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IN THE DA YS OF THE 7 AXING
R. COUPPON had just left our office af
ter a somewhat stormy interview. He
had objected to every assessment, as-
firming with great emphasis that he
couldn’t get half what our figures called
V sor ’ if he were obliged to offer the prop
erty in the open market. Os course we
couldn’t reduce anything. We had already as
sessed most of his property at about two-thirds
of its actual value, whereas the law allowed us to
figure on a one hundred per cent basis.
As for his personal returns, it was like fishing
ducats out of a well. I had no idea, until I saw
Mr. Couppon’s affidavit, that he was such a poor
man. Os ready money he solemnly swore that he
had but one hundred dollars to his name, and he
insisted that the total value of all his household
furniture and jewelry, including his wife’s dia
monds—which, it seems, must be paste, after all—
amounted to just two hundred and fifty dollars.
His bonds and stocks, it appears, are a myth. He
deposed and said, with all proper solemnity that
he possessed not one dollar of stock in any corpora
tion (except “a little non-taxable stock,” to which
he owned up. verbally, upon being questioned) and
of bonds not a single one!
Mr. Couppon had made a stubborn resistance,
and I felt somewhat fatigued. It was during my
first year as tax assessor. I had yet to learn that
the biggest gold bug makes the loudest buzzing
when you try to capture him.
While T was sitting idle at my desk, trying to
recover my equilibrium, the door opened and ad
mitted a venerable gentleman in a long gray over
coat, his ears protected by a silk muffler.
“Good morning, Doctor Weld,” I said, rising to
meet him with genuine cordiality. “Have a seat by
the fire, sir. Let me have your cane.” Through
the half open door of the next room I noticed two
of the clerks smiling. I did not understand at the
it was my first year.
.Doctor weld had come to give in his tax returns.
He was a retired minister, and through long years
of prudent saving, had accumulated a modest for
tune. * *
Concerning the real estate assessments he made
no remark, except to say that he was satisfied with
“How much ready money have you, in your own
hand or in the hands of others?”
He produced a pencil memorandum from which
.he read the figures, “161.25.”
I smiled at his exactness, and was about to put
down the amount.
“Wait, wait!” he cried. “That was simply my
bank balance. I have also two twenty-dollar gold
pieces—that makes forty dollars more—and . . .
let me see . . . . ” He emptied the contents of
his purse in his lap. After more figuring he an
nounced the result.
“Two hundred and eighteen dollars and five
cents. You may put that down. I owe you an
apology for not making this out before I came
I assured him that he need make no excuses;
that my time was bis.
“Now, about my furniture. I have four beds,
Which cost me sixty-five dollars each. But that
was forty years ago. Do you think a hundred
dollars would be a fair valuation for those three
“Why, er, yes, Doctor Weld; I should think so.
Unless they are solid mahogany beds, I wouldn’t
put them down for more than SIO.OO a piece.”
“They are very good beds,” he mused, “but T
guess fifty dollars would about cover them. I’ve been
returning them at a hundred dollars, though. . . .
Now, I have a bureau which, I think, is worth about
ten dollars. My wife’s bureau I put down at fif
teen. The piano cost us eight hundred dollars; but
that was thirty years ago. I should say that two
hundred dollars would be about right for the piano.
The parlor chairs—”
The Golden Age for March 1, 1906.
B y William Hurd Hi 11 ye r
“You needn’t trouble to list them, doctor; just
estimate what you think it’s all worth in a lump
sum. It’s not necessary to be accurate.”
“Very well. then. But I wanted to have a rough
basis of calculation. If I’m to swear to this, I
think I ought to come as near to the true value as
“'Suppose I put down the household furniture at
five hundred dollars,” I suggested; for I hadn’t the
heart to let him return his things at what he thought
they were worth, rather than what they would bring
at forced sale.
“Why, no, that wouldn't do. The piano alone—”
I was on the point of saying, “Why, Dr. Weld,
that piano wouldn’t fetch twenty dollars!” but I
restrained myself. Instead, I endeavored to explain
that the basis of taxation was not what the owner
held an article at, but what it was worth in the open
market. I knew I was flying in the face of all tax
gathering tradition, but I couldn’t help it.
By the time Dr. Weld and I had finished our cal
culations, the dusk was coming on, and it was almost
time to close the office. As he took his departure
he grasped my hand with more than his usual kind
liness and I could see that from mere acquaintances
we had become friends. Strange experience for a
tax assessor! ** *
My library mantel has two tall oak columns on
either side of it. The mantel makes no pretense to
splendor, but I have often admired those columns.
My wife says they are hideous, and last night, as
I threw my cigar into the fire and settled back into
my easy-chair, we renewed hostilities concerning
them in a manner that proved, if proof were needed,
the deep domestic tranquility which underlay these
A moment later I had put on my hat and overcoat,
and found myself walking briskly along the street.
I paused in front of a large stone building, the en
trance to which was flanked with lonic columns.
