Story type: Essay
I never practiced law very much, but during the brief period that my sheet-iron sign was kissed by the Washoe zephyr, I had several odd experiences. I’m sure that lawyers who practice for forty years, especially on the frontier or in a new country, could write a large book that would make mighty interesting reading.
One day I was figuring up how much a man could save in ten years, paying forty dollars a month rent, and taking in two dollars and fifty cents per month, when a large man with a sad eye and an early purple tumor on the side of his head, came in and asked me if my name was Nye. I told him it was and asked him to take a chair and spit on the stove a few times, and make himself entirely at home.
He did so.
After answering in a loud, tremulous tone of voice that we were having rather a backward spring, he produced a red cotton handkerchief and took out of it a deed which he submitted to my ripe and logical legal mind.
I asked him if that was his name that appeared in the body of the deed as grantor. He said it was. I then asked him why his wife had not signed it, as it seemed to be the homestead, and her name appeared in the instrument with that of her husband, but her signature wasn’t at the foot, though his name was duly signed, witnessed and acknowledged.
“Well,” said he, “there’s where the gazelle comes in.” He then took a bite off the corner of a plug of tobacco about as big as a railroad land grant, and laid two twenty dollar gold pieces on the desk near my arm. I took them and tapped them together like the cashier of the Bank of England, and, disguising my annoyance over the little episode, told him to go on.
“Well,” said the large man, fondling the wen which nestled lovingly in his faded Titian hair, “my wife has conscientious scruples against signing that deed. We have been married about a year now, but not actively for the past eleven months. I’m kind of ex-officio husband, as you might say. After we’d been married about a month a little incident occurred which made a riffle, as you might say, in our domestic tide. I was division master on the U.P., and one night I got an order to go down towards Sidney and look at a bridge. Of course I couldn’t get back till the next evening. So I sighed and switched off to the superintendent’s office, expecting to go over on No. 4 and look at the bridge. At the office they told me that I needn’t go till Tuesday, so I strolled up town and got home about nine o’clock, went in with a latch key, just as a mutual friend went out through the bed-room window, taking a sash that I paid two dollars for. I didn’t care for the sash, because he left a pair of pantaloons worth twelve dollars and some silver in the pockets, but I thought it was such odd taste for a man to wear a sash without his uniform.
“Well, as I had documentary evidence against my wife, I told her she could take a vacation. She cried a good deal, but it didn’t count I suffered a good deal, but tears did not avail. It takes a good deal of damp weather to float me out of my regular channel. She spent the night packing her trousseau, and in the morning she went away. Now, I could get a divorce and save all this trouble of getting her signature, but I’d rather not tell this whole business in court, for the little woman seems to be trying to do better, and if it wasn’t for her blamed old hyena of a mother, would get along tip-top. She’s living with her mother now and if a lawyer would go to the girl and tell her how it is, and that I want to sell the property and want her signature, in place of getting a divorce, I believe she’d sign. Would you mind trying it?”
I said if I could get time I would go over and talk with her and see what she said. So I did. I got along pretty well, too. I found the young woman at home, and told her the legal aspects of the case. She wouldn’t admit any of the charges, but after a long parley agreed to execute the deed and save trouble. She came to my office an hour later, and signed the instrument I got two witnesses to the signature and had just put the notarial seal on it when the girl’s mother came in. She asked her daughter if she had signed the deed and was told that she had. She said nothing, but smiled in a way that made my blood run cold. If a woman were to smile on me that way every day, I should certainly commit some great crime.
I was just congratulating myself on the success of the business, and was looking at the two $20 gold pieces and trying to get acquainted with them, as it were, after the two women had gone away; when they returned with the husband and son-in-law at the head of the procession. He looked pale and careworn to me. He asked me in a low voice if I had a deed there, executed by his wife. I said yes. He then asked me if I would kindly destroy it. I said I would. I would make deeds and tear them up all day at $40 apiece. I said I liked the conveyancing business very much, and if a client felt like having a grand, warranty deed debauch, I was there to furnish the raw material.
I then tore up the deed and the two women went quietly away. After they had gone, my client, in an absent-minded way, took out a large quid that had outlived its usefulness, laid it tenderly on the open page of Estey’s Pleadings, and said:
“You doubtless think I am a singular organization, and that my ways are past finding out. I wish to ask you if I did right a moment ago?” Here he took out another $20 and put it under the paper weight. “When I went down stairs I met my mother-in-law. She always looked to me like a firm woman, but I did not think she was so unswerving as she really was. She asked me in a low, musical voice to please destroy the deed, and then she took one of them Smith & Wesson automatic advance agents of death out from under her apron and kind of wheedled me into saying I would. Now, did I do right? I want a candid, legal opinion, and I’m ready to pay for it.”
I said he did perfectly right.