JUDGE AVERY held his pencil poised above the typewritten page of testimony, then marked the margin with a long firm line. He had not remembered the plaintiff’s evidence was so clear; that young man had brought it out very nicely with the neat indirectness of his questions. On page forty-eight — he turned back the rustling sheets. Yes, the witness had said about the same thing. With a faint smile of satisfaction he leaned over and began writing on the pad that lay upon the book-rest of his easy-chair.
For a moment he paused to read what he had written, the pencil trembling slightly in his thin blueveined hand; there was a look of critical appraisal in his worn face, something vivid, keenly alive, beneath the bloodless texture of his skin. He struck out a word, replaced it with another; the wrinkle between his eyebrows deepened and he smoothed the white hair above his forehead absently, then laid down the pad. That was the last finding of fact. He would dictate the whole and his conclusions of law before Court to-morrow.
It must be nearly five, he thought. The sunlight had shrunk to a dusty orange bar across the red carpet at his feet; through the open window he could hear the cooing of the pigeons, the soft rustle of their wings as they moved upon the stone sill. Against the opposite wall the yellow bindings of the books ran in converging rows to a well of still gray light that seemed to gather at the end of the room; the surface of the table in the centre shone like a ruddy disk above its dark carven legs; through the curtains that hung above the doorway to his right he could hear the voices of the tipstaves talking in the empty courtroom outside.
Rodenbaugh was late. Evidently he was going to finish the Minturn case this afternoon. A driving young man, Rodenbaugh — he swept uncommon clean for a new broom. The judge smiled a little grimly, glanced down at his knees, unpleasantly sharp and narrow beneath the neat fold of his trousers. Old age did queer tricks to the body, things that he did n’t like. No doubt it did the same things to the mind. He was seventy-three. That was a warning in itself. He rose and walked to the window, sniffed the dusty May air. He was sorry he did n’t get on better with Rodenbaugh. It was hard, at first, to like anyone who had taken Langdon’s place on the bench.
There was a difference now, a very great difference. He shook his head, turned and walked stiffly to his chair. The fact that he felt the difference so keenly was a sign of his age. In his youth the old lawyers had always complained about the decay of the bar. And he had laughed at them just as Rodenbaugh would laugh at him now if he heard him. Only Rodenbaugh did n’t laugh, that was the trouble. He only smiled — a slow spreading of unparted lips, a narrowing of his eyes, which — the judge sighed — was intensely distasteful. But — maybe it was just as well. If Rodenbaugh once began to laugh he might laugh at himself all day.
A step sounded on the marble outside, and the curtain was pushed tentatively back. Old Walrath appeared, his watery blue eyes searching the chamber with vague apology. ‘Judge Rodenbaugh been here, Judge?' he asked. He moved forward, then hobbled down the steps. ‘ I looked in his room and he was n’t there. He said he wanted to see Mr. Mercer at halfpast three. Mr. Mercer’s in the courtroom now.’
‘He’s still trying the Minturn case, Enoch. He’s coming here, though, before he goes home. I don’t know what he wants with Mercer. If he ‘s been waiting long I think you ‘d better let him go. You can call him when the judge gets back.’
‘All right, sir.’ The old man paused, and a look of doubt crept into his mildly truculent face. ‘You think he won’t mind? I should n’t like to get him mad just after he’s come off the bench. You know, Judge, he’s got a way, when he’s mad, of smiling just like a Chessy cat, and passing that tongue of his over you fit to take off your skin!’ He pulled at his long white walrus moustache and gazed at the judge. ‘ I’ve been thinking he acts pretty fiery for a young man that ain’t seen too much of court before he become a judge. I reckon’ — his eyes moved solemnly to and fro — ‘ I reckon that’s why.’
Judge Avery looked at his knees; it was difficult to conceal his smile. Of course, he ought n’t to let Walrath talk to him that way. He ought to reprove him sharply, and the fact that he could n’t was clearly just another sign of his age. He straightened his face, looked up. Walrath was smiling at him in a curious way. Yes, by George, he was actually smiling at him paternally underneath that white walrus moustache. The old beggar! Really, he’d have to say something! ‘Enoch!’ He stroked his chin, gazed through his spectacles at the bent figure standing in the doorway. ‘You ‘re becoming too philosophical, I’m afraid, in your later years. I have a suspicion you’ve taken to psychoanalysis.’
‘No, sir!’ Walrath grunted. ‘I never yet heard of it. Them experts talks of electrolysis in the accident cases, but I never yet heard of the sister you speak of. No, Judge — it ain’t science — you know that.’ He shook his head and began climbing the steps. ‘ It’s just putting a long time in the courtroom, the same as you and me’s both done — that, and a little looking round, as Judge Langdon used to say.’ He paused, the curtain clasped in his big bony hand. ‘I’m going out now and tell Mr. Mercer he can leave, and then I ‘ll come back and get what papers you want for your bag.’
Judge Avery watched the curtain settle behind him, heard the slow stump of his footsteps across the marble. Old Walrath had stumped up and down those steps and across that marble for nearly fifty years; he had been a tipstaff when the judge first came to the bar. A gay ribald young fellow, then, with a rough tongue and a surprising knowledge of human nature, but good company, sitting on a table in the clerk’s office, swinging his legs and imitating Melchior Van Zandt blowing his nose at a jury. There was time to linger in the clerk’s office, in those days; time to do many things that were forgotten now. Law was a profession then, not a business; the lawyer reached out toward art and letters rather than toward certified public accounting. Then Bricknell translated Demosthenes and Judge Haynes wrote Horatian Echoes. Very faint but quite scholarly. And everyone, strangely enough, spoke and wrote English. It seemed to be the mother tongue. He sighed. Even the law had changed: it had lost its pattern, its design; the fine threads of continuity were gone. Nowadays you matched facts as you matched silk, and extracted legal principles like a dentist pulling teeth. He rose, straightened his coat across his slender shoulders. He was old, quite out of date. In the hurry and press of modern life there is no time, and so forth — Any young man could finish the sentence.
He gathered the papers from the chair, slipped an elastic about them, and thrust them into a green-baize bag. There was no use in waiting any longer for Rodenbaugh; he might as well take his walk and go home. The evening dreariness was coming over him; it made him peevish and irritable; he was likely to bite, to say something he did n’t mean, if Rodenbaugh provoked him. He glanced at the table to see whether he had left any papers, then at the desk. For an instant he paused, a bent delicate figure, very clear against the square of ruddy light. The evening dreariness was, after all, a little more than age. He gazed at the pictures standing in leather frames within a shadowy recess of the desk. The bright knife-like sorrow of the past was gone, but in its place was a numb loneliness, a darkening vision, a dim sense of drifting with blurred, loosened feeling toward some unfathomable end. It would have been different if they had lived. He would have understood these youngsters better then. Old age had always to look through others’ eyes; the vistas of its own past were overwhelming.
A sharp footstep sounded outside and the curtain rings jangled angrily. Judge Rodenbaugh’s body filled the doorway, descended with an abrupt heaviness into the room. ‘I hope you have n’t waited, Judge,’ he said. His small eyes moved obscurely beneath his thin eyebrows, his tall clumsy presence seemed to permeate the place, to pervade it like a harsh dominating breath. ‘I wanted counsel to finish their speeches this afternoon, so I could charge the jury the first thing in the morning.’ He seated himself in the chair by the table, his thick shoulders thrown forward, his legs stretched out. ‘That little Kardos is a pitiful apology,’ he said.
‘Was he trying for the plaintiff?’
‘Yes. He tries a case as if he were selling shoestrings on State Street. He ‘s all tongue and no head. I’ve had to listen to him now for two days, fumbling and backing and filling, encumbering the record with all sorts of useless questions. Moran is against him — you know what a good one he is! I think he was saying things to Kardos under his breath all through the trial. I was n’t sure. Every now and then Kardos would stop and get sort of gray and ask his questions again. Each time he repeated he got worse, and then Moran would get up with that suave easy manner of his, and suggest that his friend first make known to himself what he wanted to ask, and, after a moment’s silent communion, make it known to the witness, who, in spite of his lawyer, seemed like quite an intelligent man. He’s a quick one, Moran.’ The judge shook his head.
‘ I like him. He gives a case something — color, I guess you’d call it.’
‘That, or atmosphere, answered Judge Avery. ‘It’s sometimes fatal to litigants, although we lawyers survive it. Well — what did Kardos do?’
‘Oh, he’d just smile that sickly smile of his, and move his hands to and fro and wipe his face, and begin again. He ‘d have been funny if he had n’t taken up so much time. You know — that fellow Moran is a great triallawyer! I never realized it so completely until to-day. I’d never tried against him — I did n’t try cases, the way you did, before I came on the bench. It does n’t bother me, though.’ He smiled and his dark heavy face seemed to widen slowly. ‘ It’s easy to handle things from back here, is n’t it, Judge? ‘
‘Yes,’ said Judge Avery. His thin mouth closed, he leaned forward a little, his elbow upon the table, and surveyed his companion with still luminous eyes.
‘Well!’ Rodenbaugh stretched back his shoulders, ran his hand through the unparted hair that lay like a wig above his forehead. ‘I put an oar in myself now and then. Yesterday, after Kardos had floundered about for a while, I told him he ought to get a lawyer to try his case. Up jumped Moran with that friendly manner of his and said he ‘d be delighted to furnish his learned friend with a list in case he were not acquainted with the bar. The jury laughed and Kardos stood there wiping his face and moving his lips like a fish and then sat down. I told him to go ahead and he pulled up his chair and began shooting questions at the witness as if he were crying a sale. It was awful!’ He leaned back, took some cigars from his pocket and pushed one across the table. ‘ I don’t know what we ‘re going to do with these fellows, Judge.’
‘Neither do I.’ Judge Avery ignored the cigar. ‘Was there something you wanted to discuss with me? If not, I think I ‘ll go home.'
‘Yes, there was. I wanted to see Mercer too.’ He rose, thrust his head through the curtains. ‘Walrath!’ he called.
‘Did you get Mr. Mercer?’
‘Yes, sir. He was here. He waited till half-past four.’ Judge Avery heard the clump of Walrath’s feet on the marble. ‘Then I let him go, Judge. I told him I’d call him to-morrow morning.’
‘You did! What did you do that for?’
‘Judge — ‘
‘ Well, get him now if you ‘re able to handle the phone! And remember, when I send for a man I want him to wait! Exercise the authority of your age and position, Walrath, but don’t exercise discretion. When the vessels of the law become old crockery, they should n’t go to the well too often. Move along now — don’t stand there looking at me like a fool.’ He turned and descended the steps. ‘Doddering old ass, Walrath,’ he said.
‘I told him to let Mercer go,’ said Judge Avery. ‘ I thought you would n’t want him to wait.’
‘Oh!’ The judge paused, a sulky look on his face. ‘I see. I don’t believe Mercer’s so busy that an hour’s wait would injure his practice.’ He sat down heavily in the chair. ‘What I wanted to talk to you about was this — ‘
‘Do you mind’ — Judge Avery’s voice had a curious lingering drawl — ‘if we wait a minute? There’s something I want to tell you, first.’
‘No,’ said Rodenbaugh shortly, ‘go on. He drummed on the table impatiently. ‘Old Walrath’s an ass,’ he muttered under his breath.
Judge Avery smiled, a still frosty look in his clear blue eyes. Yes. Rodenbaugh deserved something. With the exercise of a little imagination he could give it to him completely in a way that he would thoroughly understand. He paused, his mind penetrating — invading the man before him. Then he leaned back, put his finger tips together, and the little smile on his lips grew sharp. There was a certain pleasure in the exercise of the imagination. Quite justifiable in this case. He would tell Rodenbaugh exactly what he was.
‘It’s about myself,’ he said slowly. ‘Old men are given to telling stories about themselves. I suppose that’s the reason they ‘re bores. But I think this will interest you as a younger man. Do you mind?’
Judge Rodenbaugh turned and stared at him. ‘Not at all,’ he said.
‘That’s very kind!’ The words dropped like acid from the sardonic lips. ‘I’ve been in a reminiscent mood all afternoon. As you ‘re my defenseless colleague, — brother, as the Reports call us, — I’m afraid I ‘ll have to impose on you.’
