An Evening At The Corner Grocery
Colonel Peavy had just begun the rubber with Judge Gordon of
Cerro-Gordo County. They were seated in Robie's grocery, behind the
rusty old cannon stove, the checker-board spread out on their knees.
The Colonel was grinning in great glee, wringing his bony yellow hands
in nervous excitement, in strong contrast to the stolid calm of the
The Colonel had won the last game by a large margin, and was sure he
had his opponent's "dodges" well in hand. It was early in the evening,
and the grocery was comparatively empty. Robie was figuring at a desk,
and old Judge Brown stood in legal gravity warming his legs at the
red-hot stove, and swaying gently back and forth in speechless
content. It was a tough night outside, one of the toughest for years.
The frost had completely shut the window panes as with thick blankets
of snow. The streets were silent.
"I don't know," said the Judge, reflectively, to Robie, breaking the
silence in his rasping, judicial bass, "I don't know as there has been
such a night as this since the night of February 2d, '59, that was the
night James Kirk went under—Honorable Kirk, you remember,—knew him
well. Brilliant fellow, ornament to western bar. But whiskey downed
him. It'll beat the oldest man—I wonder where the boys all are
to-night? Don't seem to be anyone stirring on the street. Aint
frightened out by the cold?"
"Shouldn't wonder." Robie was busy at his desk, and not in humor for
conversation on reminiscent lines. The two old war-dogs at the board
had settled down to one of those long, silent struggles, which ensue
when two "champions" meet. In the silence which followed, the Judge
was looking attentively at the back of the Colonel, and thinking that
the old thief was getting about down to skin and bone. He turned with
a yawn to Robie, saying:—
"This cold weather must take hold of the old Colonel terribly, he's so
damnably thin and bald, you know,—bald as a babe. The fact is, the
old Colonel aint long for this world, anyway; think so, Hank?" Robie
making no reply, the Judge relapsed into silence for a while, watching
the cat (perilously walking along the edge of the upper shelf) and
listening to the occasional hurrying footsteps outside. "I don't know
when I've seen the windows closed up so, Hank; go down to thirty below
to-night; devilish strong wind blowing, too; tough night on the
"You bet," replied Hank, briefly. The Colonel was plainly getting
excited. His razor-like back curved sharper than ever as he peered
into the intricacies of the board to spy the trap which the fat Judge
had set for him. At this point the squeal of boots on the icy walk
outside paused, and a moment later Amos Ridings entered, with whiskers
covered with ice, and looking like a huge bear in his buffalo coat.
"By Josephus! it's cold," he roared, as he took off his gloves and
began to warm his face and hands at the fire.
"Is it?" asked the Judge, comfortably, rising on his tiptoes, only to
fall back into his usual attitude, legal legs well spread, shoulders
"You bet it is!" replied Amos. "I'd'know when I've felt the cold
more'n I have t'-day. It's jest snifty; doubles me up like a
jack-knife, Judge. How d' you stand it?"
"Tollerble, tollerble, Amos. But we're agein', we aint what we were
once. Cold takes hold of us."
"That's a fact," answered Amos to the retrospective musings of the
Judge. "Time was you an' me would go t' singing-school or
sleigh-riding with the girls on a night like this and never notice
"Yes, sir; yes, sir!" said the Judge with a sigh. It was a little
uncertain in Robie's mind whether the Judge was regretting the lost
ability to stand the cold, or the lost pleasure of riding with the
"Great days, those, gentlemen! Lived in Vermont then.
Hot-blooded—lungs like an ox. I remember, Sallie Dearborn and I used
to go a-foot to singing school down the valley four miles. But now,
wouldn't go riding to-night with the handsomest woman in America, and
the best cutter in Rock River."
"Oh! you've got both feet in the grave up t' the ankles, anyway," said
Robie from his desk, but the Judge immovably gazed at the upper shelf
on the other side of the room where the boilers, and pans, and
washboards were stored.
"The Judge is a little on the sentimental order to-night," said Amos.
"Hold on, Colonel! hold on. You've got 'o jump. He! he!" roared
Gordon from the checker-board. "That's right, that's right!" he ended,
as the Colonel complied reluctantly.
