio, ain't yuh?' 'Yas'm,' he says; 'Ah paid fo' dollahs down and Ah'm gwine pay one dollar a month on it.' And so Ah tells Silas, 'Silas, that Gawge Stiggins owes you fo' dollahs --'"
"In other words," said Uncle Daniel, "you put him up to stealing it?"
"Collectin' it, Judge, just collectin' it on what Mistah Stiggins owed Silas. Ah pestered Silas till he done so. Ah takes the blame. Silas loves me, Judge, an' Ah overpowered his better nature."
"Judge --" Silas squeaked.
"You shut yo' mouf, Silas," ordered Sally Jackson, and she turned to Uncle Daniel again. "Judge," she said winsomely, "the' ain't no use fo' all this ruckus about that radio. Ah wants Silas to marry me, an' ef'n Silas will marry me, Judge, Ah'll pay this Stiggins man his twenty dollahs an' fifty cents --"
"Twenty-fo' dollahs an' fifty cents," said Mr. Stiggins.
Sally Jackson gave him a black look.
"You talk crazy, man!" she said scornfully. "You don't git no twenty-fo' dollahs an' fifty cents. You owes Silas fo' dollahs."
"What Ah owes him ain't got nothin' to do with stealin' mah radio," said Mr. Stiggins' stubbornly. "What Ah owes Silas is business between gentlemans. Ah wants mah twenty-fo' dollahs an' fifty cents, or Ah wants that no-good Silas in jail."
Sally Jackson looked at Uncle Daniel questioningly, and Uncle Daniel looked at Officer Flannery with the same question.
"To my way av thinkin', Yer Honor," said Flannery, "this Stiggins has the right av it. Does he owe Silas money, has nothin' to do with the case. The evidence is, Yer Honor, that Silas took the radio, constitutin' a crime or not as Yer Honor may decide. The lady offers to compromise the case, payin' money to the complainant. To my way of thinkin', Judge, the complainant has the right to ask what he dang pleases."
Uncle Daniel hit his desk twice with the gavel.
"The court decides," he said, "that the complainant is entitled to twenty-four dollars and fifty cents. That's what the radio is worth, ain't it?"
"Yas sah, Judge," said Sally Jackson with no sign of displeasure. "Fo' dollahs don't mean nuffin' to me. All Ah asks is that Silas marries me befo' Ah pays out no money."
"Silas," asked Uncle Daniel, "are you willing to marry this woman?"
"Yas sah, Judge," squeaked Silas. "Ah'll sure marry Sally any time she leaves me marry her. Yas, sah!"
"And you want to marry this man?" Uncle Daniel asked Sally.
"Sure do, Judge," Sally said, turning to give Silas a loving smile.
Uncle Daniel reached for his "Complete Compendium." He found the page containing the ceremony prescribed for marrying, and laid the book open there.
"Now this is a satisfactory outcome of a most unpleasant affair," he said. "A Justice of the Peace can perform a marriage, and I'm going to marry you two right here and now, by thunder! Silas Johnson, stand up here."
Silas unfolded his long legs and with a sheepish grin ambled to the side of Sally Jackson. She gave him an affectionate look, but turned to Uncle Daniel again.
"Judge --" she said, but Uncle Daniel was scanning the words of the marriage ceremony. "Judge --" she began again, and Uncle Daniel looked tip benevolently.
"Being," he said, "as this is the first wedding I ever done, I ain't going to make no charge for it. Silas Johnson, do you take this woman to be your wedded wife?"
"Judge, Your Honor, please," said Sally Jackson insistently. "Ex-cuse me fo' interruptin' you. Ah wants to marry Silas sure enough, but befo' you marries me to him, Judge, you's got to divorce me from Mistah Jefferson Jackson down to Jasonville, Missouri."
"Hey?" exclaimed Uncle Daniel. "What's that? Divorce you?"
"Yas sah, Judge," said Sally serenely. "Ah ain't gwine marry me to another husband till Ah gets a divorce from the one what Ah has. So first you go right ahead an' divorce me from that Jefferson Jackson man. Ah got grounds, Judge -- cruelty an' desertion."
"What, what!" exclaimed Uncle Daniel, getting red in the face.
"Or divorce him from me," said Sally placidly, "seein' as the cruelty an' desertion was from me to him."
"Divorce? Divorce?" sputtered Uncle Daniel. "I can't divorce you, hang take it! Why, you -- you -- you --"
His face was so red that his goatee looked like white wire on a red blanket. It twitched like a rabbit's nose. His hand reached automatically for his gavel, and it was at that moment Henry C. Morleton entered the room with a large bouquet of flowers in his hands.
It was an embarrassing moment for Uncle Daniel, for the ex-justice stood back to watch the new justice at work. Uncle Daniel swallowed and hit the desk a resounding whack.
"Bring that radio here, Stiggins," he ordered. "I'll give you twenty-five dollars for it. Case dismissed."
Uncle Daniel took the money from his purse and handed it over, and Flannery cleared the courtroom.
Mr. Morleton gave Uncle Daniel the flowers.
"Now that's real kindly of you, Henry," Uncle Daniel said; and to me: "You take this radio home to your Aunt Effie, you young whippersnapper."
Dear Aunt Effie was so pleased!
"Daniel always does what I want," she said, beaming fondly at the radio set, and then she added, "-- if I keep at him long enough."