Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- Without a Home - 63/94 -
the whole width of the court-room, and behind which the judge sat with his clerks and assistants.
"Now tell me all about it," said the judge, and the man in a few words told his story without any palliation. With a gleam of hope Mildred saw the expression of the judge's face change as he listened, and when at last he replied, in tones so low that none could hear them save he to whom they were addressed, she saw that look which wins all hearts--the benignant aspect of one who might condemn for evil, but who would rather win and save from evil. The man slowly lifted his eyes to the speaker's face, and hope and courage began to show themselves in his bearing. The judge brought his extortation to a practical conclusion, for he said, "Promise me that with God's help you will never touch the vile stuff again."
The promise was evidently sincere and hearty. "Give me your hand on it," said his Honor.
The man started as if he could scarcely believe his ears, then wrung the judge's hand, while his eyes moistened with gratitude. "You are at liberty. Good-morning, sir;" and the man turned and walked through the crowded court-room, with the aspect of one to whom manhood had been restored.
Hope sprang up in Mildred's heart, for she now saw that her fate was not in the hands of a stony-hearted slave of routine. She looked toward her relatives, and greeted their tearful smiles with a wan glimmer of light on her own face, and then she turned to watch the fortunes of the weeping girl who followed next in order. She did not know the charge, but guessed it only too well from the judge's face, as the officer who had arrested her made his low explanation. She, too, was summoned within the rail, and the judge began to question her. At first she was too greatly overcome by her emotions to answer. As she cowered, trembled, and sobbed, she might well have been regarded as the embodiment of that shame and remorse which overwhelm fallen womanhood before the heart is hardened and the face made brazen by years of vice. Patiently and kindly the judge drew from her faltering lips some pitiful story, and then he talked to her in low, impressive tones, that seemed to go straight to her despairing soul. A kind, firm, protecting hand might then have led her back to a life of virtue, for such had been her bitter foretastes of the fruits of sin that surely she would have gladly turned from them, could the chance have been given to her. The judge mercifully remitted her punishment, and gave her freedom. Who received her, as she turned her face toward the staring throng that intervened between her and the street? Some large-hearted woman, bent on rescuing an erring sister? Some agent of one of the many costly charities of the city? No, in bitter shame, no. Only the vile madam who traded on the price of her body and soul, and who, with vulture-like eyes, had watched the scene. She only had stood ready to pay the fine, if one had been imposed according to the letter of the law. She only received the weak and friendless creature, from whom she held as pledges all her small personal effects, and to whom she promised immediate shelter from the intolerable stare that follows such victims of society. The girl's weak, pretty face, and soft, white hands were but too true an index to her infirm will and character, and, although fluttering and reluctant, she again fell helpless into the talons of the harpy. Hapless girl! you will probably stand at this bar again, and full sentence will then be given against you. The judge frowned heavily as he saw the result of his clemency, and then, as if it were an old story, he turned to the next culprit. Mildred had been much encouraged as she watched the issue of the two cases just described; but as her eyes followed the girl wistfully toward the door of freedom she encountered the cold, malignant gaze of the man who had charge of her department at the shop, and who she instinctively felt was the cause of her shameful and dangerous position. By his side sat the two women who had searched her and the leading foreman of the store. Sick and faint from apprehension, she turned imploringly toward Roger, who was regarding the floor-walker with such vindictive sternness that she felt the wretch's hour of reckoning would soon come, whatever might be her fate. This added to her trouble, for she feared that she was involving Roger in danger.
No time was given for thoughts on such side issues, for the prisoner preceding her in the line was sentenced, after a trial of three minutes--a summary proceeding that was not hope-inspiring.
The name of Mildred Jocelyn was now called, and there was a murmur of expectant interest in the court-room, for she was not by any means an ordinary prisoner in appearance, and there were not a few present who knew something of the case. The young girl was pushed before the bar, and would gladly have clung to it, in order to support her trembling form. But while she could not infuse vigor into her overtaxed muscles, her brave spirit rallied to meet the emergency, and she fixed her eyes unwaveringly upon the judge, who now for the first time noticed her attentively, and it did not escape her intensely quickened perceptions that his eyes at once grew kindly and sympathetic. Sitting day after day, and year after year, in his position, he had gained a wonderful insight into character, and in Mildred's pure, sweet face he saw no evidence of guilt or of criminal tendencies. It was, indeed, white with fear, and thin from wearing toil and grief; but this very pallor made it seem only more spiritual and free from earthliness, while every feature, and the unconscious grace of her attitude, bespoke high breeding and good blood.
First, the officer who arrested her told his story, and then the elder of the two women who searched her was summoned as the first witness. The judge looked grave, and he glanced uneasily at the prisoner from time to time; but the same clear, steadfast eyes met his gaze, unsullied by a trace of guilt. Then the second woman corroborated the story of her associate, and the judge asked, "How came you to suspect the prisoner so strongly as to search her?" and at this point the floor-walker was summoned.
The vigilant magistrate did not fail to note the momentary glance of aversion and horror which Mildred bestowed upon this man, and then her eyes returned with so deep and pathetic an appeal to his face that his heart responded, and his judgment led him also to believe that there was error and perhaps wrong in the prosecution. Still he was compelled to admit to himself that the case looked very dark for the girl, who was gaining so strong a hold on his sympathy.
"I must inform your Honor," began the witness plausibly, after having been sworn, "that laces had been missed from the department in which this girl was employed, and I was keenly on the alert, as it was my duty to be. Some suspicious circumstances led me to think that the prisoner was the guilty party, and the search proved my suspicions to be correct."
"What were the suspicious circumstances?"
The man seemed at a loss for a moment. "Well, your Honor, she went to the cloak-room yesterday afternoon," he said.
"Do not all the girls go to the cloak-room occasionally?"
"Yes, but there was something in her face and manner that fastened my suspicions upon her."
"What evidences of guilt did you detect?"
"I can scarcely explain--nothing very tangible. The evidences of guilt were found on her person, your Honor."
"Yes, so much has been clearly shown."
"And she was very reluctant to be searched, which would not have been the case had she been conscious of innocence."
The woman who searched her was now asked, "Did she shrink from search, in such a manner as to betoken guilt?"
"I can't say that she did show any fear of being searched by us," was the reply. "She refused to be searched in the private office of the firm."
"That is, in the presence of men? Quite naturally she did." Then to the floor-walker, "Have your relations with this girl been entirely friendly?"
"I am glad to say I have no relations with her whatever. My relations are the same that I hold to the other girls--merely to see that they do their duty."
"You are perfectly sure that you have never cherished any ill-will toward her?"
"So far from it, I was at first inclined to be friendly."
"What do you mean by the term friendly?"
"Well, your Honor" (a little confusedly), "the term seems plain enough."
"And she did not reciprocate your friendship?" was the keen query.
"After I came to know her better, I gave her no occasion to reciprocate anything; and, pardon me, your Honor, I scarcely see what bearing these questions have on the plain facts in the case."
A slight frown was the only evidence that the judge had noted the impertinent suggestion that he did not know his business.
"Are you perfectly sure that you cherish no ill-will toward the prisoner?"
"I simply wish to do my duty by my employers. I eventually learned that her father was an opium-eater and a sot, and I don't fancy that kind of people. That is my explanation," he concluded, with a large attempt at dignity, and in a tone that he evidently meant all should hear.
"Her father is not on trial, and that information was uncalled for. Have you any further testimony?" the judge asked coldly.
"No, sir," and he stepped down amid a suppressed hiss in the court-room, for the spectators evidently shared in the antipathy with which he had inspired the keen-eyed but impassive and reticent magistrate, who now beckoned Mildred to step up close to him, and she came to him as if he were her friend instead of her judge. He was touched by her trust; and her steadfast look of absolute confidence made him all the more desirous of protecting her, if he could find any warrant for doing so. She said to him unmistakably by her manner, "I put myself in your hands."
"My child," the judge began seriously, yet kindly, "this is a very grave charge that is brought against you, and if it is your wish you can waive further trial before me at this stage of proceedings,
Previous Page Next Page
1 10 20 30 40 50 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 70 80 90 94
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything