J. Sanford Rickards
IN its one-store days the Hoosier hamlet of Terhune had been content with a home-made post-office: not such as now ornaments the front of one of its modern stores, but a cage built in one corner of its only business room and pigeon-holed according to the alphabet.
Although then, as now, post-offices were considered to be political plums, it so happened that David Bogan, a Democrat, had been custodian of this one through the respective administrations of both national parties, because' his store, on the east side of the road, was the only business building suitable to accommodate the postal services of the neighborhood.
The daily receiving and sending of the few straggling letters and papers that constituted the mail was an item of no small importance in the eyes of the inhabitants; but apparently it was not so regarded by the swiftly passing trains that thundered by the station. No one would have guessed that Uncle Sam paid good money for the transportation of this mail, so unceremoniously was it kicked out at the doors of the “fast mail oars.” It was taken on board by an iron lever reaching out from the car door and snatching the mail-bag suspended in a wooden frame. Ike Wallace, who had been operator at Terhune for eleven years, averred that only twice during this time had the iron lever failed to perform its function.
In addition to being postmaster and store-keeper, David Bogan was a Justice of the Peace, and so was referred to as the “Squire.” Pie was also blessed with a “birth-right” in the Quaker church, and therefore held himself and his family uncompromisingly to the oldstyle faith, refusing to follow his fellow sheep through their stages of religious
metamorphosis whereby they successively became Campbellites, Newlights, Methodists, Presbyterians, and United Brethren.
Because of his spiritual predilections, David had never indulged himself in any self-congratulatory attitudes toward his rather exalted position in the community. However, about the year 1890 his dignity as postmaster had been radically enhanced by a new, factorymade post-office that was sent to be installed in the front of his store, and along with it had come an increase in salary.
In spite of his sober and commonplace habits, David now felt his selfimportance asserting itself. Then, too, the advance in income materially simplified his living problem, which was to maintain his mother-in-law, his wife, and his daughter, and teach his son a trade.
These were indeed balmy days. For fifty-odd years, he told himself, he had been casting his bread upon the waters : now it was coming back, and it was bringing with it not merely butter but also a sweetmeat branded “distinction.” Now that honor was thrust upon him, surely it was no sin to bask in its radiance! So with great waves of satisfaction he began to recall promises of milk and honey for the faithful and no begging in their last days for the righteous.
In the first year of the reign of the new post-office came store-keeper number two. rPhis was Judson Miller,; whose boyhood had been spent in the vicinity, but who, during the six years of his early manhood, had served in the army. He came home on crutches, not as a result of battles fought for his country, but as a consequence of a railroad wreck. After due course of con-
troversy, lie emerged from the wreck litigation, walking with a cane, wearing a signet ring, and possessing four hundred dollars in cash. With the money he opened a store on the west side of the dusty pike, directly opposite the establishment of the scrupulous Quaker. • To be sure, he drew away some of the Squire’s trade, and this greatly annoyed David’s friends, one of whom approached him on the subject: “Ain’t you kinder ’feared, David, that this here new store of Judson Miller’s ’ll take away some of yer trade?”
Before replying David balanced a lump of brown sugar on the point of a sugar-scoop, and swept it into his mouth with a sucking noise.
“Well, I don’t cal’late on losin’ no great site. You see, since the government of these United States put this new ’partaient in my store here,” and he flourished the scoop grandiloquently toward the cabinet arrangement, “I’ve been getin’ a right smart of trade from down ’round Fancher’s corner an’ other places. Nope, I reckon there ain’t much danger of it, Andy.”
“Well, I ’spose as how you orter know, seein’ as yer runnin’ the business; but I’ll be consarned if I think that store ’cross there’s goin’ to do you any good.”
Meanwhile Judson seemed satisfied with a not extravagant patronage. He was also content to lean on the front gate of the Bogan residence on dull days, and recount his experiences of army life to the postmaster’s daughter, Lizzie. At such times Lizzie found great comfort in the barrel-stave hammock swinging in the porch.
During one of these mid-day interviews, her mother’s voice fell sharply on her ears: “Liz-zee! Oh, Liz-zee! Come here.”
When the daughter ran into the kitchen, Mrs. Bogan began in a milder tone :
“A body would think that porch, with the sun a-bilin’ down on thee, is a first rate summer resort, the way thee’s always swingin’ out there.” “Why, Maw, I was just talkin’ to Judson a few minutes.”
“Pears like that’s all thee does. Run
over to the store an’ tell yer Paw to send me a couple of eggs and a bag of corn-meal, so I c’n make him some corn flapjacks 1er dinner. Flurry up, now.”
