teen and seventy years of age. An hour or two
later these travellers would return, bound for
their offices downtown. Going back they would
mainly travel in pairs, and their trailing black
servitors would be burdened, front and back,
with "samples" sheafs of tobacco bound
together and sealed with blobs of red sealing
wax and tagged. For this was in the time
before the Trust and the Night Riders had be-
tween them disrupted the trade down in the
historic Black Patch, and the mode of market
ing the weed by loose leaf was a thing as yet
undreamed of. They would be prizing on the
breaks in Key & Buckner's long warehouse
pretty soon. The official auctioneer had al
ready reported himself, and to the ear for blocks
round came distantly a sharp rifle-fire clatter
as the warehouse hands knocked the hoops off
the big hogsheads and the freed staves rattled
down in windrows upon the uneven floor,
A locomotive whistled at the crossing two
squares up the street, and the King smiled a
little smile and rasped a lean and avaricious
chin with a fabulously bony hand. He opined
that locomotive would be drawing the monthly
pay car which was due. The coming of the
pay car meant many sportive railroad men
shopmen, yardmen, trainmen abroad that
evening with the good new money burning holes
in the linings of their pockets.
Close by him, just behind him, a voice spoke
his name his proper name which he seldom
heard and the sound of it rubbed the smile
off his face and turned it on the instant into
a grim, long war-mask of a face.
"Mister Magee Elmer just a minute,
Without shifting his body he turned his head
and over the peak of one shoulder he regarded
her dourly. She was a small woman and she
was verging on middle age, and she was an ex-
OLD JUDGE PRIEST
ceedingly shabby little woman. Whatever of
comeliness she might ever have had was now
and forever gone from her. Hard years and
the strain of them had ground the colour in
and rubbed the plumpness out of her face,
leaving in payment therefor deep lines and a
loose skin-sac under the chin and hollows in the
cheeks. The shapeless, sleazy black garments
that she wore effectually concealed any remnant
of grace that might yet abide in her body.
Only her eyes testified she had ever been any
thing except a forlorn and drooping slattern.
They were big bright black eyes.
This briefly was the aspect of the woman who
stood alongside him, speaking his name. She
had come up so quietly that he never heard her.
But then her shoes were old and worn and had
lasted long past the age when shoes will squeak.
He made no move to raise his hat. Slant
wise across the high ridge of his twisted shoul
der he looked at her long and contemptuously.
"Well," he said at length, "back ag'in, huh?
Well, whut is it now, huh?"
She put up a little work-gnarled hand to a
tight skew of brown hair streaked thickly with
grey. In the gesture was something essen
tially feminine something pathetic too.
"I reckon you know already what it is,
Elmer," she said. "It's about my boy it's
"I told you before and I tell you ag'in I
ain't your boy's guardeen," he answered her.
"How comes you keep on pesterin' me I
ain't got that boy of yourn?"
"Yes, you have got him," she said, her voice
shaking and threatening to break. "You've
got him body and soul. And I want him me,
his mother. I want you to give him back to
His gaze lifted until he considered empty
space a foot above her head. Slowly he reached
an angular arm back under his right shoulder
blade and fished about there until he had ex
tracted from a hip pocket a long, black rectangle
of navy chewing tobacco that was like a shingle
newly dipped in creosote. It was a virgin plug
he bought a fresh one every morning and by
night would make a ragged remnant of it. With
the deliberation of a man who has plenty of
time to spare, he set his stained front teeth in a
corner of it and gnawed off a big scallop of the
rank stuff. His tongue herded it back into his
jaw, where it made a lump. He put the plug
away. She stood silently through this, knead
ing her hands together, a most humble suppliant
awaiting this monarch's pleasure.
"You told me all that there foolishness the
other time," he said. "Ain't you got no new
song to sing this time? Ef you have I'll listen,
mebbe. Ef you ain't I'll tell you good-by."
"Elmer," she said, "what kind of a man are
you? Haven't you got any compassions at all?
Why, Elmer, your pa and my pa were soldiers
together in the same regiment. You and me
OLD JUDGE PRIEST
were raised together right here in this town.
We went to the same schoolhouse together as
children don't you remember? You weren't
a mean boy then. Why, I used to think you
was right good-hearted. For the sake of those
old days won't you do something about Eddie?
