JUDGMENT

BEN AMES WILLIAMS March 15 1922

JUDGMENT

BEN AMES WILLIAMS March 15 1922

JUDGMENT

BEN AMES WILLIAMS

THE at OLD the door court a officer second had time to knock before Judge Rodman heard him. This had happened once or twice before of late. The Judge had been abstracted since his wife died. Some of those who knew him best thought he seemed at times to be dazed. She had died two weeks ago, had been buried just before the beginning of this trial. . . Judge Rodman was obviously not the same man he had been before her going.

The Judge did not hear the court officer’s first knock, this morning, because he was thinking. His body rested heavily in the arm chair before his desk; his suit fell limply about him. It was going to be a hot day in the court room, and he intended to take off his street coat and put on the filmy, • black alpaca thing which he sometimes wore in his office. The gown would hide it; and he would be, thus lightly clad, more comfortable. The Judge was a large man; and, on a hot day, he suffered.

He had had a bad night, sleeping but little. His wife had been as much with him as though she were still alive; yet there had been little comfort in this presence of her spirit. Thinking back, this morning, through the final years of their life together, he perceived that for a long time there had been little comfort for him in her companionship. She had seemed, he realized, to set herself apart; she was apt to be silent for long intervals; she spoke little except when he addressed her. A worn and weary old woman. Yet not so very

old......The Judge himself was only

in his middle fifties, and he was fourteen years older than she had been. Other women of her age had not been so dull and so silent and so spiritless....

He had loved her, loved her still; but ever since her death there had been stirring in him, running through his thoughts of her, a faint and indefinable misgiving. A feeling that all had not been well between them. This misgiving assumed, at times, the proportions of a sense of guilt.

AT THE second knock of the court officer, the Judge stirred a little in his chair, and looked toward the door, and spoke; and the old officer opened the door and said it was time to go into court. The Judge nodded, rising slowly to his feet; and he turned himself about while the officer helped him put on his gown, and then moved out into the corridor toward the court room.

On the way, his trained and ordered mind began to function once more; he picked up the threads of the case which he was trying.

It was a murder trial, he remembered. Brother had killed brother, and the actual killingwas admitted. They had been business partners, forced into that relation by the will of their father, bound for life into an irritating union. There had been provocation for the killing; a succession of bitter, taunting words that had extended over a period of years.

The taking of evidence had ended yesterday, the arguments would be heard to-day; and the Judge understood well enough what the defense would plead. But he shook his head. It would do no good. The verdict would be first degree; could be nothing else. The arguments, the long wait for the jury, the sentence which it would thereafter be his duty to impose—these were mere formalities, to be got through with as quickly as possible. He hoped the'jury would not stay out too long; the day was certainly going to be terribly hot. The Judge shrank a little from the long grind which lay ahead of him.

Then the court officer opened his private door, beside the bench; and he passed into the court room, while those who were already there stood to do him honor. He heard the crier’s drone, mouthing the ancient formula which declared court open for the day; and then he sat down and everyone else sat down, and there was a moment’s wait before the day’s work got tinder way.

A large, blue fly buzzed down from an open window at one side of the room and began to fly naggingly about the Judge’s head.

'T'HE defense attorney opened his argument. His name *■ was John Hall; and he was perhaps the foremost criminal lawyer in the state. He had been summoned from another city to handle this case; and there had been some surprise when his connection with it was announced, be cause the conviction of the man on trial was taken for granted, and John Hall had not often been associated with a losing cause.

Judge Rodman watched this man, as he rose to his feet and addressed the bench and then the jury; and he listened to the opening phrases of the other’s argument. But at once thereafter, his thoughts began to drift away. The very sight of John Hall was sufficient to evoke memories,

almost lost in the dust of the past. This was natural enough, for John Hall had been in love with Elizabeth Tarleton, had been near winning her, when David Rodman swept her off her feet and bore her triumphantly away. John Hall had never married. Those who knew the old story were fond of imagining that this was because he had always loved Bess Tarleton, Judge Rodman’s wife.

The Judge wondered, this morning, if this were true. He and the lawyer had always been friends, in the casual fashion of men who live in different cities and see each other only in the course of business and at intervals of many months. But since this trial opened, almost at once after the funeral of that Bess Tarleton whom both men had loved, Hall had not m?de occasion to speak to the Judge except when the conduct of the case demanded it; and once or twice Judge Rodman thought he had seen bitterness in the other’s eyes. Perhaps it was true, after all; perhaps John Hall did still love Bess Tarleton........

The Judge’s memories went back twenty years.

THERE are few men to whom life does not give at least one golden moment; a moment full of glory and beauty and romance. It may endure for only the tick of a watch; it may last for a day, or for a week; or it may, with some fortunate folk, stretch into a lifetime. Judge Rodman’s golden moment had endured for sixteen days. And it began the first day he saw Bess Tarle-

He was already a successful lawyer, a solid, substantial man with a valuable practice and a growing reputation for the logical and judicial qualities of his mind. His vacations were rare; on this one he combined business with recreation. One of his clients was spending the Summer at a large hotel upon the northern lakes; and it became necessary for Rodman to consult with him. He came North with that purpose in

It was in the years when the automobile was an absurd looking and rather impractical experiment. People rode or drove handsome horses. Women used side-saddles; and the divided skirt was just making its appearance, was still somewhat under the ban of the strictest convention. Those who affected it were considered daring.

David Rodman and his client were riding along a bridle-path which followed the lakeshore when they saw a man and a girl galloping toward them along the sand nearer the lake. Rodman’s eye was caught by this girl, even before she came near enough for him to distinguish her features. She wore a divided skirt, rode astride, and sat her horse as though they had been molded together. Her hat was lost or cast aside, and her hair was somewhat loosened, so that its heavy coils were low about her face, and the thick knot of them rested on the nape of her neck. She passed near enough so that David saw how bright her cheeks were, and he saw the high daring in her eyes. She waved her crop to his companion. The man with her was John Hall, whom David knew.

He did not, at that moment, ask her name; but from that hour, he moved under the spell of a glamorous intoxication.

She was Bess Tarleton. No doubt there were other girls at the hotel as beautiful as she was; no doubt there were others who laughed as sweetly. But there was some quality in her, some living fire that set her apart from them all. She had an elfin spirit; never an hour the same. Always changing, now mischievous and now demure, she was living quicksilver. She set David Rodman all afire, waking in him a capacity for romantic folly which he would not have believed that he possessed.

HE MET her that evening, at the formal dance. They waltzed together, the Blue Danube. This was in the days before jazz, when music and melody were kin; it was in the days when to dance was a matter of grace rather than of acrobatics. Their bodies moving in rhythm, David found his mind also attuned to hers. He was able to talk to her as he had never talked to anyone before. She told John Hall, later that evening, that David was thrilling; and John Hall stared at her, then laughed aloud.

“Why?” she asked, her eyebrows arching. “Why is that amusing?”

“Dave’s a fine fellow, and an able lawyer,” John told her. “But I never found him ‘thrilling.’ He’s as steady as a log.”

“You don’t know him,” she retorted gaily.

“I’ve known him well for years,” said John Hall. “You’ve danced a single dance with him.”

But Bess insisted still: “I know him better than you.” They were both right, and both wrong. The David Rodman with whom she had danced was not the lawyer whom half the state already admired. Years older than she was, he had the strength of his years, yet had displayed for her a boyish imagination, a quality of laughter and of jest which charmed her. They rode together next day. Rodman had always preferred a decorous trot; that day he galloped for miles. He had always called those men fools who risked their necks for sport; but he put his untried horse at a rail fence, and took it cleanly, Bess at his side. They played like children, yet had their moments of silence when between them a warmer current flowed.

For the first week, he was content to be with her. There was an intoxication upon him. She was half-way engaged to John Hall; but the sweep of David’s wooing swung her away from the other man. Bess submitted to the taking, happy at being overborne. In such surroundings, in such long, bright days together, ardors spring quickly into flame. At the end of the second week, David had not yet asked her to marry him; but he would, and she knew that he would and she knew what she must say when he should ask her.