Triad enough to escape further questioning, Lizzie hastened out. Her mother straightened up from the table and rubbed off the dough that clung to her fingers, while she mused aloud:
“I do wonder when that feller’s goin’ to stop courtin’ long ’nough to pop thequestion? ’Pears to me it’d be better 1er him an’ David both if their stores could be put together.”
But on the following Sunday afternoon, as a group of Terhune's male population sat on store steps and leaned against peeled poll hitchracks, Abe Farwick, the blacksmith, propounded a question that was destined not only to stiatter the ambitious mother’s fondest hope, but likewise to expel harmony and peace and to enthrone discord throughout the confines of the village.
“I’ve jist been thinkin,” said Abe, drawing the stem of a clay pipe from between his teeth, “that the post-office 11 have to move after the ’lection this fall.” _ . . -J
“What in tarnation ’re you drivin’ at, Abe?” asked Andy Izzard, who had left off his incessant grinding of a tobacco cud in order to catch the full significance of the blacksmith’s words. “That office’s been in Squire Bogan’s store for nigh onto twenty years now, an’ I reckon he keeps it as well as anybody else could, don’t he?”
“I’m not sayin’ that the Squire don’t keep it well ’nough ; but ye’ve hearn tell of the sayin’ that ‘to the victor belongs the spoils,’ ain’t you? Well, now, if the Republican party wins this cornin’ campaign, as it s been doin’ most of the time for the last thutty years, I reckon there won’t be much use of a Democratic store-keeper runnin’ the post-office, seein’ as how Judson here is a Republican.”
Now, Abe, like the majority of the population of Terhune, was a Republican, and could afford to conclude his argument with a very convincing wink. Andy, on the other hand, was one of a few Democrats in town who had con-
sistently voted against the Republican party from the date of its inception, and in no one could Fenwick’s remark have stirred up more bitterness and apprehension. This anxiety Andy straightway conveyed to David, who received it in a crestfallen manner.
The feeling of uneasiness became widespread in the Democratic ranks as the days of autumn rolled away, but it especially possessed the old Quaker, who began , to experience sleepless nights, and to upbraid himself with the preachers’ cry that “all is vanity.” If a Republican administration were elected, the post office must cross the street to his competitor, leaving him without a prop and divesting him of all his fame. He scarcely knew which would be the harder to bear, the memory of honors surrendered or the sting of poverty known of old.
Meanwhile Judson sat at his window with a new and unfamiliar thrill. He contemplated the increased income and acknowledged distinction that would come with his appointment. His spirits were running high, even as David Bogan’s were sinking in sullen despair.
Daily the interests and sympathies of the citizens became more intensified. The two political factions unconsciously shaped themselves, each having for its recognized head its postmaster possibility. This brought on a serious change in business relations; all the Republican customers began to trade with the younger merchant, and only the patronage of the Democratic minority was left for David.
This sounded the first note of warning to Judson’s conscience, for he knew that such a falling-off in business would ruin his veteran rival. But what could he do? If his party should win, he would be enrolled as postmaster. That was a perfectly honorable spoil, and had been instituted by a custom as hoary as political parties themselves. Therefore he could not refuse it.
In the community, feeling continued to mount to a high pitch, and it looked as if the once-quiet neighborhood would be torn by strife. For several days Lizzie had not been seen in the barrelstave hammock. Miller noted this and
secretly chafed under the sting of it.
Shortly before election the minister of the oft-conforming flock returned to preach his bi-weekly sermon, and lodged in the home of the president of the Ladies’ Aid Society.
“Oh, Brother Williams! I’m so glad you’ve come !” exclaimed that good lady, the care-worn expression of her voice exceeded only by that of her brow. “The town’s all torn by strife an’ factions over movin’ the post office. The Republicans ’re sayin’ that the Squire’s havin’ it all these years has been jist the same as givin’ aid to one of their enemies. I know you can do something that will pour oil on the troubled waters and make ’em think more about their souls’ welfare.”
“My dear sister, when men are contending for political spoils they shun the contemplations of the welfare of their souls,” spoke the pastor, with the air of a prophet.
“Well, I s’pose you’re right,” she assented resignedly. “An’ I do sometimes wonder if we’ll ever overthrow the powers of the Evil One.”
Regarding the fulfilment of this last, she was to receive no encouragement from the incidents of the coming Sabbath day. Her husband was a staunch supporter of Squire Bogan, so everv Republican stayed away from church rather than listen to a sermon preached by o minister who had apparently allied himself with the opposite faction by sojourning in one of their homes.
Even the sparse Democratic audience gave place to vacant benches when the preacher began a sermon on the Scriptural admonition to “love one another.”