It's wrong and it's sinful what you're doing
to him and the rest of the young boys in this
"Ef you think that why come to me?" he
demanded. "Why not go to the police with
your troubles?" He split his lips back, and a
double row of discoloured snags that projected
from the gums like little chisels showed between
"And have 'em laugh in my face, same as
you're doing now? Have 'em tell me to go and
get the evidence? Oh, I know you're safe
enough there. I reckon you know who your
friends are. You shut up when the Grand
Jury meets; and once in a while when things
get hot for you, like they did when that Law
and Order League was so busy, you close up
your place; and once in a while you go up to
court and pay a fine and then you keep right
on. But it's not you that's paying the fine
I know that mighty good and well. The money
to pay it comes out of the pockets of poor
women in this town wives and mothers and
"Oh, there's others besides me that are suf
fering this minute. There's that poor, little,
broken-hearted Mrs. Shetler, out there on
Wheelis Street the one whose husband had
to run away because he fell short in his accounts
with the brickyard. And there's that poor,
old Mrs. Postelwaite, that's about to lose the
home that she's worked her fingers to the bone,
mighty near, to help pay for, and she'll be left
without a roof over her head in her old age
because her husband's went and lost every cent
he can get his hands on playing cards in your
place, and so now they can't meet their mort
gage payments. And there's plenty of others
if the truth was only known. And oh, there's
me and my boy the only boy I've got. Elmer
Magee, how you can sleep nights I don't see!"
"I don't," he said. "I work nights." His
wit appealed to him, for he grinned again.
"Say, listen here!" His mood had changed and
he spat the next words out. "Ef you think I
ain't good company for that son of yourn, why
don't you make him stay away from me? I
ain't hankerin' none fur his society."
"I've tried to, Elmer God knows I've tried
to, time and time again. That's why I've
come back to you once more to ask you if you
won't help me. I've gone down on my knees
alone and prayed for help and I've prayed with
Eddie, too, and I've pleaded with him. He
don't run round town carousing like some boys
his age do. He don't drink and he's not wild,
except it just seems like he can't leave gambling
alone. Oh, he's promised me and promised
[ 331 ]
OLD JUDGE PRIEST
me he'd quit, but he's weak and he's only a
boy. I've kept track of his losings as well as
I could, and I know that first and last he's lost
nearly two hundred dollars playing cards with
you and your crowd. That may not be much
to you, Elmer I reckon you're rich but it's
a lot to a lone woman like me. It means bread
and meat and house rent and clothes to go on
my back that's what it means to me. My feet
are mighty near out of these shoes I've got on,
and right this minute there's not a cent in the
house. I don't say you cheated him, but the
money's gone and you got it. And it's ruining
my boy. He's only a boy he won't be twenty-
one till the twelfth day of next April. If only
you wouldn't let him come inside your place
he'd behave himself I know he would.
"So you see, Elmer, you're the only one that
can make him go straight that's why I've
come back to you this second time. I reckon
he ain't so much to blame. You know yes,
you've got reason to know better than anybody
else that his father before him couldn't leave
playing cards alone. I hoped I could raise
Eddie different. As a little thing I used to tell
him playing cards were the devil's own play
things. But it seems like he can't just help
it. I reckon it's in his blood."
"Whut you need then is a blood purifier,"
mocked the gamester. He pointed a long fore
finger toward the drug store across the street.
"You'd better go on over yonder to Hinkle's
and git him some. I see they're advertisin' a
new brand in their window a dollar a bottle
and a cure guaranteed or else you gits your
money back. Better invest!"
He showed her his back as he turned to enter
the Blue Jug. Pausing halfway through the
swinging doors he spoke again, and since he
still looked over her head perhaps he did not see
the look that had come into her eyes or mark
how her hands were clenching and unclenching.
Or if he did see these things perhaps he did not
"That's all I've got to say to you," he added,
"exceptin' this I want this here to be the last
time you come pesterin' me on the street."
"It will be," she said slowly, and her voice
was steady although her meagre frame shook.
"It's the last time I'm coming to you on the
street, Elmer, for what's mine by rights."
"Then good-day to you." He disappeared.
She turned and went away, walking fast.
