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Village Cronies: A Game Of Checkers At The Grocery
by [?]

The village life abounds with jokers,
Shiftless, conscienceless and shrewd.


Colonel Peavy had just begun the rubber with Squire Gordon, of Cerro Gordo County. They were seated in Robie’s grocery, behind the rusty old cannon stove, the checkerboard 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 fat Squire.

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 whisky downed him. It’ll beat the oldest man–I wonder where the boys all are to-night? Don’t seem to be any one stirring on the street. Ain’t 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 ain’t long for this world, anyway; think so, Hank?” Robie making no reply, the Judge relapsed into silence for awhile, 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 prairies, Hank.”

“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 Squire 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 thrown back.

“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 do you stand it?”

“Toler’ble, toler’ble, Amos. But we’re agin’, we ain’t 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 it.”

“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 girls.