There was a masque ball, that Saturday night. Bess was Juliet. More than one young man had sought to discover what her costume would be, but—she had told only David, at his urgent asking. He was not yet so large a man as he later became; was slim enough, and stalwart enough so that he made an adequate Romeo. She knew him, as soon as he came into the ball room. There were others about her; but he came to her straight away, and led her from them, and as the music began, they danced. Something stirred, in each of them; but neither spoke at all. Only their eyes met deeply.

HE HAD done a mad thing, that day; a thing in keeping with the madness whichf or a fortnight had possessed him. Had conned the lines of the part he was to play. When they were presently alone, and apart upon one of the broad verandas to which he led her, she tugged a little at the hand he still held, as though she would have drawn it away; and David, who had played for this, said softly:

“ ‘If I profane, with my unworthiest hand

She looked up at him quickly, a little startled; he heard her whisper:

“Oh!”

“Romeo to Juliet,” he told her. “Do you not remember?”

Bess laughed, faintly uneasy. “I do not know thelines,” she confessed.

“The lines are nothing,” he cried, under his breath.

Her eyes met his. “No? Then what.” - “This,” said David Rodman ; and when she did not stir, he bent to lift her mask, and kiss-

She stood for a moment very’ still; he thought she trembled. And then she laughed again, and asked, a little

blushingly, remembering at last what Juliet had said: “But—do you kiss by the book?”

“By the heart, Bess,” he answered, and kissed her again. In September of that year, they were married, David coming to the city where she lived for the ceremony. She had not seen him in the meantime; it seemed to her,.when he came, that he was changed. That he was soberer, and

more austere......The Judge busy with his memories,

could even now hear her cry:

“You’re not the same David, are you troubled? Then what is it, dear?”

It was true. He was not the same. She would never see that other David again. His happy madness had passed, and he was miserably sane once more. A man of ruthless, logical mind; his impulses rooted in an instinct for justice according to the strict precepts of the law; his movements controlled by the mechanism of which he was a part. One man had wooed her, another man married her. He wondered, now, if she had been, all her life, seeking to rediscover that old, romantic David Rodman who had lived so brief a life and then had died forever. Was that the reason for the questing, seeking look which had been for years so constantly in her eyes?

That misgiving which had since her death oppressed him became more and more like a sense of personal guilt.

********

JUDGE RODMAN was glad to wrenrh himself away from these memories of his, to force himself to attend to the words of the attorney, of John Hall, from whom he had won Bess away. John Hall was saying:

“There are worse crimes than murder, gentlemen.” He was addressing the jury, yet his eyes turned once and then again upon the Judge. “There are worse crimes than murder, gentlemen. And there are many ways of doing murder. It is not necessary to use a pistol. It is not necessary to use a knife. It is not necessary to use poison. It is not even necessary to use violence at all. There is a murder of the soul, and this is worse than the murder of the body. And for this murder of the soul, a word will suffice. A cruel word, a bitter word, a stern word, a logical word, a just word perhaps... .Aye, souls have been slain with a word.”

It had been so in this case that was on trial, the Judge remembered. The elder brother, with the stubborn malice of the weak when they hold the whip hand, had taunted and derided and reviled the younger, until the day when the man now accused had snatched his pistol and fired. That which John Hall was saying was a part of the defense which the Judge had expected him to make. It was the only plea that he could offer. But—were the words of the

attorney double-edged? Was there an unspoken accusation in the eyes he turned upon the bench?

It was becoming insufferably hot in the court room. Judge Rodman mopped his brow, brushed at the large fly which still buzzed about his head. And—a flood of memories swept over him again.

HE BEGAN to think how greatly Bess had changed, during her life with him. He had never remembered so vividly as he did tc-day, how gay and how happy and how eager she had been in that fortnight of his madness. He had found her irresponsible spirits charming, in those days; they seemed singularly beautiful to him in retrospect, to-day. Yet it had not always been so; there had been times when this eternal child in her had irked him sorely.