‘It’s curious,’ he continued, ‘how the memories of childhood come to the surface in old age. It’s rather the way an ebbing stream discloses the soft formless ooze that lies beneath it. I can remember now just how I felt as a youngster, remember all my desires and fears with a surprising vividness. And I had plenty of fears.’ He paused, nodded his head. ‘I think I must have been afraid of everything, when I was young. In that way’ — he lifted his eyebrows — ‘I’m sure I was different from you. Of course, I never let anyone know I was afraid. I buried it all deep down, created an image over it — an image of myself as a valiant, aggressive, reckless youngster. But I knew it was there all the time, and the very thought of it seemed to give me a savage desire to show my strength. And yet I could n’t when it came to the test. I was afraid to fight. The other boys knew I was and so I never made friends with boys of my own age. I always went about with the younger boys; they could n’t destroy this image I had created; on the contrary, it seemed to grow larger the more I was with them. I used to bully them like a regular little cad. You know’ — he shook his head — ‘what boys are, Judge. Queer little animals; just as eager to maintain their prestige as any full-grown man, and just as clever about it, too.’ He leaned back, crossed his sharp narrow knees. ‘Did that thought ever occur to you?’
‘I can’t say it has,’ Judge Rodenbaugh answered. His eyes searched his companion’s face with a veiled wavering glance, then fell away. Judge Avery lifted his hand to his mouth, smoothed his upper lip.
‘I suppose old men, like dead men, should tell no tales.’ His smile seemed to vanish into a lurking shadow. ‘I must tell you a little story and then we ‘ll take up the matters you want to discuss. At boarding-school — I presume you went to Saint Thomas?’
The judge moved his head.
‘It might have been better if I’d gone there, too. They sent me to Milford. Well, I was n’t a great success. I was quick enough in class, but that did n’t count; for some reason the boys did n’t like me. I was n’t good at athletics, I could n’t play football, and the cold punishment of the track simply filled me with dread. There was nothing of that sort that I could do and, naturally, I did n’t become a leader, and I did n’t want friendship on any other terms. So I put up my image and looked around for some younger boy to keep it in place.
‘It was little Immanuel Pleasants the last term. I seem to remember him better than any of the others. He was the son of Agamemnon Pleasants, the teacher of Latin — a thin, frightened, large-eared man with a white face and eyes like a Sealyham terrier. Immanuel’s mother was named Lucilla, and, of course, we always called her Clytemnestra. They lived in a little house near the main building and were constantly asking unwilling boys in to tea. Even as youngsters we recognized their “inferiority complex,” as I believe the psychologists nowadays call it. Old Aggie — I suppose he was thirtyfive — used to call us “young barbarians” in a timid jocular voice, and give us little half-hearted pats on the shoulder and look at us with his doubtful evasive eyes. We thought he was n’t much of a man, and I daresay he was n’t; and as for Clytemnestra we liked her still less; there was something depressing about her red swollen eyelids and the soft pink of her nose — as if she were always having a cold. I think even Immanuel, at times, doubted the worldly value of his parents, and I know some of us used to encourage him in his attitude of unbelief. It was always easy to encourage Immanuel on any subject. He was susceptible to every influence about him; a pathetic, eager little fellow, filled with an unreasoning desire to please; one of those boys that hang about the older boys and do things for them and talk about them a little breathlessly. I thought him quite absurd, with his weasel face and his silly hat and his big translucent ears. I’ve often wondered’ — the judge stared at the bookcase as if he had forgotten his companion — ‘what became of Immanuel. He was manifestly unfitted for this world. I suppose’ — he looked at Judge Rodenbaugh — ‘you knew boys like that at school?’
‘Yes,’ said the judge. He frowned and pulled heavily at his cigar; behind the dissolving smoke his face seemed to darken with a slow menacing flush. ‘But I can’t see,’ — he paused, then straightened up, looked at his companion. ‘ I can’t see — ‘
‘There’s no need to,’ interrupted Judge Avery. He lifted his long thin hand from the table. ‘Don’t try. I ‘ll be through now, in just a minute. You must let me finish about Immanuel. I rather like Immanuel! I almost feel as if I’d invented him for you!’ His smile was hard and bright with a little curl at the corners. ‘Now what was I going to say? Oh, yes — I wanted to tell you about our play.
‘ Somewhere I’d picked up the story of King Agamemnon and the wily Ægisthus who killed him and married the faithless Queen Clytemnestra and, one dull afternoon when Immanuel and Kinsey and little Pollock were loafing in my room, I conceived the idea of putting the story into a play. I thought it would be amusing to see Immanuel act the part of his father, and I explained to him carefully just what sort of a silly ass Agamemnon was and how Clytemnestra fooled him. I remember I took particular pleasure In rolling out the word “Agamemnon little Kinsey and Pollock were tremendously pleased and Immanuel stood there with that foolish, halffrightened, expectant look he always had when we made fun of his father. But, when it came to acting the part, he rebelled and, of course, that made me angry and all the more persistent. I told him he ‘d have to do it or he could n’t go about with me any longer, but even that threat did n’t seem to make any difference; he only stood there shaking his head, his queer little weasel face very sharp and pinched, his eyes flickering with a dumbanimal refusal. I remember it made me quite angry. I felt in some way as if Immanuel were threatening my prestige, depriving me of a satisfaction to which I was entitled. And so, to punish him, I began to imitate his father myself. Little Pollock and Kinsey went into screams on the bed and I rather expected Immanuel to laugh before I was through: laughing had always been his final mode of defense. But he did n’t: he only stood there looking down, his stubby fingers twisting at the absurd pearl buttons his mother had sewed on his coat. So I went on, getting more and more savage as I went; it seemed as if his very speechlessness, the fumbling inarticulate motion of his hands, filled me with rage. I must have gone on for five minutes or so, when suddenly he hunched up his shoulders and lifted his arm to his face, and then ran to the door with a queer little squeak like a bat that’s been hit with a towel. I heard someone calling after him in the hall and the next minute Danforth came to the door.
‘“What’s the matter with Pleasants?” he said.
‘I felt startled and rather uncomfortable at Danforth’s sudden appearance; he was captain of the baseball team, and one of the leaders of the school. He’d never paid much attention to me. Well, I put my hands in my pockets and walked over toward him. “Nothing, Danforth,” I said. “We were horsing Pleasants a little, that’s all. He can’t take a joke.” I shook my head in a superior manner. “He needs hardening up, I should say.”
"‘You think so!” Danforth looked at me with perfectly frank disgust. “I should say you needed it a bit yourself! Lying around all afternoon with a lot of kids when you ought to be out in the field! Why don’t you take someone your size?” He waited a minute and then walked away. “You let Pleasants alone,” he said when he reached the door. “It’s filthy the way you devil the younger boys. When I get through practice this afternoon I ‘ll put on the gloves with you, if you still feel you have to harden someone up!” He gave me an ugly smile and then disappeared down the hall,
‘Well, I felt pretty sick. I remember that very clearly, but, unfortunately, what I don’t remember is that it did me any permanent good. It was not until long after I was grown that I learned my lesson; and then, strangely enough, it took old Melchior Van Zandt and a little lawyer like Kardos to teach me. I don’t suppose you remember Melchior Van Zandt. He was the leader of the bar in my time; and the kind of man we ‘re not likely to see again.’ The judge shook his head. ‘The day of outstanding personalities has gone, I’m afraid. A high level reduces the lofty peaks — I believe that’s the explanation given. You can take it or not, as you like. To me, at times, the plateau does n’t seem so high. Of course, that may be only age: the old are apt to see the great men of their youth through the eyes of their youth — and they loom very large. However,’ — he shrugged his shoulders, — ‘I must tell you about Melchior Van Zandt and the lawyer like Kardos.’ He leaned forward a little, a cold stealthy watchfulness in his eyes. ‘I think I’d been on the bench just about as long as you have when it happened.’
Judge Rodenbaugh lowered his head, stared at the carpet with an angry frown. Then he rose, thrust his hands into his pockets, his face turned away, his chin sunk in a heavy fold between the square points of his collar. ‘I don’t propose, Judge,’ he began. His grating voice had an ugly snarl that sounded like the snapping of empty jaws. ‘I don’t propose to listen to this kind of thing any longer!’ He shut his mouth and the muscles above his jaws trembled slightly. ‘It’s insulting and I’m not going to stand it! You have no business’ — he stared at the judge with eyes that seemed curiously futile and stricken — ‘you have no business — ‘
‘Oh, yes, I have!’ said Judge Avery. ‘Sit down, please.’ He paused. ‘Sit down, I said!’ His voice leaped like a sharp blue flame through the room. ‘When the vessels of the law become old crockery, there’s a certain courtesy due them, and that I intend to have from you.’ He stretched out his hand. ‘Take your seat, please, and listen until I’ve finished.’
For an instant Judge Rodenbaugh’s stare met his; then it wavered, seemed to turn sullenly inward. ‘You presume on your age,’ he said, in a husky voice. He sat down awkwardly. ‘Also, I think you ‘re presuming on my intelligence. If you have any more to say, will you kindly be brief? I don’t care to spend the afternoon listening to stories of childhood.’
‘My childhood,’ corrected the judge. ‘I would n’t presume to intrude on yours.’ He looked pleasantly across the table. ‘ I only presume on my age, as you said — that, and a certain feeling for what I believe is called the art of narration. Quite a remarkable art; I admit I practise it very badly. But that does n’t matter so long as I hold your attention. And what old Melchior Van Zandt said to me is worthy of your attention.
‘I’d been on the bench just about a month when it happened. I was older than you are, and I’d tried quite a number of cases. But, nevertheless, I was developing that splendid sense of power you spoke of so feelingly just a moment ago. There was a little lawyer who came into my court in those days - he’s dead now — who was rather like Kardos, and he irritated me the way Kardos irritates you. I remember one morning when I had a full list, he came bustling into the courtroom with a great cloud of witnesses behind him and that air of his, of terrible absurd importance, which, in view of his hopeless incompetence, always annoyed me intensely. Well, his case was reached that afternoon and when I called it, he came fussing up to the bar with his greasy frock-coat buttoned about him and began to splutter at me, the way he always did. He had a high squeaky voice, and his words seemed to come out in bunches, as if he blew them out from the back of his mouth. “Mr. Stover,” I said, — the very sight of him made me angry, — “as far as I can gather from what you say, you want to butcher another case for us this afternoon.” Then I looked around and waited for the laugh.
‘Of course it came. It always does when the judge makes a joke. I grinned down at Stover and he wrinkled his forehead, then gave me a sallow little smile. “As long as your Honor’s made a shambles out of the court, I suppose I might as well begin,” he said.’ The judge shook his head. ‘Pretty good, was n’t it?’ he laughed. ‘He did n’t leave me much to say! After Court old Melchior came stumping into my chambers swinging his big green bag at his side like a Herculesclub. “Avery!” he grunted. “You deserved what you got this afternoon.” He put his bag down on the table. “I did n’t think little Stover had it in him. Remember!” He shook his head at me — he had hair like the mane of an old gray lion. “The bench is the coward’s castle, my boy. You ‘re safe, and the other man is n’t.” Then he picked up his bag and stumped out.’
The judge sighed, smoothed his hair thoughtfully, passed his hand over his cheek. ‘It all seems so very long ago,’ he said. ‘I’m afraid in recalling the facts I may have been just a little vague. I only hope that I have n’t bored you.’ He paused, then settled back in his chair, touched the tips of his fingers together. ‘And, now, what did you want to discuss with me?’
‘Nothing,’ Judge Rodenbaugh answered. He rose with a hesitant awkwardness, his face turned away. ‘I’ve heard that story about the shambles before. Unfortunately for the truth of your autobiography it’s never been connected with you.’
’Indeed?’ said Judge Avery brightly. ‘I must have made it my own then. It’s not a bad story, though, is it?’
‘No,’said the judge. He walked to the doorway. ‘Walrath!’ he called. ‘Ask Mr. Kardos to step over, will you?’ He turned sharply about. ‘I’ve listened to you; now I ‘ll ask you to wait until Kardos comes and then listen to me!'
’Certainly,’said Judge Avery.
‘Mr. Mercer’s here,’ said Walrath. ‘Mr. Kardos is on his way over. Do you want Mr. Mercer to come in?’
