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The Whirligig of Life
by [?]

JUSTICE-OF-THE-PEACE Benaja Widdup sat in the door of his office smoking his elder-stem pipe. Half- way to the zenith the Cumberland range rose blue-gray in the afternoon haze. A speckled hen swaggered down the main street of the “settlement,” cackling foolishly.

Up the road came a sound of creaking axles, and then a slow cloud of dust, and then a bull-cart bearing Ransie Bilbro and his wife. The cart stopped at the Justice’s door, and the two climbed down. Ransie was a narrow six feet of sallow brown skin and yellow hair. The imperturbability of the mountains hung upon him like a suit of armour. The woman was calicoed, angled, snuff-brushed, and weary with unknown desires. Through it all gleamed a faint protest of cheated youth unconscious of its loss.

The Justice of the Peace slipped his feet into his shoes, for the sake of dignity, and moved to let them enter.

“We-all,” said the woman, in a voice like the wind blowing through pine boughs, “wants a divo’ce.” She looked at Ransie to see if he noted any flaw or ambiguity or evasion or partiality or self-partisanship in her statement of their business.

“A divo’ce,” repeated Ransie, with a solemn nod.”We-all can’t git along together nohow. It’s lonesome enough fur to live in the mount’ins when a man and a woman keers fur one another. But when she’s a-spittin’ like a wildcat or a-sullenin’ like a hoot-owl in the cabin, a man ain’t got no call to live with her.”

“When he’s a no-‘count varmint,” said the woman, “without any especial warmth, a-traipsin’ along of scalawags and moonshiners and a-layin’ on his back pizen ‘ith co’n whiskey, and a-pesterin’ folks with a pack o’ hungry, triflin’ houn’s to feed!”

“When she keeps a-throwin’ skillet lids,” came Ransie’s antiphony, “and slings b’ilin’ water on the best coon-dog in the Cumberlands, and sets herself agin’ cookin’ a man’s victuals, and keeps him awake o’ nights accusin’ him of a sight of doin’s!”

“When he’s al’ays a-fightin’ the revenues, and gits a hard name in the mount’ins fur a mean man, who’s gwine to be able fur to sleep o’ nights?”

The Justice of the Peace stirred deliberately to his duties. He placed his one chair and a wooden stool for his petitioners. He opened his book of statutes on the table and scanned the index. Presently he wiped his spectacles and shifted his inkstand.

“The law and the statutes,” said he, “air silent on the subjeck of divo’ce as fur as the jurisdiction of this co’t air concerned. But, accordin’ to equity and the Constitution and the golden rule, it’s a bad barg’in that can’t run both ways. If a justice of the peace can marry a couple, it’s plain that he is bound to be able to divo’ce ’em. This here office will issue a decree of divo’ce and abide by the decision of the Supreme Co’t to hold it good.”

Ransie Bilbro drew a small tobacco-bag from his trousers pocket. Out of this he shook upon the table a five-dollar note.”Sold a b’arskin and two foxes fur that,” he remarked.”It’s all the money we got.”

“The regular price of a divo’ce in this co’t,” said the Justice, “air five dollars.” He stuffed the bill into the pocket of his homespun vest with a deceptive air of indifference. With much bodily toil and mental travail he wrote the decree upon half a sheet of foolscap, and then copied it upon the other. Ransie Bilbro and his wife listened to his reading of the document that was to give them freedom: