Splitting the Difference

by Gordon F .Tolman MASON GADD WAS a little man with stooped shoulders and a fringe of gray hair showing beneath his battered felt hat, and eyes of faded blue like the sky near the horizon on a cloudless winter day. He seemed even more diminutive than usual as he stood behind the huge red […]

By Yankee Magazine

Nov 08 2018

by Gordon F .Tolman

MASON GADD WAS a little man with stooped shoulders and a fringe of gray hair showing beneath his battered felt hat, and eyes of faded blue like the sky near the horizon on a cloudless winter day. He seemed even more diminutive than usual as he stood behind the huge red oxen inMr. Ezekiel Blodgett’s east “leenter.” His son, Daniel, rose head and shoulders above him and Ezekiel, towering between the cattle, seemed a veritable giant whose loud voice filled the room with cavern-like echoes.

“That’s my price,” he said. “Take it or leave it.”

“It’s a turr’ble big price to pay for a pair of oxen,” mildly observed Mr. Gadd.

“They’re wuth it, every cent on’t! “returned Ezekiel emphatically as he slapped the sleek flank of the nigh ox to make him stand over. “Look at ’em. Not an ounce of fat anywhere and they tip the scales at forty hundr’d just as they stand. Pufect match, too. Ye kin see that.”

“It’s a lot of money for one team.” Young Daniel spoke up this time. “Have to do a sight of work just to git it back.”

“An they’ll do it!” snapped Zeke. “Best workin’ pair o’ cattle I ever had, them be. Handied ’em myself. Don’t need a whip to drive ’em, just talk to ’em.”

“Mebbe so, Zeke,” Mr. Gadd observed thoughtfully, “mebbe so. But you’re askin’ a heap o’ money fer them cattle.” He shot a questioning glance at his son who shook his head slowly. “Take off thutty, Zeke,” Mr. Gadd offered at last, “an’ we’ll think it over.”

Zeke snorted contemptuously. “Them ain’t steers for beef!” he declared “Them’s the best matched and best trained pair of oxen in the country.” He paused for an admiring look at the two big red oxen, placidly chewing their cuds, and then clinched his selling argument with a final triumphant point. “An ye can’t yoke them up wrong! Either one o’ them cattle will work on one side just exactly as well as he will on t’ other!”

A faint twinkle came into Mr. Gadd’s eyes. “Sho, no, Zeke,” he said, “You know every ox works a leetle better on one side than he does on t’other.”

“Don’t nuther! “ shouted Zeke. “Not them cattle! Can’t nobody yoke em up so’s they wun’t pull together!”

A smile spread over Mr. Gadd’s face. “I kin,” he said, and the words seemed to exasperate Ezekiel beyond endurance. He flung up the stanchion lock and loosed the nigh ox.

“If you’re so darn sure about it, le’see you do it!”

“Hold on, Zeke,” replied Mr. Gadd soothingly. “The’s no use of my botherin’ with them cattle. Ye’re askin’ too much money for em.”

Ezekiel’s eyes snapped. “Ye’re backin’ out of it, Mase,” he taunted. “Ye know ye can’t do it.”

“Be a waste of time,” said Mr. Gadd, “sense I’m not goin’ ter take them anyhow.”

Zeke was not to be put off so easily. “There’s thutty dollars off the price if ye kin do it,” he tempted. “Thutty dollars. That’s ye’re own price. If you can’t, then you take em at my price. What d’ye say to that, Mase?”

There was a question behind the twinkle in Mason Gadd’s eyes as he looked across at his son. The boy nodded eagerly.

“All right, Zeke,” said Mr. Gadd. We’ll do it.”

The two huge beasts plodded slowly toward the leenter door with the three men following. They were, indeed, fine looking animals, big fellows with barreled sides that almost filled the space between the wall and the tails of Ezekiel’s milking cows. Mr. Gadd paused at the door and motioned back toward the herd.

“Want ter sell any o’ them cows?”

Zeke’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t know as I do. But we’ve got a leetle more milk’n we need right now, an’ the’s a heifer comin’ in next week. Might let one on em go.”

“Show em to my son, will ye, Zeke?” requested Mr. Gadd, “whilst I hitch up the oxen. Yoke’s in the open shed, ain’t it?”

Mason Gadd made certain his son understood the knowing glance he gave him then.

“A slide yoke in the corner,” directed Zeke, unaware of what had passed between those two. “Here I’ll show you.”

The boy stood directly in Zeke’s way apparently absorbed in contemplation of the cows.

“Mighty fine lookin’ Ayrshire,” he observed, pointing. “Givin’ much milk?”

“Oh a fair mess, a fair mess,” returned Zeke with faint praise which perhaps was intended to condemn. “But the cow you want, Dan, is that black ‘n white yonder.”

“Holstein.” Dan, in his turn, condemned with a single word.

“Guernsey blood in her,” Zeke hastened to explain, “an’ she gives a larrupin’ big mess.”

Dan allowed himself to be led to the animal in question and listened for several minutes to Ezekiel’s glowing praise.

“Well,” he broke in at length, “we don’t aim to keep any Holstein blood in our place at all, but if the price is right–Le’s look at the cattle now an’ talk this over arterwards.”

Zeke’s eyes brightened with a plain foretaste of coming triumph. He was the first to step out of the leenter door, only to stop short as if stunned by a blow. His eyes bulged, his jaw fell, and he stood there staring like a fish thrown out on the bank. Dan dropped down on the nearest stone convulsed with uncontrollable laughter. At last Zeke found his voice.

“Ye gol rammed ijot, Mase! Ye can’t yoke oxen that way!”

Mr. Gadd flicked at a weed with his whip.

“Why not?”

“Gol durn it!” shouted the enraged Zeke, “nobudy kin drive cattle yoked that way! Tain’t fair. I didn’t agree to nothin’ like that.”

“Sho now, Zeke,” Mr. Gadd reminded him, “You said I couldn’t yoke up them cattle so’s they wouldn’t pull together. Now here they be, yoked up. Le’see ye make ’em pull.”

Zeke was reduced to incoherent splutters. He seemed on the verge of apoplexy.

“But I don’t want to be mean about it Zeke,” continued Mr. Gadd. “Tell ye what’ll do. I’ll pay fifteen more’n my price and fifteen lees’n yourn.”

He produced an old leather wallet and counted out bills with meticulous care. “There ye be, Zeke.”

Zeke started to speak, hesitated, and then his fingers closed over the money. Mason Gadd’s son, his gravity recovered, stepped over to the cattle and slipped the yoke from the neck of the nearest.

“Whu-bush, come here,” he commanded and the nigh ox obediently stepped into his rightful place. Mr. Gadd untied his horse from the barnyard fence and climbed into his buggy.

“We’ll bring the yoke back Saturday,” he promised and then clucked to his horse and drove through the gate. His son followed more slowly with the oxen. Only after the cortege was out of sight did Mr. Ezekiel Blodgett find his voice in emphatic ejaculations spoken to himself.

“Gol durn that Mase, anyhow! The idee! Yokin’ them oxen cattle up so’s the nigh one’s tail pinted east and the off one’s tail pinted west!”