‘No, I ‘ll talk to him in the courtroom.’ The judge rose from his chair and plunged through the doorway, the curtains dropping with a swift flap behind him. His voice reached the chamber the next moment, subdued to a low murmur from beyond the bench.
Judge Avery put down the Report, smiled quietly, and smoothed his upper lip. On the whole, he had done a good job. Rodenbaugh had wriggled, to be sure, but he had held the knife firm, cut to the proper depth. Surprising how his imagination had gone on; he never remembered letting it wander so far before unaccompanied by facts. Reading the Electra last night must have been responsible for Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. He laughed, tapped the end of his tortoise-shell spectacles on the table, then drew a deep breath, his fingers slowly turning his thin gold watch-chain. After all, had his story done Rodenbaugh any good? Human nature was a strangely resilient substance, inevitably coming back to the same shape, no matter how hard you squeezed it. And what business had he — or anyone else — to squeeze it? That was what these damned reformers were always doing; blowing their moral ideas under everyone’s skin like so many flies! He walked to the window, gazed down at the automobiles moving through the dust-gold street like platoons of black glittering beetles. Maybe he had been a little magisterial in his attitude toward Rodenbaugh, exercised the prerogative of age in a high-handed manner. Still — he shook his head — the boy deserved it!
The murmuring in the courtroom ceased and Rodenbaugh’s step sounded on the marble. As the curtains swung to behind him, Walrath appeared. ‘Mr. Kardos is here, Judge,’ he said.
‘Send him in.’ Rodenbaugh turned away, thrust his hands in his pockets, and sat down facing the table. He did not look up; in the silence that followed, the situation seemed to Judge Avery just a little absurd. Then someone paused at the doorway, moved the curtains timidly to one side. ‘Come in!’ said Judge Rodenbaugh, a note of exasperation in his voice.
Kardos seemed to stumble into the room. As he bowed, it occurred to the judge in a sudden whimsical flash that his round staring eyes were exactly like the black buttons on his yellow shoes. He suppressed a smile, and inclined his head. ‘Sit down,’ said Judge Rodenbaugh, nodding at the chair in front of the table.
Kardos seated himself, then reached over, placed his green hat on the table. It looked curiously jaunty on the dark polished surface, arching above the reflection at its side with an air of draggled impudence: the judge wondered whether Rodenbaugh appreciated it, and what in the devil he was going to do with Kardos anyway, now he had him. He leaned back, gazed at the pair with vague amusement. Where in God’s name did the young men get those coats! There was something skirted and dashing about Mr. Kardos’s apparel — for such a little man!
‘Kardos!’ Judge Rodenbaugh looked in his direction with a slow downward glance. ‘I want to apologize to you.’ He lifted his eyes, stared at him with smoldering hostility. ‘I had no business to say what I did in court this afternoon.’
‘Yes, sir!’ Kardos nodded his head with a violent eagerness. ‘I’m sure I accept your Honor’s apology. I’m sure your Honor’s very generous to make me any apology at all!’ He spread out his hands and smiled at the judge, a watchful look on his dark flat face.
‘No.’ Rodenbaugh frowned. ‘I owe it to you. I’ll admit’ — his lip quivered with contempt—‘you gave me provocation. But’ — he thrust his chin down on his collar — ‘ I owe it to you.’
‘That’s very kind,’ said Kardos glibly. He leaned forward with an air of confidence. ‘You see, Judge, I was asking the questions all right. Yes I was.’ His low forehead wrinkled in a thick triangular crease just above his nose. ‘ I think maybe your Honor don’t understand the way I work.’ He placed a stubby forefinger on his palm. ‘You see, Judge, I sort of feel around and ease off the witness’s mind until he can tell me what I want, you know, just letting him loose and giving him a chance to think, and then new things come up and you get something maybe you overlooked when you came to court. So I just suggest’ — he lifted a hand — ‘an idea, maybe, here and there — something that comes to me, maybe, on the spot. Of course, I know your Honor thinks it takes up time, but’ — he cocked his head to one side — ‘I get splendid results!’
‘You do, eh! I wish I saw some of them in my court!’ Judge Rodenbaugh’s little eyes gleamed balefully.