"Sock it to the old cuss," commented Amos. "What I was going to say,"
he resumed, rolling down the collar of his coat, "was, that when my
wife helped me bundle up t' night, she said I was gitt'n' t' be an old
granny. We are agein', Judge, the's no denyin' it. We're both gray
as Norway rats now. An' speaking of us ageing reminds me,—have y'
noticed how bald the old Kyernel's gitt'n'?"
"I have, Amos," answered the Judge, mournfully. "The old man's head is
showing age, showing age! Getting thin up there, aint it?" The old
Colonel bent to his work without reply, and even when Amos said,
judicially, after long scrutiny, "Yes, he'll soon be as bald as a
plate," he only lifted one yellow, freckled, bony hand, and brushed
his carroty growth of hair across the spot under discussion. Gordon
shook his fat paunch in silent laughter, nearly displacing the board.
"I was just telling Robie," pursued Brown, still retaining his
reminiscent intonation, "that this storm takes the cake over
At this point Steve Roach and another fellow entered. Steve was
Ridings' hired hand, a herculean fellow, with a drawl, and a liability
for taking offence quite as remarkable.
"Say! gents, I'm no spring rooster, but this jest gits away with
anything in line of cold I ever see."
While this communication was being received in ruminative silence,
Steve was holding his ears in his hand and gazing at the intent
champions at the board. There they sat; the old Judge panting and
wheezing in his excitement, for he was planning a great "snap" on the
Colonel, whose red and freckled nose almost touched the board. It was
a solemn battle hour. The wind howled mournfully outside, the timbers
of the stove creaked in the cold, and the huge cannon stove roared in
"Speaking about ears," said Steve, after a silence, "dumned if I'd
like t' be quite s' bare 'round the ears as Kernel there. I wonder if
any o' you fellers has noticed how the ol' feller's lost hair this
last summer. He's gittin' bald, they's no coverin' it up—gittin' bald
as a plate."
"You're right, Stephen," said the Judge, as he gravely took his stand
behind his brother advocate, and studied, with the eye of an adept,
the field of battle. "We were noticing it when you came in. It's a sad
thing, but it must be admitted."
"It's the Kyernel's brains wearin' up through his hair, I take it,"
commented Amos, as he helped himself to a handful of peanuts out of a
bag behind the counter. "Say, Steve, did y' stuff up that hole in
front of ol' Barney?"
A shout was heard outside, and then a rush against the door, and
immediately two young fellows burst in, followed by a fierce gust of
snow. One was Professor Knapp, the other Editor Foster, of the
"Well, gents, how's this for high?" said Foster in a peculiar tone of
voice, at which all began to smile. He was a slender fellow with
close-clipped, assertive red hair. "In this company we now have the
majesty of the law, the power of the press, and the underpinning of
the American civilization all represented. Hello! There are a couple
of old roosters with their heads together. Gordon, my old enemy, how
Gordon waved him off with a smile and a wheeze. "Don't bother me now.
I've got 'im. I'm laying f'r the old dog. Whist!"
"Got nothing!" snarled the Colonel. "You try that on if you want to.
Just swing that man in there if you think it's healthy for him. Just
as like as not, you'll slip up on that little trick."
"Ha! Say you so, old True Penny? The Kunnel has met a foeman worthy of
his steel," said Foster in great glee, as he bent above the Colonel.
"I know. How do I know?" quotha. "By the curve on the Kunnel's back.
The size of the parabola described by that backbone accurately gauges
his adversary's skill. But, by the way, gentlemen, have you—but
that's a nice point, and I refer all nice points to Professor Knapp.
Professor, is it in good taste to make remarks concerning the dress or
features of another?"
"Certainly not," answered Knapp, a handsome young fellow with a yellow
"Not when the person is an esteemed public character, like the Colonel
here? What I was about to remark, if it had been proper, was that the
old fellow is getting wofully bald. He'll soon be bald as an egg."
"Say!" asked the Colonel, "I want to know how long you're going to
keep this thing up. Somebody's dumned sure t' get hurt soon."
"There, there! Colonel," said Brown soothingly, "don't get excited,
you'll lose the rubber. Don't mind 'em. Keep cool."
