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Kilo, a novel by Ellis Parker Butler

Chapter 8. The Medium-Sized Box

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_ CHAPTER VIII. The Medium-Sized Box

As Eliph' walked briskly toward Miss Sally's house the Colonel was having an interesting conversation with Attorney Toole, in the attorney's office over the Kilo Savings Bank.

Attorney Toole had been a lawyer at Franklin, and he had come down to Kilo because he preferred a being a big toad in a small puddle, rather than a little toad in a middle-sized one. This was one of his reasons, but another was that he had complete and full faith in Richard Toole, and intended to be a political power in the land. He could not be much of anything in Franklin, for that town was hard and fast Democratic, and Toole was a Republican. The first step to political preferment is to be elected to something or other, it does not make much difference what, and to rise from that to greater things, but a Republican had no chance in Franklin; couldn't even get an appointment as dog police or wharfmaster; couldn't get elected to any office at all.

So Toole packed up his law books and moved to Kilo, where he was in a Republican town, a Republican county, and a Republican congressional district, in a Republican State that formed part of a Republican nation. He selected Kilo, after considering other good little Republican towns, because the Republicans of Kilo needed aid and assistance; they were out of office; kicked out.

Every so often the small town of the West turns the regular party out of office and puts in a Citizens' ticket, just to show that the people still rule, and to let the greedy officeholders, some of whom get as much as one hundred dollars a year in salary, know that their offices are not life positions. When Attorney Toole descended on Kilo, the Citizens' Party was "in," and the Republicans were "out," and the attorney saw an opportunity of making himself valuable to his party by working to put the party "in" again.

Never before had the Colonel climbed his stairs, and Toole smiled like an Irish sphinx when the Colonel entered his office. He smiled most of the time, not because he thought a smile becoming to his freckled face, but because he found things so eternally amusing. In law a man is considered innocent until he has been proved guilty; in Kilo Attorney Toole considered everything amusing until it had been proved serious, and he considered the Colonel and Skinner, and the whole Citizens' Party they had been instrumental I organizing, as parts of the same joke. They would stand until he was ready to lazily push out his hand and topple them over. It was almost time to topple them, now, and he was glad to see the Colonel; he motioned him to a seat, and smiled.

The Colonel took his hat from his mat of coarse iron-gray hair, and laid it carefully on the floor. Out of his small sharp eyes ignorance and cunning peered, and the mass of beard that hid the greater part of his face could not hide the hard line of his mouth.

"I jest dropped up," he explained, after he had acknowledged the attorney's cheerful greeting with a gruff "mornin'," "I jest dropped up, sort of friendly-like, thinkin' you might have nothin' to do, an' might like to sit an' chin a while. You don't charge nothin' for sittin' an' chinnin' do ye?"

Toole said he did not.

"I didn't figger you did," said the Colonel. "If I'd thought you did I wouldn't have dropped up, for I ain't got no money to spend on lawyers. I'd sooner throw money away than spend it at law. But I figgered you was young at the law yet, and didn't have much to do at it, and I sort of run across a case I thought might amuse you, like, when you ain't got nothin' to do. Folks don't seem to have much faith in young lawyers, and you can't blame 'em; old ones don't know much. All any of 'em care for is to get people into trouble so they can charge 'em fees to get 'em out of it. So I thought mebby you'd like to hear of this case so you could kind of mull it over in your mind whilst you're loafin' up here."

"That was kind of you," said Toole.

"I always like to do a good turn when I can," said the Colonel, "when it don't cost nothin'. An' this case I was tellin' you about is a mighty good one for a young lawyer to study over. Soon as I heard of it I says to myself 'I'll tell this case to Attorney Toole, an' he'll be grateful to hear of it.'"

The country client usually begins in some such way as this, anxious to get all the advice he can without having to pay for it, and Toole merely smiled.

"Mebby you know," said the Colonel, "that there was a feller took board of Sally Briggs a while back; feller by the name of William Rossiter, that come through here peddlin' lightnin' rods and pain killer and land knows what all. Well, he was a rascal. He took board off of Sally Briggs four weeks, and then he cleared out, and she nor no one else has seen hide nor hair of him since, and he never paid her one cent. All he ever let on was to leave this letter stickin' on the pin cushion in his bedroom."

The Colonel dug the letter out of his vest pocket, and Toole read it. It was short:

Dear Miss Briggs: I'm off. Good-by. Business in Kilo is no good. Sorry I can't square up, but I leave you the box in my room in part payment. W. R.

"Prosecution's exhibit No. 1," said the attorney.

"Jest what I was tellin' Miss Sally," said the Colonel. "I says to her to keep that paper, and it might come handy. Mebby you heard that me and Miss Sally was what you might call keepin' company?"

"That's interesting," said Toole. "Been keeping it long?"

"Quite some consid'able time," said the Colonel. "Long enough, land knows, and we'd a-been done with it by this time and married, if that Skinner hadn't come crowdin' in where he wasn't wanted. What right has a man like him to come pushin' in like that? His wife ain't been dead twelve months yet. It ain't decent of him, is it?"

"Do you want a legal opinion?" asked Toole, reaching for a large law book that lay on the table.

"No, I don't!" cried the Colonel in alarm; "I don't want to run up no charges. I don't care whether it's legal or not, it ain't friendly, after him and me has worked together buildin' up this Citizens' Party, and all. What does he mean, sendin' Miss Sally porterhouses, when she only orders flank steak, like he was wrappin' up love and affection into every steak? He's got mighty proud since he set out to build that there Kilo Opery House of his. He's a fool to spend money on an opery house in this town. He's a beefy, puffy old money bag, he is. He needn't tell ME he expects to get even on what he spent on that Opery House Block out of what he'll make on it; he just built it to make a show, so some dumb idiot like Sally Briggs would think he amounted to more than others, and marry him."

The Colonel brought down his hand with a bang on the attorney's table.

"What kind of an idiot did you call Miss Briggs?" asked Toole pleasantly.

"I didn't call her no kind!" declared the Colonel. "All I say is, I've been married once already, and I know how women are. And I know Skinner. He's lookin' for to pay for that opery house with Pap Brigg's money that he'll git if he marries Sally. But he won't git it! I'm a-goin' to----" He was going to say he was going to get it, but he caught himself in time, and substituted "I'm a-goin' to see to that."

"I see," said Toole, "and you want to retain me as your attorney in case you have to sue for breach of promise?"

The Colonel scowled.

"I don't want to retain, and I don't want to sue, and I don't want no fees to pay. You get that clear in your mind. If I did, I'd go to a lawyer that had some experience. I jest dropped up----"

"Well, any time you wish, you can just drop down again, Colonel," said Toole, but not ill-naturedly.

"Now, don't git that way," said the Colonel. "I jest dropped up to do you a favor, and you git mad about it! I don't call that friendly. If you was to do me a favor I wouldn't git mad."

"Go ahead with the favor, then," said Toole, leaning back in his chair and putting his feet on his table.

"Miss Sally," said the Colonel, "she told me all about this feller Rossiter, an' what he said, an' what she said, an' how he come to go to her house for board, an' how he skipped off, an' she showed me the note he left on the pin cushion, an' then she come down to business. 'Colonel,' she says, 'have I a right to take an' keep that box? Have I a right to open it? Is it mine by law? If I open it can he come back an' sue me, or anything?'

"'Can he?' says I. 'That's the question. Can he?'

"'It's a large box,' says Miss Sally.

"'A large box, hey?' says I. 'Of course if it was a small box, Miss Sally--but it is a large box! How large?'

"'Quite large,' she says. 'About medium large. Not too large. Besides anything very large it would be small, but beside anything very small it would be large.'

"I nodded my head to her, to let her see I knew what she was tryin' to say. 'Medium large,' I says, 'yes, I know just about how big you mean, but what I'd like to know is, is it heavy?'

"'Medium,' she says, 'just medium heavy.'

"Well, there she was! A medium heavy, medium-sized box. If it had been a little bit of a light-weight box I'd 'a' told her to open it and keep it, for there couldn't have been much in it; and if it had been a big heavy box I'd have told her she'd better leave it alone; for there wouldn't be any tellin' whether she had any right to open a box like that one might have turned out to be. I didn't know how the law stood on that kind of a box. But it was medium-sized, and I didn't know WHAT to say.

"'Miss Sally,' I says, 'I'd like to help you out on this. Any time I can give you any advice on anything, I'm glad to, but I don't know what to say about a box that is medium size and medium heavy. You'd ought to get the law on that subject before you touch that box. Don't you touch that box. Don't you open it unless there's a law officer standin' by to see you do it.'

"She seen that was good advice," continued the Colonel, "and I sat there right in her parlor and thought it over. 'Miss Sally,' I says, after I had thought all I could about it, 'I believe Attorney Toole would tell you what to do about that box. There ain't nothin' a lawyer needs more than to be popular, and there ain't no way to git popular quicker than by doin' little favors, an' he ought to be glad to do a favor for you, for you're almost an orphan. Your ma's dead, an' Pap Briggs ain't overly strong, an' you're liable to be an orphan almost any minute. I can tell by the looks of Attorney Toole,' I says, 'that he's got a good heart, and if you say the word I'll ask him what he says to do about that box.' She seemed sort of put out at what I'd said about orphans, but I seen she was willing to have me ask you about that box, and I seen it would be doin' you a favor, too, to tell you about it, so you could sort of exercise your mind on it, so I jest dropped up----"

"Colonel," said Toole, "this is a very serious case." He put his hand over his mouth to hide the smile he could not prevent from coming to his lips.

"You don't mean to tell me!" exclaimed the Colonel. "I was afraid there might be somethin' wrong about it somewheres. But I ain't goin' to go to no expense about it. It ain't my box----"

"I would not take a case like this for money," said the attorney, turning suddenly and facing the Colonel with a seriousness that frightened that cautious soul. "I would not take a case involving a medium-sized, medium-heavy box; a box left for board by a man from parts unknown, now departed to parts unknown; a box that may contain stolen property; I would not take such a case for money, Colonel. But I'll undertake it for friendship. For friendship only. You ARE my friend, aren't you, Colonel?"

"Surely! Surely!" exclaimed the Colonel eagerly.

"A medium-sized box," said Toole, turning his head to hide his smile, "should be opened only in the presence of an attorney-at-law. That is legal advice and worth five dollars, but I charge you nothing for it, you being my friend. Consider it a gift from me to you."

"I'm much obliged," said the Colonel gruffly.

"And now," said the attorney briskly, "for the MODUS OPERANDI, as we lawyers say. Has the client, the lady in the case, a hatchet?"

The Colonel thought.

"I ain't right sure," he said at length, after he had searched his brain; "seems like she ought to have, but I've got one, an' I'll loan it to her."

"Good!" exclaimed Toole briskly. "That is better yet. A medium-sized box left by a transient in payment of default of a board bill should always be opened, if possible, with a hatchet not the property of the plaintiff. Chitty says that. It was so ruled in the case of MUGGINS vs. MUGGINS."

He took from his desk a bulky volume, and ran over the pages rapidly.

"Box," he said, "small box-medium box. Here it is. Humph!"

The Colonel leaned over the book, but the attorney closed it quickly.

"Bring an ax," he said. "A hatchet would do, but an ax is more legal. Hatchets for small boxes, axes for medium boxes. There is a later case than MUGGINS vs. MUGGINS."

"I'll fetch the ax," agreed the Colonel.

"Can you be at the house in half an hour?" asked the attorney.

The Colonel could.

"You're right sure there ain't goin' to be no charges to this?" he asked anxiously, and when the attorney had once more assured him there would be none, he picked his hat from the floor and shuffled into the hall and down the stairs. _

Read next: Chapter 9. The Witness

Read previous: Chapter 7. The Colonel

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