Domestic relations were the next to be invaded. Dick Whaley, a perfectly restful and unenergetic citizen, was driven from home by his irate wife. In emphatic terms she had praised the Squire and laid special stress on the fact that he had always provided for his wife’s mother. To this abnormal habit of David’s Dick had taken voluble exception, and thereby hung a disagreement that ended in a violence unsurpassed even by the participations of the small hoys of the village, many of
whom wore blackened eyes and bruised spots testifying to the loyalty of themselves to the champions adhered to by their respective fathers.
Up to this time but two residents had refrained from taking part in the postal controversy which had now come to be ( the sole issue in the approaching election. One of these was the Squire’s dog—a mongrel of the commonest yellow breed, but a good fighter, who had asserted his superiority over all of his kind in Terhune except that other resident—the white bulldog belonging to Judson Miller.
The yellow hybrid and the dirty white bull were the glaring rivals in dogdom, even as their masters had come to represent a feud among the ballotcasters. It was natural, then, that before this political dissension could end, it should descend, for ultimate decision, to these canine rivals.
Election day was gray and cheerless. Groups moved back and forth between the polls and the stores, neighbor passing neighbor without recognition or greeting. The early darkness brought a cold, drizzling rain to disperse the groups of low-voiced, anxious women from the yard-gates along the road. Down at the voting place they had begun to count the ballots in the flickering glare of smoky kerosene lamps; while the knots of men outside retreated to their homes.
Squire Bogan sat by the box-stove in the rear of his store, nervously fingering the leaves of a law book. It was the final day of what seemed to him a losing fight; consequently he was filled with feverish irritation. Over his steelrimmed spectacles, he vented his feelings to Andy Izzard.
“It ain’t lawful ner constitut’nal to change the location of the post-office,” spoke the Squire. “I find nothing in these statutes to support the change ; an’ if the other party moves the post-office, it will be the same as stealin’ sugar from my store.”
“Jist so, Squire,” responded Andy, “list so. It’s a plain case of bein’ robbed of the privilege that’s been justly your’n all these years.”
An hour later, into the store across the street came a messenger from the polls to inform Judson that the town had gone Republican, and to say that he ’lowed they would soon be coming into his store to get the mail.
Judson locked the door and sat for a long time by the smouldering fire. The spoil was won—surely there could be no longer any doubt about that. He glanced toward the corner where he had decided to place the paneled creation; but the thrill accompanying previous contemplations of this arrangement did not now return. By degrees Miller was beginning to appreciate the ugliness of a community strife that had turned neighbor against neighbor, had ruptured homes, and had driven men from the house of worship; and the cause of it all was the craving for a paltry political spoil to be doled out like so much ginger-bread from the hand of a victorious demagogue. However much he rued the estrangements of his fellow citizens, the hardest part to bear was the scorn of Lizzie Bogan. Prior to the post-office difficulties, he had felt that she looked forward to his daily loiterings quite as much as he; and now he believed she was being loyal to her father at the expense of her own happiness as well as his. He regretted that he had not been more bold back in the peaceful days and entered upon negotiations that now could never be. If such an alliance could have been made, he knew that the conflict of the hour would have been easily averted.
The ex-soldier finally fell asleep in his chair, and his harassing thoughts subsided into dreams where he was tormented by demons in the likeness of his Quaker rival, and ever and anon these gave way before the face and voice of Lizzie Bogan.
A loud clatter brought him back from his troubled dreamland. He started up; his body was cold and numb, and the fire was long since out. The clatter continued at the door until he turned the key. Dick Whaley pushed into the room, and the store-keeper caught a glimpse of eastern light trying
to straggle through a cold November morning’s fog.
“Gimme two pounds o’ pickled meat. I’m goin’ home to eat breakfast,” announced the early customer, with the faintest suggestion of triumph in his tone.
“D’you mean yer wife’s let you come back, Dick?” inquired Judson, between chattering teeth, as he fished into the pork-barrel and speared a chunk of briny meat on a long metal fork abundantly corroded with contaminations peculiar to a country store.
“Yep. The ’lection’s over now, an’ I reckon there ain’t anything more to quarrel about. You got two pounds there, Jud?”
“Well, it lacks three or four ounces, but I guess that won’t make any difference.”
“I reckon you’d better git as much as two pounds, because — well, because Moll said so.” He added the last in a sheepish sort of tone, and Miller journeyed to the barrel on another fishing expedition, this time returning with a smaller chunk of fat between a layer of skin and a streak of lean.