The doors swung open and I went inside. After
some climbing of dim stairways, I emerged into a
sort of gallery, which overlooked an immense room
filled with people and lined with stately columns.
Underneath where I stood, a little to the right,
sat a person of commanding appearance, turning the
leaves of several huge volumes which lay before him.
Now and then he would call out a name, very clear
ly and distinctly, and some one would come forward
in response and undergo a series of questions, the
answers to which were entered by the examiner in
his books. I noticed that each page had four divi
sions. running from top to bottom. The first con
tained the names of those examined; the second was
headed Real Estate, the third Personal Property,
and the fourth Total. The first and second columns
were already filled in; the third and fourth were
left blank. It now dawned upon me that this official
was a tax assessor.
I started at hearing the name of my old friend.
He came forward, leaning somewhat heavily on his
cane. I peered over the assessor’s shoulder to see
what the doctor’s real estate was valued at. At
first I thought I had made a mistake, but there was
the amount, just opposite his name. I counted
three, four, five, six figures. The doctor was a
I could not hear distinctly what was passing be
tween Dr. Weld and the assessor, but it was plain
that the former was protesting against an attempt
ed over-valuation of his personal property. One
or twice I heard him say, “It can’t be over two
hundred,” and finally, “Well, if I have all that I
never knew it until now.” The assessor meanwhile
was referring to other books, which seemed to con
tain memoranda to aid him in making his estimate.
At last, in spite of the old man’s expostulations,
the assessor deliberately set down in the column
headed “Personal Property” on a line with my
friend’s name, a number containing seven figures!
I was indignant. I turned to the spectator near-
est me in the gallery, and inquired, with some
Mhat tax is that fellow collecting? lam the
city tax assessor here, and I know that assessment
to be exoroitant. It is simply absurd. Why, I am
positive that all of that old gentleman’s property
put together wouldn’t foot up over ten thousand
dollars, and they’ve put him down for two or three
My neighbor smiled. “Perhaps you are right as
to his house and stocks and things like that,” he
answered; “but this assessment is not of that kind
of property. The column which you see marked
‘Real Estate’ contains the values represented by all
the kind deeds and unselfish actions which each per
son has done during bis life; in other words, his
heavenly investments. These figures are fixed by the
assessors, who have ample and correct data for their
“By ‘Personal Property’ is meant the pure and
noble thoughts, the secret prayers, which stand to
the credit of each taxpayer. The ‘Personal ’ re- «
turns are given in upon oath by the taxpayer him
self: but the assessor has the right to reject or alter
such returns at his discretion. Sometimes the tax
payer is honestly mistaken as to the value of his
credits, and frequently the total amount finally set
down in the books is quite different from the one in
the taxpayer’s returns.”
At this moment I noticed a stout florid man in a
white waistcoat making his way to the desk, and
I recognized my friend, Mr. Couppon, whose name j
had evidently just been called. He came up smiling
pleasantly, and nodding every now and then to an
acquaintance. He held in his hand a slip of paper,
which he unfolded upon reaching the desk, and
placing his eyeglasses upon his nose, stood in an
expectant attitude, waiting to be questioned.
Meanwhile I was looking to see what his realty
was assessed at. I was amazed to find that the
amount was less than one hundred dollars.
Tn reply to a question from the assessor, Mr.
Couppon read an inventory, winding up with a
grand total of three million, six hundred and some
odd thousand. “That is the full market value,”
he concluded, putting his paper in his pocket. “You
might call it, in round numbers, three million five;
“Isn’t that rather liberal?” said the assessor. r
Mr. Couppon shrugged his shoulders. “Ah, well,”
he said, “it may seem so; but, then, I don’t mind
paying the tax, and I have to tell the truth, you
Without replying the assessor entered the amount
■—three and a half million—not in the third column
of the book, but on a separate slip which he filed
away in a card catalogue. He then dismissed Mr.
Couppon, who went back in high good humor. More
searching of the record books followed. Finally,
after some calculating, the assesor set down in the
personalty column opposite Mr. Couppon’s name, a
number containing just two pitiful figures!
I could not help feeling a secret gratification at
this merited exposure. I turned to my neighbor in
the next seat and began to tell how this same Mr.
Couppon had been to my office that very day, and
how he had fidgeted and squirmed and prevaricated
when it came to giving an account of his money and
securities. Suddenly I stopped as if I had been
shot and sat quite motionless, the perspiration
breaking out on my forehead. My own name had
I was unable to move. I did not dare even to
look over the railing, for fear I should find my as
sessment in the neighborhood of zero. I felt as if
I was falling a great distance and landed with a
violent shock in my easy chair fronting the fire
I drew a long breath, and looked anxiously about
to see that everything was as usual—the lamp, the
clock, the cheerful andirons. Yet even as I did so I
heard some one say, like the last stroke of a bell:
“For where thy treasure is, there shall thy heart X
be also.” >