Under the Lion's Paw

by Hamlin Garland

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

“Under the Lion’s Paw” begins with a man named Stephen Council who is plowing his land. He is working hard and late into the evening after the autumn harvest, nearly soaked to the bone with snow, rain, and cold. He is encouraging his horses, promising oats and a warm stall after a hard day’s work. As Council is finally ceasing work for the evening, a stranger approaches him. 

The stranger asks if he and his family might be able to find a place to stay for the night. He has a wife and young children who are cold and hungry after their travels—they have been turned down by everyone they have asked thus far. Council immediately accommodates and offers his home up to the stranger. He hurries his horses in and Council assists him with the children. The Councils welcome the downtrodden, weary family into their home.

Mrs. Council is described as a plump, joyful woman. She helps feed the exhausted children and puts them off to bed so that Mrs. Haskins (the stranger’s wife) might have a moment of rest. Mrs. Haskins is touched by Mrs. Council’s kindness. She cries tears of gratitude that fall upon her sleeping baby, noting that the world isn’t so cold and hopeless after all. Council and Mr. Haskins start up a conversation while the women are tending to the children. Council begins talking about himself, trying not to pry upon his guest but instead open the space for conversation.

Mr. Haskins has been dealt a bad hand. He tells the story quietly, watching the fire as he goes on. He had always been suspicious of his land, especially coming from northern Indiana where there is substantial rain and wood. Grasshoppers had destroyed nearly everything upon their prairie, making it impossible to live or grow anything. The Haskins family fled. After hearing his plight, Council suggests that they look into finding land nearby. He tells them there is a man called Butler who is itching to sell his land. With this comment, he sends the Haskinses to sleep. 

Jim Butler owns a good amount of land, though he is careful to portray himself as “too poor” to pay his taxes. He makes his money from land speculation: purchasing real estate that will increase in value (to ultimately be resold). There is a farm called the Higley place he has been struggling to find a tenant for, and this is the spot that Council had in mind. The following morning, Council and Mr. Haskins set out to find Butler about the farm. So as not to be bombarded with a high price from the get-go, Council inquires about a “relation” of his up in Michigan who might be interested in the Higley place. This, of course, is Mr. Haskins. It seems to be a deal.

Council agrees to spot Mr. Haskins with farming help. Mr. Haskins initially responds angrily to his kindness, not knowing how to accept it. Council insists that this kind of behavior—helping out one’s neighbor—is “the kind of religion” he has. Mr. and Mrs. Haskins toil relentlessly on the land to get it into shape. Their eldest son helps out substantially as a farm hand, working hard beyond his years. After seasons of labor, the farm begins to see the wheat crop.

Mr. Haskins brings Butler around the farm, who had not seen it in quite some time. Butler is impressed by the major improvements that the Haskineses have made to the property: it has certainly increased in value. When Mr. Haskins brings up purchasing the land for the original price, Butler shuts him down. He has hiked up the price since seeing the bounty of the land; now, he asks for double his original statement. Mr. Haskins is furious that Butler would charge him for improvements that he himself made. He threatens Butler with a fork, then decides against it after seeing his daughter. He tells Butler to draw up the mortgage and get off the land, otherwise, Mr. Haskins will kill him.

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