CHAPTER TWELVE. AN INCIDENT OF TRAVEL
"THE COURT CONSIDERS THE MATTER"
In Pittsfield the machine frightened a lawyer, - not a woman, or a child, or a horse, or a donkey, - but just a lawyer; to be sure, there was nothing to indicate he was a lawyer, and still less that he was unusually timid of his kind, therefore no blame could attach for failing to distinguish him from men less nervous.
That he was frightened, no one who saw him run could deny; that he was needlessly frightened, seemed equally plain; that he was chagrined when bystanders laughed at his exhibition, was highly probable.
Now law is the business of a lawyer; it is his refuge in trouble and at the same time his source of revenue; and it is a poor lawyer who cannot make his refuge pay a little something every time it affords him consolation for real or fancied injury.
In this case the lawyer collected exactly sixty cents' worth of consolation, - two quarters and a dime, the price of two lunches and a cup of coffee, or a dozen "Pittsfield Stogies," if there be so fragrant a brand; - the lay mind cannot grasp the possibilities of two quarters and a ten-cent piece in the strong and resourceful grasp of a Pittsfield lawyer. In these thrifty New England towns one always gets a great many pennies in change; small money is the current coin; great stress is set upon a well-worn quarter, and a dime is precious in the sight of the native.
It so happened that just about the time of our arrival, the machinery of justice in and about Pittsfield was running a little wild anyway.
In an adjoining township, on the same day, ex-President Cleveland, who was whiling away time in the philosophic pursuit of fishing, was charged with catching and retaining longer than the law allowed a bass which was a quarter of an inch under the legal limit of eight inches. Now in the excitement of the moment that bass no doubt felt like a whale to the great man, and as it neared the surface, after the manner of its kind, it of course looked as long as a pickerel; then, too; the measly fish was probably a silver bass, and once in the boat shrunk a quarter of an inch, just to get the eminent gold Democrat in trouble. At all events, the friend who was along gallantly claimed the bass as his, appeared in the Great Barrington district court, and paid a fine of two dollars.
Now these things are characteristic of the place, daubs of local coloring; the summer resident upon whom the provincials thrive is not disturbed; but the stranger who is within the gates, who is just passing through, from whom no money in the way of small purchases and custom is to be expected, he is legitimate plunder, even though he be so distinguished a stranger as an ex-President of the United States.
A local paper related the fishing episode as follows:
"Ex-President Grover Cleveland, who is spending the summer in Tyringham, narrowly escaped being arrested at Lake Garfield, in Monterey, Thursday afternoon. As it was, he received a verbal summons to appear in the Great Barrington district court this morning and answer the charge of illegal fishing. But when the complainants learned who the distinguished person was with whom they were dealing, they let drop the matter of swearing out a warrant, and in Mr. Cleveland's place appeared Cassius C. Scranton, of Monterey.
"He pleaded guilty to catching a bass less than eight inches in length, which is the minimum allowed by law, and was fined two dollars by Judge Sanford, but as Mr. Cleveland said that he caught the fish, there is still a good deal of doubt among the residents of southern Berkshire as to which one was actually guilty. However, if the hero of the Hawaiian enterprise was the unlucky angler who caught the bass, he was relieved of the unpleasant notoriety of being summoned into court on a warrant by the very charitable act of Mr. Scranton, of Monterey, who will forever go down in the history of that town as the stalwart defender of the ex-president."
It is not conceivable that such a ridiculous display of impecunious justice would be made elsewhere in the country. In the South the judge would dismiss the complainant or pay the fine himself; in the West he would be mobbed if he did not. New York would find a tactful and courteous way of avoiding the semblance of an arrest or the imposition of a fine; but in thrifty Massachusetts, and in thrice thrifty Great Barrington, and in twice thrice thrifty Pittsfield, pennies count, are counted, and most conscientiously received and receipted for by those who set the wheels of justice in motion.
North Street is broad and West Street is broad, and there is abundance of room for man and beast.
At the hour in question there were no women, children, or horses in the street; the crossings were clear save for a young man with a straw hat, whose general appearance betrayed no sign of undue timidity. He was on the far crossing, sixty or seventy feet distant. When the horn was sounded for the turn down into West Street, he turned, gave one look at the machine, jumped, and ran. In a few moments the young man with the straw hat came to the place where the machine had stopped. He was followed by a short, stubby little friend with a sandy beard, who, while apparently acting as second, threatened each moment to take the matter into his own hands and usurp the place of principal.
Straw Hat was placable and quite disposed to accept an expression of regret that fright had been occasioned.
Sandy Beard would not have it so, and urged Straw Hat to make a complaint.
Straw Hat spurred on his flagging indignation and asked for a card.
Sandy Beard told Straw Hat not to be deterred by soft words and civility, and promised to stand by him, or rather back of him; whereupon something like the following might have occurred.
Sandy Beard. - Then you know what is to be done?
Straw Hat. - Not I, upon my soul!