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Under the Lion’s Paw
by [?]

“Why, about what you offered it for before, two thousand five hundred, or possiblythree thousand dollars,” he added quickly, as he saw the owner shake his head.

“This farm is worth five thousand and five hundred dollars,” said Butler, in a careless and decided voice.

“What!”almost shrieked the astounded Haskins.”What’s that? Five thousand? Why, that’s double what you offered it for three years ago.”

“Of course; and it’s worth it. It was all run down then—now it’s in good shape. You’ve laid out fifteen hundred dollars in improvements, according to your own story.”

“But youhad nothin’ t’ do about that. It’s my work an’ my money.”

“You bet it was;but it’s my land.”

“But what’s to pay me for all?”

“Ain’t you had the use of ’em?” replied Butler, smiling calmly into his face.

Haskins was like a man struck on the head with a sandbag; he couldn’t think; he stammered as he tried to say: “But—I never ‘d git the use. You’d rob me! More’n that: you agreed—you promised that I could buy or rent at the end of three years at—”

“That’s all right. But I didn’t say I’d let you carry off the improvements, nor that I’d go on renting the farm at two-fifty. The land is doubled in value, it don’t matter how; it don’t enter into the question; an’ now you can pay me five hundred dollars a year rent, or take it on your own terms at fifty-five hundred, or—git out.”

He was turning away when Haskins, the sweat pouring from his face, fronted him, saying again:

“But you’vedone nothing to make it so. You hadn’t added a cent. I put it all there myself, expectin’ to buy. I worked an’ sweat to improve it. I was workin’ for myself an’ babes.”

“Well, why didn’t you buy when I offered to sell? What y’ kickin’ about?”

“I’m kickin’ about payin’ you twice f’r my own things—my own fences, my own kitchen, my own garden.”

Butler laughed.”You’re too green t’ eat, young feller. Yourimprovements! The law will sing another tune.”

“But I trusted your word.”

“Never trust anybody, my friend. Besides, I didn’t promise not to do this thing. Why, man, don’t look at me like that. Don’t take me for a thief. It’s the law. The reg’lar thing. Everybody does it.”

“I don’t care if they do. It’s stealin’ jest the same. You take three thousand dollars of my money. The work o’ my hands and my wife’s.” He broke down at this point. He was not a strong man mentally. He could face hardship, ceaseless toil, but he could not face the cold and sneering face of Butler.

“But I don’t take it,” said Butler, coolly “All you’ve got to do is to go on jest as you’ve been a-doin’, or give me a thousand dollars down, and a mortgage at ten per cent on the rest.”

Haskins sat down blindly on a bundle of oats near by, and with staring eyes and drooping head went over the situation. He was under the lion’s paw. He felt a horrible numbness in his heart and limbs. He was hid in a mist, and there was no path out.

Butler walked about, looking at the huge stacks of grain, and pulling now and again a few handfuls out, shelling the heads in his hands and blowing the chaff away. He hummed a little tune as he did so. He had an accommodating air of waiting.

Haskins was in the midst of the terrible toil of the last year. He was walking again in the rain and the mud behind his plough, he felt the dust and dirt of the threshing. The ferocious husking-time, with its cutting wind and biting, clinging snows, lay hard upon him. Then he thought of his wife, how she had cheerfully cooked and baked, without holiday and without rest.

“Well, what do you think of it?” inquired the cool, mocking, insinuating voice of Butler.

“I think you’re a thief and a liar!” shouted Haskins, leaping up.”A black-hearted houn’!” Butler’s smile maddened him; with a sudden leap he caught a fork in his hands, and whirled it in the air.”You’ll never rob another man, damn ye!” he grated through his teeth, a look of pitiless ferocity in his accusing eyes.

Butler shrank and quivered, expecting the blow; stood, held hypnotized by the eyes of the man he had a moment before despised—a man transformed into an avenging demon. But in the deadly hush between the lift of the weapon and its fall there came a gush of faint, childish laughter and then across the range of his vision, far away and dim, he saw the sun-bright head of his baby girl, as, with the pretty, tottering run of a two-year-old, she moved across the grass of the dooryard. His hands relaxed: the fork fell to the ground; his head lowered.

“Make out y’r deed an’ mor’gage, an’ git off’n my land, an’ don’t ye never cross my line agin; if y’ do, I’ll kill ye.”

Butler backed away from the man in wild haste, and climbing into his buggy with trembling limbs drove off down the road, leaving Haskins seated dumbly on the sunny pile of sheaves, his head sunk into his hands.