Her name was Norfleet and she was a widow
and alone in the world. Except for her son,
who worked at Kattersmith Brothers' brick
yards as a helper for twelve dollars and a half a
week, she had no kith or kin. She lived mainly
by her needle, being a seamstress of sorts.
King Highpockets' establishment was the
nearest approach to a gilded gambling hell
to quote a phrase current that we had. But
certainly it was not gilded, although possibly
OLD JUDGE PRIEST
by some it might have been likened to a hell.
Under the friendly cover of darkness you as
cended a steep flight of creaky wooden steps
and when you had reached the first landing you
knocked at a locked wooden door. The lock
slid back and the door opened a cautious inch
or two and a little grinning negro, whose name
was Babe Givens, peeped out at you through
the opening. If you were the right person, or
if you looked as though you might be the right
person, Babe Givens opened the door wider
and made way for you to enter.
Entering then, you found yourself in a big
room furnished most simply with two tables
and some chairs and several spittoons upon the
floor, and a portable rack for poker checks and
a dumbwaiter in a corner and that was all.
There was no safe, the proprietor deeming it
the part of safety to carry his cash capital on
his person. There was no white-uniformed
attendant to bring you wine, should you thirst,
and turkey sandwiches, if you hungered while at
play. I have read that such as these are pro
vided in all properly conducted gambling hells
in the great city, but King Highpockets ran a
sure-thing shop, not a restaurant. Drinks,
when desired, were paid for in advance, and
came from the bar below on the shelf of the
creaking dumbwaiter, after Babe Givens had
called the order down a tin speaking tube.
There were no rugs upon the floor, no pictures
against the walls. Except for the decks of
cards, opened fresh at each sitting, there was
nothing new or bright about the place. The
King might move his entire outfit in one two-
horse wagon and put no great strain upon the
team. He might lose it altogether and be out
of pocket not more than seventy-five dollars.
In him the utilitarian triumphed above the
purely artistic; himself, he was not pretty to
Of the two tables, one ordinarily was for
poker and the other was for craps. The King
banked both games, and sometimes took a
hand in the poker game if conditions seemed
propitious. Whether he played though or
whether he didn't, he stood by always to lift
a white chip out of each jackpot for a greedy
and omnivorous kitty, whose mouth showed as
a brassbound slot in the middle of the circular
cover of dirty green baize. Trust him to min
ister to his kitty every pop. She was his pet and
he loved her, and he never forgot her and her
This night, though, the poker table lacked
for tenants. The pay car had come and had
dispensed of its delectable contents and had
gone on south, and on this particular night most
of the King's guests were railroad men. Rail
road men being proverbially fond of quick
action and plenty of it, the crap table had been
drawn out into the middle of the room and
here all activities centred. Here, too, the King
presided, making change as occasion demanded
[ 335 ]
OLD JUDGE PRIEST
from a mound of specie and a sheaf of currency
in front of him for all transactions were cash
transactions and no chips used. While he did
this his assistant, an alert individual called
Grimes or Jay Bird Grimes, for short kept
track of the swift-travelling dice and of the
betting, which like the dice moved from left
to right, round and round and round again.
Jay Bird had need to keep both his eyes wide
open, for present players and prospective
players were ringed four deep about the table.
The smoke of their cigars and their cigarettes
went upward to add stratified richness to the
thick blue clouds that crawled in layers against
the ceiling, and the sweat of their brows ran
down their faces to drip in drops upon the table
as one after another they claimed the dotted
cubes and shook, rattled and rolled 'em, and
snapped their finger in importunity, calling
upon Big Dick or Phcebe Dice to come and to
come right away. And then this one would
fail to make his point and would lose his turn,
and the overworked ivories would go into the
snatching eager hand of that one who stood
next him, and all the rest, waiting for their
chance, would breathe hard, grunting in fancied
imitation of negroes, and shouting out in a semi-
hysterical fashion as the player passed or didn't
A young freight conductor laid down a ten-
dollar bill and the King covered it with another.
The freight conductor ran that ten up to one
hundred and eighty dollars, ten or twenty at a
clip, then shot the whole amount and lost it;
then lost ninety more on top of that, and with
a white face and a quite empty pay envelope,
still held fast in a shaking left hand, fell back
out of the hunched-in, scrouging circle. But he
didn't go away; he stayed to watch the others,
envious of those who temporarily beat the game,
dismally sympathetic, with an unspoken fel
low feeling, for those who, like him, went broke.
Josh Herron, the roundhouse foreman, dropped
half his month's wages before he decided that,
since luck plainly was not with him, he had had
about enough. A clerk from the timekeeper's
office shoved in, taking his place.
When he wasn't answering knocks at the
door Babe Givens circulated about the out
skirts of the tightened group like a small, black
rabbit dog about a brush pile harbouring hares,
his eyes all china and his mouth all ivory. The
sound of those small squared bones clashing
together in their worn leather cup was music
to his Afric ears. The white man in the first
place stole this game from Babe's race, you know.
Babe had to answer knocks a good many
times. Newcomers kept on climbing the stair
and knuckling the door.
"Game's mighty full, genelmens but they's
always room fur one mo'. Step right in and
wait yo' turn," Babe would say, ushering in the
latest arrival. Babe was almost as happy as
if he had been shooting himself.
OLD JUDGE PRIEST
As I say, they kept coming. At length, a
few minutes before midnight, when the pile of
silver under the King's hands had grown from
a molehill to a mountain and the wadded paper
money made a small shock of yellow-and-green
fodder upon the green pasture of the table-top,
came still another, and this one most strangely
burdened. Very mousily indeed this eleventh-
hour visitor ascended the steps, and first trying
the doorknob, knocked with a fumbling knock
against the pine panels.
Babe drew back the bolt and peered out into
the darkness at the solitary figure dimly seen.
"Game's mighty full, genelmen," he began
the formula of greeting, "but you kin
Babe began it but he never finished it. Some
thing long and black, something slim and fear
some yes, most fearsome '-slid through the
opening, and grazed his nose so that the little
darky, stricken limp, fell back.
"Please, suh, boss," he begged, "fur Gawd's
sake don't shoot don't shoot!"
Babe started his prayer in a babble but he
ended it with a shriek a shriek so imploringly
loud that all there, however intent they might
be, were bound to hear and take notice. Over
the heads of his patrons Highpockets looked,
and he stiffened where he stood. They all
looked; they all stiffened.
There was just cause. Inside the door open
ing was a masked figure levelling down a double-
barrelled shotgun upon them. Lacking the
mask and the shotgun, and lacking, too, a
certain rigid and purposeful pose which was
most clearly defined in all its lines, the figure
would have lacked all menace, indeed would
have seemed to the casual eye a most impotent
and grotesque figure. For it was but little
better than five feet in stature and not overly
broad. It wore garments too loose for it by
many inches. The sleeve ends covered the
small hands to the finger ends, and the trousers
wrinkled, accordion fashion, to the tips of the
absurdly small toes. An old slouch hat threat
ened to slip all the way down over the wearer's
face. The mask was a flimsy thing of black
cambric, but the eyeholes, strange to say, were
neatly worked with buttonhole stitching. From
beneath the hatbrim at the back a hank of
longish hair escaped. On the floor, a yard or
so before the apparition where it had been
dropped, rested an ancient black handbag un
latched and agape.
I am not meaning to claim that at the first
instant of looking the several astonished eyes
of the gathering in "King Highpockets' place
comprehended all these details; it was the
general effect that they got; and it was that
shotgun which mainly made the difference in
their point of view. What they did note most
clearly every man of them was that the two
hammers of the gun stood erect, ready to drop,
and that a slim trigger finger played nervously
inside the trigger guard, and that the twin
OLD JUDGE PRIEST
muzzles, shifting and wavering like a pair of
round hard eyes gazing every way at once,
seemed to fix a threatening stare upon all of
them and upon each of them. If the heavy
gun shook a bit in the grip of its holder that
but added to the common peril. Anyone there
would have taken his dying oath that the thing
aimed for his shrinking vitals and none other's.
"Hands up up high! And keep 'em up!"
The command, given in a high-pitched key,
was practically unnecessary. Automatically, as
it were, all arms there had risen to full stretch,
so that the clump of their motionless bodies
was fronded at the top with open palms and
tremulous outstretched fingers. But the arms
of old King Highpockets rose above all the rest
and his fingers shook the shakiest.
"If anybody moves an inch I'll shoot."
"That don't go for me I ain't aimin' to
move," murmured Josh Herron. Josh was
scared all right, but he chuckled as he said it.
" Now boy you !"
The gun barrels dipped to the right an instant,
including the detached form of Babe Givens
in their swing.
"Yas, suh, boss, yas!"
"You put all that money in this grip sack
here at my feet."
"W-w-which money, boss?"
"All the money that's there on that table
yonder every cent of it."
The little darky feared the man who paid
him his wages, but there were things in this
world he feared more masked faces and shot
guns, for example. His knees smote together
and his teeth became as castanets which played
in his jaws, as with rolling eyes and a skin like
wet ashes he moved shudderingly to obey.
Between the table and the valise he made two
round trips, carrying the first time silver, the
second time paper, and then, his task accom
plished, he collapsed against the wall because
his legs would 110 longer hold him up. For there
was water in his knee joints and his feet were
Through this nobody spoke; only the eyes
of the armed one watched vigilantly every
where and the shotgun ranged the assemblage
across its front and back again. Under his
breath some one made moan, as the heaping
double handful of green-and-yellow stuff was
crumpled down into the open-mawed bag. It
might have been Highpockets who moaned.
"Now then," bade the robber, when the
paper had gone to join the silver, "anybody
here who's lost his money to-night or any other
night can come and get it back. But come
one at a time and come mighty slow and
Curiously enough only two came the young
freight conductor and the youth who was a
clerk in the time-keeper's office at the yards.
Shamefacedly the freight conductor stooped,
flinching away from the gun muzzles which
OLD J U D GE PRIEST
pointed almost in his right ear, and picked out
"I lost an even hundred more'n I can afford
to lose," he mumbled. "I'm takin' just my
own hundred." He retired rearward after the
manner of a crab.
The boy wore an apologetic air as he salvaged
twenty-two dollars from the cache. After he
had crawfished back to the table where the
others were, none else offered to stir.
"Anybody else?" inquired the collector of loot.
"Well, I squandered a little coin here this
evenin', but I'm satisfied," spoke Josh Herron,
now grinning openly. "I'm gittin' my money's
worth." He glanced side wise toward the suf
"Here, boy, come here then!"
Babe Givens came upon his knees.
"Close that bag."
Babe fumbled the rusted claps shut.
"Now, shove it up close to me along the
Babe, he shoved it.
"Now get back yonder where you were."
I leave it to you whether Babe got back yonder.
The figure swooped downward briskly, and
two fingers of the hand which gripped the fore
arm of the gun caught in the looped handles
of the black bag and brought it up dangling
and heavy laden.
And now the custodian of these delectable
spoils was backing toward the door, but still
with weapon poised and ready.
"Stay right where you are for five minutes,"
was the final warning from behind the cambric
mask. "Five minutes, remember! Anybody
who tries to come down those steps before that
five minutes is up is going to get shot."
The door slammed. Through the closed
door the crap-shooters, each in his place and
all listening as intently as devout worshippers
in a church, heard the swift footsteps dying
away. Josh Herron brought down his arms and
took two steps forward.
"Wait, Josh, the time limit ain't up yit,"
counselled a well-wisher.
"Oh, I ain't goin' nowheres jest yit I'm
very comfortable here," said Josh. He stooped
and seemed to pick up some small object from
the bare planks.
Five minutes later or perhaps six a pro
cession moving cautiously, silently and in single
file passed down the creaky stairs. It was
noted and commented upon that the owner
of the raided place, heaviest loser and chief
mourner though he was, tagged away back at
the tail of the line. Only Babe Givens was
behind him, and Babe was well behind him too.
At the foot of the stairs the frontmost man
projected his head forth into the night, an inch
at a time, ready to jerk it back again. But to
his inquiring vision Franklin Street under its
OLD JUDGE PRIEST
gas lamps yawned as empty as a new made
For some unuttered and indefinable reason
practically all of the present company felt in a
mood promptly to betake themselves home.
On his homeward way Josh Herron travelled
in the company of a sorely shaken grocery
clerk, and between them they, going up the
street, discussed the startling episode in which