While this was going on, the dirty white bulldog was alternately stretching and shaking himself out from the niche between the kerosene tank and the sorghum molasses barrel. As Whaley passed out, the dog slipped by him through the closing door.
The Squire’s yellow hybrid was trotting diagonally across the street, sniffing at the ground as if in search of food. At sight of him, an ugly light flashed from the eyes of the recalcitrant husband, and a triumphant smile played about the corners of his mouth. Under his hat was a sore bump made by the impact of a stick of stove-wood in the hands of his spouse, and Squire Bogan had been the main point of disagreement. However unenergetic Dick Whaley may have been in the presence of work, he was anything but phlegmatic when confronted by an opportunity for revenge.
He glanced each way along the street. No one was in sight. Quickly thrust-
ing his hand into one end of the darkbrown paper package, he pulled out the small chunk of meat and tossed it in front of the advancing cur. Both dogs sprang after the bait, but, as Dick had calculated, the yellow one arrived first and seized it with a snarling growl.
For the space of a second the white dog hesitated.
“Sic him, bull!” hissed Whaley.
A dirty white streak shot through the air and landed on the yellow dog’s neck. In an effort to shake himself free, the latter hurled the meat in the direction of their provocator. It had barely dropped when Whaley caught the toe of his shoe under it and sent it into the side ditch a rod awav. just as the canine pandemonium broke forth in howls of rage and pain.
A fire-alarm is the only other terrifying signal that could have brought such a response. From the two forty-rod rows of houses the inhabitants poured forth through never-closed gates. To the bellowings that issued from the writhing heap of dirty-white and yellow were added the shouts of men and the glee of boys, all of them snatching sticks as they raced towards the spot.
The Squire and Judson pushed into the quickly formed circle from opposite sides.
“Git back!” the former shouted. “Git back an’ give ’em a fair chanct!”
But it was soon evident that this was not needed, for the yellow hybrid had been unable to shake off the first throatgrip of his antagonist. Every spectator turned his eyes on the Squire, who stood regarding the form of his dog as it grew more and more limp in the bulldog’s powerful jaws.
The Quaker postmaster was like a solitary soldier driven to the last trench: deserted by customers and
friends, ridiculed by women and boys, voted out of honor and emolument, as he believed, by fellow-townsmen, he stood witnessing the snapping of the life-blood of his faithful pet by the dog of his successful rival.
Lifting his angry face, he vented the
vehemence that was surging in his breast :
“Judson Miller, thee’s drove off my customers, stole my post-office, an’ now thy dog’s killed mine. I reckon I can’t stand no more.”
With that he snatched the young store-keeper’s cane and swung it above his head. But the latter, so unexpectedly thrown upon his lame knee, pitched forward to the ground and accidentally collided with the feet of his assailant with such force as completely to bowl him over, while the cane descended full in the face of Dick Whaley, who had been standing back of Miller. Blinded with pain and rage, Dick lurched forward, kicking and striking at the fallen Squire.
This was a signal for a general melee. All the pent-up feelings of the previous days found expression in curses, blows, and hurling missiles. Fists struck out, sticks gouged and whacked. At the bottom of the heap was the ex-soldier, pinned down so tightly he could not move. Just above him was his aged rival, entirely submerged by the human pile save for one free hand, that continued to brandish back and forth a piece of the now broken cane.
By the time the town constable and the neighborhood doctor reached the scene, the rumpus had made the dogfight of a minute before appear in comparison like a tranquil autumn twilight in the presence of an infuriated blizzard.
Aided by Lizzie Bogan and other women, these worthy and dignified servants of community welfare began patiently to disentangle this conglomerated edition of election returns. When the Squire’s head, turtle-like, finally protruded between the legs of those above, his daughter addressed him: “Now, Paw ! Ain’t thee ashamed of thyself! Look how thee’s went an’ broke Judson’s cane !”
Before the Squire could reply, Ike Wallace came running up the road from the depot, waving a telegraph blank and shouting:
“New York’s gone Democratic! Cleveland’s ’lected, an’ the post-office won’t haf to move !”
The Squire sat up, spitting like a rapid--fire gun.
“I reckon it’s about time for me to be puttin’ up the 7.43 mail,” he offered, as his only observation.
With much difficulty, Judson scrambled to his feet and looked about for support. Smiling and blushing, Lizzie offered her arm. Proudly leaning on this affectionate substitute for his broken walking-stick, the vanquished victor walked back towards his store. This was a signal for the combatants to disperse.
It is a maxim repeated in every tongue that “love finds a way”; but only in these United States of America do men turn from the passionate moments of anger at white heat and willingly accept victory or defeat as it is dictated by election returns.