"Yes, keep cool, Kunnel, it's only our solicitude for your welfare,"
chipped in Foster. Then addressing the crowd in a general sort of way
he speculated, "Curious how a man, a plain American citizen like
Colonel Peavy, wins a place in the innermost affections of a whole
"That's so!" murmured the rest. "He can't grow bald without deep
sympathy from his fellow-citizens." The old Colonel glared in
"Say! gents," pleaded Gordon, "let up on the old man for the present.
He's going to need all of himself if he gets out o' the trap he's in
now." He waved his fat hand over the Colonel's head, and smiled
blandly at the crowd hugging the stove.
"My head may be bald," grated the old man with a death's-head grin,
indescribably ferocious, "but it's got brains enough in it to 'skunk'
any man in this crowd three games out o' five."
"The ol' man rather gits the laugh on y' there, gents," called Robie
from the back side of the counter. "I haint seen the old skeesix play
better'n he did last night in years."
"Not since his return from Canada, after the war, I reckon," said Amos
from the kerosene barrel.
"Hold on, Amos," put in the Judge warningly, "that's out-lawed.
Talking about being bald and the war reminds me of the night Walters
and I— By the way, where is Walters to-night?"
"Sick," put in the Colonel, straightening up exultantly. "I waxed him
three straight games last night. You won't see him again till spring.
Skunked him once, and beat him twice."
"Oh git out."
"Hear the old seed twitter!"
"Did you ever notice, gentlemen, how lying and baldness go together?"
queried Foster reflectively.
"No! Do they?"
"Invariably. I've known many colossal liars, and they were all as bald
The Colonel was getting nervous, and was so slow that even Gordon (who
could sit and stare at the board a full half hour without moving)
began to be impatient.
"Come! Colonel, marshal your forces a little more promptly. If you're
going at me echelon, sound y'r bugle; I'm ready."
"Don't worry," answered the Colonel, in his calmest nasal, "I'll
accommodate you with all the fight you want."
"Did it ever occur to you," began the Judge again, addressing the
crowd generally, as he moved back to the stove and lit another cigar,
"did it ever occur to you that it is a little singular a man should
get bald on the top of his head first? Curious fact. So accustomed
to it we no longer wonder at it. Now see the Colonel there. Quite a
growth of hair on his clap-boarding, as it were, but devilish thin on
Here the Colonel looked up and tried to say something, but the Judge
went on imperturbably.
"Now I take it that it's strictly providential that a man gets bald on
top of his head first, because if he must get bald it is best to get
bald where it can be covered up."
"By jinks, that's a fact!" said the rest in high admiration of the
Judge's ratiocination. Steve was specially pleased, and drawing a
neck-yoke from a barrel standing near, pounded the floor vigorously.
"Talking about being bald," put in Foster, "reminds me of a scheme of
mine, which is to send no one out to fight Indians but bald men. Think
how powerless they'd—"
The talk now drifted off to Indians, politics, and religion, edged
round to the war when the grave Judge was telling Ridings and Robie
just how "Kilpatrick charged along the Granny White Turnpike," and on
a sheet of wrapping paper was showing where Major John Dilrigg fell.
"I was on his left about thirty yards, when I saw him throw up his
Foster in a low voice was telling something to the Professor, and two
or three others, which made them whoop with uncontrollable merriment,
when the roaring voice of big Sam Walters was heard outside, and a
moment later he rolled into the room, filling it with his noise.
Lottridge, the watchmaker, and Erlberg, the German baker, came in with
"Hello, hello, hello! All here, are yeh?"
"All here waiting for you—and the turnkey," said Foster.
"Well, here I am. Always on hand like a sore thumb in huskin' season.
What's goin' on here? A game, hey? Hello, Gordon, it's you, is it?
Colonel, I owe you several for last night. But what the devil yo' got
your cap on fur, Colonel? Aint it warm enough here for yeh?"
The desperate Colonel who had snatched up his cap when he heard
Walters coming, grinned painfully, pulling his straggly red and white
beard nervously. The strain was beginning to tell on his iron nerves.
He removed the cap, and with a few muttered words went back to the
game, but there was a dangerous gleam in his fishy blue eyes, and the
grizzled tufts of red hair above his eyes lowered threateningly. A man
who is getting swamped in a game of checkers is not in a mood to bear
pleasantly any remarks on his bald head.
"Oh! don't take it off, Colonel," went on his tormentor hospitably.
"When a man gets as old as you are, he's privileged to wear his cap. I
wonder if any of you fellers have noticed how the Colonel is shedding
The old man leaped up, scattering the men on the checker-board which
flew up and struck Judge Gordon in the face, knocking him off his
stool. The old Colonel was ashy pale, and his eyes glared out from
under his huge brow like sapphires lit by flame. His spare form
clothed in a seedy Prince Albert frock towered with a singular
dignity. His features worked convulsively a moment, and then he burst
forth like the explosion of a safety valve:—
And then the crowd whooped, roared, and rolled on the counters and
barrels, and roared and whooped again. They stamped and yelled, and
ran around like fiends, kicking the boxes and banging the coal-scuttle
in a perfect pandemonium of mirth, leaving the old man standing there
helpless in his wrath, mad enough to shoot. Steve was just preparing
to seize the old man from behind, when Judge Gordon, struggling to his
feet among the spittoons, cried out, in the voice of a Colonel of
Fourth of July militia:—
Silence was restored, and all stood around in expectant attitudes to
hear the Judge's explanation. He squared his elbows, shoved up his
sleeves, puffed out his fat cheeks, moistened his lips, and began
"You've hit it; that's us," said some of the crowd in applause.
"Gentlemen of Rock River, when in the course of human events, rumor
had blow'd to my ears the history of the checker-playing of Rock
River, and when I had waxed Cerro-Gordo, and Claiborne, and Mower,
then, when I say to my ears was borne the clash of resounding arms in
Rock River, the emporium of Rock County, then did I yearn for more
worlds to conquer, and behold, I buckled on my armor and I am here."
"Behold, he is here," said Foster, in confirmation of the statement.
"Good for you, Judge, git breath and go for us some more."
"Hurrah for the Judge," etc.
"I came seekin' whom I might devour like a raging lion. I sought
foemen worthy of my steel. I leaped into the arena and blew my
challenge to the four quarters of Rock—"
"Good f'r you, settemupagin! Go it, you old balloon," they all
"Knowing my prowess I sought a fair fout and no favors. I met the
enemy and he was mine. Champion after champion went down before me
like—went down like—Ahem! went down before me like grass before
the mighty cyclone of the Andes."
"Listen to the old blow-hard," said Steve.
"Put him out," said the speaker, imperturbably. "Gentlemen, have I the
"You have," replied Brown, "but come to the point. The Colonel is
anxious to begin shooting." The Colonel, who began to suspect himself
victimized, stood wondering what under heaven they were going to do
"I'm a gitt'n' there," said the orator with a broad and sunny
"I found your champions an' laid 'em low. I waxed Walters, and then I
tackled the Colonel. I tried the echelon, the 'general advanced,'
then the 'give away' and 'flank' movements. But the Colonel was
there. Till this last game it was a fair field and no favor. And now,
gentlemen of Rock, I desire t' state to my deeply respected opponent,
that he is still champion of Rock, and I'm not sure but of Northern
"Three cheers for the Kunnel!"
And while they were being given the Colonel's brows relaxed, and the
champion of Cerro-Gordo continued earnestly:—
"And now I wish to state to Colonel the solemn fact that I had nothing
to do with the job put up on him to-night. I scorn to use such means
in a battle. Colonel, you may be as bald as an apple, or an egg, yes,
or a plate, but you can play more checkers than any man I ever met,
more checkers than any other man on God's green footstool.—With
one-single, lone exception—myself."
At this moment, somebody hit the dead-beat from Cerro-Gordo with a
decayed apple, and as the crowd shouted and groaned Robie turned down
the lights on the tumult. The old Colonel seized the opportunity for
putting a handful of salt down Walters' neck, and slipped out of the
door like a ghost. As the crowd swarmed out on the icy walk, Editor
"Gents! let me give you a pointer. Keep your eye peeled for the next
edition of the Rock River Morning Call." And the bitter wind swept
away the answering shouts of the gang.