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The Devil's Dictionary: Sheriff

by Ambrose Bierce
SEVERALTY
SIREN

SHERIFF

-n.

In America the chief executive office of a country, whose most characteristic duties, in some of the Western and Southern States, are the catching and hanging of rogues.

John Elmer Pettibone Cajee
(I write of him with little glee)
Was just as bad as he could be.
'Twas frequently remarked: "I swon!
The sun has never looked upon
So bad a man as Neighbor John."
A sinner through and through, he had
This added fault: it made him mad
To know another man was bad.
In such a case he thought it right
To rise at any hour of night
And quench that wicked person's light.
Despite the town's entreaties, he
Would hale him to the nearest tree
And leave him swinging wide and free.
Or sometimes, if the humor came,
A luckless wight's reluctant frame
Was given to the cheerful flame.
While it was turning nice and brown,
All unconcerned John met the frown
Of that austere and righteous town.
"How sad," his neighbors said, "that he
So scornful of the law should be —
An anar c, h, i, s, t."
(That is the way that they preferred
To utter the abhorrent word,
So strong the aversion that it stirred.)
"Resolved," they said, continuing,
"That Badman John must cease this thing
Of having his unlawful fling.
"Now, by these sacred relics" — here
Each man had out a souvenir
Got at a lynching yesteryear —
"By these we swear he shall forsake
His ways, nor cause our hearts to ache
By sins of rope and torch and stake.
"We'll tie his red right hand until
He'll have small freedom to fulfil
The mandates of his lawless will."
So, in convention then and there,
They named him Sheriff. The affair
Was opened, it is said, with prayer.

- J. Milton Sloluck

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