Even in the early days of their marriage, he had lived under a weighty sense of his own dignity; his life had been ordered and severe. It had never occurred to him before,, but he saw quite clearly now that he had won Bess deceitfully; that the David Rodman who wooed her was not the David Rodman who wedded her. The things she had loved in him disappeared forever when she was won and wedded; and, by contraries, the things he found charming in her when she was the remote and beautiful girl he set out to win, became insupportable when she was his wife.

She was fond of riding. After their marriage, they sometimes rode together; but David Rodman no longer permitted his horse to gallop, nor would he permit hers to outpace his. So they trotted sedately through the bridle paths, her mount fretting against the reins; and he perceived in this a symbolic picture of all their married life, in which she had wished to gallop and he had desired to go sedately. And she had curbed her pace to match his.

Dancing. She loved to dance. But before he was forty, he gave it up, and insisted that she do likewise. Yet she was at that time no more than twenty-five. He had not then perceived that there was injustice in this. It had seemed to him a necessary part of the dignity which surrounded his newly won position on the bench.

There must always be adjustments, in marriage, he had assured himself. Had even, when she protested, said the same thing to her. When man and woman wed, they must travel thenceforward the same road, or they must part. If their roads have been different, they must either find a middle ground, or one or the other must yield. There had been, in his eyes, no middle ground. His road was the right one; she must ride that way with him.

He perceived, now, that after those f irst years of adjustment! they had no longer gone forward, side by side; but she had followed, as it were, a little in the rear. Meekly, humbly enough. Subordinate to him. Rebelling sometimes, but less and less often. He had never dogmatically commanded; had always by sheer force of logic and of argument silenced her protests. He remembered that she had one day cried: “You are right, David! But oh, you’re so terribly right! If only you’d be a little wrong, once, in the littlest

thing----”

And he had said: “I’m willing to be convinced, Elizabeth. If you do not agree with me, I am willing to listen. If you can convince me, can refute my arguments, we will go your way...” But she could never defeat him in these marital debates; because he had a trained and controversial mind, and after all, she only wished to be happy.

There was an increasing bitterness in the Judge’s memories.

SO TO the last struggle between them.” John Hall was saying to the jury, when his tones once more commanded the Judges

“So to that day when the younger partner prepared his plan for the expansion of the factory. Prepared it and perfected it, by weeks of application, until he was sure that it was sound and good and wise. And when his plans were ready, buttressed and fortified, he presented them to the attention of his older brother.

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“It was the last struggle of the dying soul of this man in the dock before you, gentlemen. He had committed everything to this attempt. And when he put them to the issue, he knew this was so. Defeated to-day, he could be no more than a slave hereafter......

“You remember the evidence. His brother listened, listened with that derisive smile which even those others who were present at the conference remarked. Listened, took the sheets of paper on which the details were set down, glanced them idly through—and tore them across and across and across till the tiny bits fluttered from his hands into the waste basket at his side.

“You remember what he said. ‘Father put the control and the decision in my hands. He was wise. I am the one to decide. Stick to your routine, boy.’

“And the soul of this man died.” ***«»**»

AN INCIDENT sprang into the Judge’s mind, complete in all details. He remembered it ever so vividly; remembered it, because it had been his wife’s last effort to win back the past. The last flame that leaped upward from the dying embers of the girl she once had been.

The tenth anniversary of their marriage. That morning, at breakfast, she handed him an envelope, bidding him open it when he was in his office. He took it without meeting her eyes, his own at the moment absorbed in a sheaf of papers on the table by his plate. Put the envelope in his pocket, and till late that afternoon forgot it altogether. When he opened it, he found that it was an invitation, couched in formal terms. “Miss Elizabeth Tarleton,” his wife had written, “reauests the pleasure of the company of Mr. David Rodman at dinner, this evening at seven.”

And on a separate bit of paper, in her small, pretty hand:

“I hope you can get home in plenty of time, Davy dear. And will you put on the clothes that I’ll lay out for you? They’ll be on your bed. I’ll meet you in the living room at seven.”

Reading, he frowned a little. He did not

like being called “Davy.” His name was “David.” Also, it was not convenient for him to get home so early, that afternoon. It would mean cancelling an appointment of some importance.

In the end, he decided to humor her to that extent. Yet did it with an ill grace, grudgingly. Reached home, as matters chanced, at a quarter before seven; and went to his room. There were garments on the bed; they were familiar, yet strange. Something grotesque about them....He picked them up, handled them distastefully.

After a moment, he saw that they were the component parts of that costume which he had worn when he was Romeo, ten years before. She had treasured them, then, through the intervening years. The fact irked him. He had tried to forget the follies of his youth, and his impatience with her was, quite illogically, increased when he realized that the costume was entirely too small for him now, that he could not by any possibility get into the

hose and doublet......

He went down the stairs, very much on his dignity; and in the living room saw Juliet waiting for him, eyes shining, and soft cheeks afire....But when she saw him, disappointment leaped into her face. “You didn’t put them on?” she cried.

He shook his head, embarrassed as much on her account as on his own. “Ridiculous! Of course not,” he replied. He would not confess it was because they were too small. “What folderol, Elizabeth!”

She fought to save the hour for which she had planned so tenderly. “It doesn t matter,” she cried. “You’re the same to me. ..and began softly, whimsically:

“ ‘Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?

‘Deny thy father, and refuse thy name

But he would have none of that. “Isn’t dinner served?” he asked harshly.

She was always so easily crushed into silence. They went into the dining room together, and sat down. Nevertheless, there was a valiant spirit in her. She would not yet confess defeat, and when they had been served, and the maid had withdrawn, she said almost imploring:

“You do like my costume, Davy?”

He looked at her with critical eyes. “It is faded with the years, Elizabeth,” he replied.

So, through that dinner which she had meant to make so gay an hour, they spoke no more. Afterward, when he had lighted his cigar, she fled away to her room. He did not see her again till next morning.

TOHN HALL’S voice broke once more into the Judge’s revery. “A clod on legs,” he cried. “Crushed, and broken, and debased. Yet there was in him still a spark that could, leap to fire. And one day, the older brother fanned that spark into flame. Called him coward and craven. We have his words, in the testimony. ‘You’re not so brave as a rat, brother mine,’ he said. ‘Even a rat will fight. You hate me; you’d kill me if you dared. Yet do not dare......’

“This man who is on trial was sitting at his desk, and an upper drawer of the desk was open. There was a revolver in this drawer. He lifted it and turned to face his brother. And the man who had killed his soul, saw the weapon, and— laughed. Then toppled forward to the floor, a bullet through his grinning face, and through his brain...”

Judge Rodman heard, dimly, through the veil of his abstraction. It was almost too hot to be borne. The fly still harassed him. He could doubtless have killed it before this; but his dignity forbade a gesture that might have proved futile....

He no longer heard the lawyer; seemed to hear, instead, the voice of his dead wife, pleading......

HER spirit had flamed into a last revolt, even as had the spirit of this man in the dock before him. All these memories of his were so tormentingly vivid...... She

had a friend, a woman, unhappily wed; and these two wives had clung together through the years. Then the other woman’s husband divorced her.

When he heard of this, the Judge forbade his wife to see her friend again. She had protested. “You’re wrong, David! You’re wrong,” she had cried. “It was not her fault. It was his. You know that. And she needs me now more terribly than ever before. Let me go to her. Please. Please.”

He shook his head. “No matter whether she was right or wrong,” he reminded her. “The court has ruled her wrong. It is impossible that my wife should be intimate with a divorced woman.”

She had been silenced; he supposed her convinced and submissive. But weeks later he discovered that she had disobeyed him; had seen the woman constantly. He remembered, too distinctly, the hour that followed. Accused, his wife had lied to him in the pitiful desperation of a child. “I didn’t, David. I didn’t,” she protested.

But when she understood that he knew the truth, she became defiant. “I can’t help it,” she told him. “Yes, it is true. She was my friend; and she needed me.”

He silenced her with a word. “But I was your husband,” he reminded her; and terror crept into her eyes.

“Please, please understand,” she begged

him. “She needed me so......”

He remembered the stern, just anger which had moved him. He had spoken as one on a height, had spoken with utter finality. She must obey him he said or they must part. There could be no compromise.

She opposed him with the helpless lack of logic of womankind; she could not reason, she could only beg. She admitted he was right, yet cried: “But she needs me

David. She needs me so.” He remembered that he had been a little sorry for her, a little contemptuous, because she was unable to do anything but plead. He had been completely convinced that he was right; that his attitude was the just and the proper one. And —there had been no bending him.

She yielded. That was theinevitable end. He could perceive, in this clearer-visioned retrospect, that something in her had died with that submission. She stayed much at home thereafter; spent more and more time in her own room. A year or two later, by imperceptible degrees, she became ill. Sickened without apparent cause. After some weeks she died.

He had been very busy with public affairsformonthsbeforehand;had come to accept her as a shadow in the background of his life. Her death was an acule and terrible shock to the man. Since that day, he had been more and more a prey to these harassing memories.

JUDGE RODMAN scarce perceived that John Hall was done with his argument; scarce understood that the prosecuring attorney had begun. This cause before him was no longer of importance in his eyes. He was weighing his own case. For two weeks, now, in his memories, he had been sifting the evidence against himself. The act had been almost unconscious, had been almost automatic. But it was become conscious, this day.

The man was fundamentally a lawyer and a judge; that was his heart and soul. He could be as stern with himself as with the most miserable culprit in his hands; could be as just in considering his own derelictions and commissions as in weighing the misdemeanors of others. It is the jury’s function to determine guilt; but Judge Rodman could play the part of judge and jury too. He became, in his complete absorption, unconscious of the passing time; of everything save his mefnories, which were the evidence that he was considering.

When the time came for him to charge the jury, he did so automatically ; his perfect mind functioned like a machine, choosing words and phrases, and setting them sternly forth. He stated principles and conclusions as ruthlessly as justice itself.

The defense had raised, he reminded the jury, the questions of premeditation and of intent. “The law requires that these exist, in the case of murder in the first degree,” he pronounced.

“But it is not necessary that premeditation cover any extended period of time. Premeditation may be instantaneous, may endure for only the split fraction of a second. A man may decide to kill another man, and do that killing instantly, and yet the law considers that he has premeditated the crime.

“Intent must also exist. If a man does something which he knows will kill another person, the law says he intended to kill that other person. If he claims he did not know that the thing which he did would kill, the law considers whether he should have known. If he should have known that the act which he committed, the deed which he did, even the word which he spoke would cause the death of another person, then he intended the crime.” -,

He paused, his thoughts unconsciously caught by his own words. Should he have known that through these years he was killing Bess, killing her soul and perhaps

her body, too? He wondered_____. .Yet

there was no perceptible interruption in his measured words. He spoke of passion, of those bursts of murderous fury which precede crime. And by and by, he made an end. The jury went to its room; the Judge retired to his chambers to await the call. Had time for meditation there....

Back in the court room, John Hall and the prosecuting attorney came together.

“A just charge,” said the prosecuting attorney.

“And a merciless one—” said John Hall.

'T'HE jury came back promptly, with the only verdict it was possible for them to render. Judge Rodman had never shrunk from duty that was plain before him. His voice, as he spoke the sentence, did not shake nor quaver. He was scarce conscious that the prisoner was there before him. He thought, once, that it was himself and not the convicted man who stood yonder in the dock, listening to the austere and implacable formula of the law.

Afterward, he spent an hour in his room with his papers, seeing no one. Then word was brought that his car had come for him, and he bade the court officers and the attendants good afternoon, and went down to the street. His chauffeur held open the door. The Judge climbed into the ton-’ neau.

“By the way, Richard,” he said to the man, in an even tone. “Stop on your way home and get fifteen feet of two-inch, hempen rope at the hardware store."

The chauffeur touched his cap and started the car. Judge Rodman relaxed his great bulk in the seat, eyes half-closed, automatically responding to the occasional greetings from passersby. A certain peace had come upon the man.

“Insane,” the papers said, when they found him hanging. “Insane with grief over the death of his beloved wife.”

But there was one man who understood.

“ ‘Whoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment,’ ” said John Hall.