’Your Honor has n’t heard me try many cases,’ Kardos said. His smile was almost benevolent in its assurance.
‘ Where I live I get most of the business now of that kind.’
’You do, eh?5 The judge grunted. ‘That does n’t speak well for your neighborhood! From the way you talk you sound to me very much like a fool! Why don’t you prepare your cases instead of trying them by mental telepathy?’
Kardos laughed. To Judge Avery, watching his face, he did n’t seem at all disconcerted. ‘Your Honor has a forceful way of putting things,’ he said. ' If your Honor will permit me to say so, I don’t think your Honor quite understands what I mean.’
‘No, and you don’t yourself. How could you when you think round and round like a mule tied up in a field!’ The judge grinned, shot a glance at Judge Avery. ‘What you need, Kardos, is direction, straightness of mental line. I’m afraid your mind’s built on a circular pattern.’
‘ Wheels?5 said Kardos.
’Within wheels,’ Rodenbaugh answered. ‘ In my opinion you ‘re not fit to appear before any sensible jury. You ought to practise trying cases on a phonograph in the privacy of your home. You could encumber the record then all you liked.’ He looked at Judge Avery again.
Kardos caught the glance and a little grin touched the corners of his lips. He gazed at Judge Rodenbaugh with sharp motionless eyes. ‘Your Honor says very smart things,’ he observed, in a tone of impersonal appreciation. ‘I suppose that’s the reason we all like to try in your Honor’s court.’
‘ I suppose that’s the reason we all like to bring our cases before your Honor.’
‘You do, eh! Well, I don’t know about that!’ The viciousness faded from the judge’s voice, and he stretched out his logs and looked tolerantly at Kardos. ‘My tongue may be just a little bit quick, but you fellows need it sometimes.’
‘That’s true, Judge!’ Kardos nodded his head. ‘Your Honor always gives us what we deserve. And besides, Judge,’ — the motionless lustre of his eyes seemed to break into tiny points, — ‘we like a little amusement in the courtroom.’
‘Yes?’ The judge thrust out his lower lip. ‘Well, you furnish it all right.’
‘And so does your Honor.’
‘I do, eh?’
‘Yes, sir.’ Kardos seemed cautiously to expand, to relax in a posture of intimate friendliness. He glanced over his shoulder at Judge Avery, then surveyed Rodenbaugh with an unruffled face. ‘I hear that everywhere, Judge.’
‘Indeed!’ The judge’s mouth widened, and he smoothed his chin. ‘Well, I do the best I can for you, Kardos. In your case it’s never hard.’ He crossed his knees, sank farther back in his chair. ‘You fellows fumble so with your facts,’ he observed contentedly. ‘And I think you must get your law from the Evening Telegram.'
‘ Your Honor feels that way because of your Honor’s superior mind. That’s another reason we all like to try in your Honor’s court. Your Honor gets things done.’ Kardos sighed wistfully. ‘Your Honor’s court is not like the other courts.’
‘No, sir!' Kardos repeated with emphasis. ‘I remember I said, when your Honor was appointed, there’s a young man, if your Honor will forgive the word, that’s going to stir things up on the bench. It’s the kind of thing we need, and I said so, Judge, right down in my ward in public, and in private conversations. He’s a young man that knows the law, and knows how to handle a courtroom, I said. He’s got a heavy hand and a sharp tongue, and that’s what a judge needs more than anything else.’
‘You think so, do you?’ Rodenbaugh lifted his chin, arched his eyebrows amiably, and his lower lip relaxed.
For an instant Judge Avery surveyed him, then he turned away, gazed out at the pigeons, softly rustling their wings in the square of orange light. He was very tired; if they did n’t stop in a minute he was going to get up and go home.
‘Yes, I do, Judge Rodenbaugh! That’s what I think.’ Kardos’s chair creaked and Judge Avery could hear the scratch of his sleeve on the table. ‘And I says to them, Judge,’ — he heard Kardos’s voice rise with a lingering sinuous accent, — ‘ I says to them, Judge, there’s a man that ought to go higher!'
‘Indeed!’ The word echoed through the chamber, hopeful, faintly ironic, foolish.
‘Yes, I did, Judge Rodenbaugh! That’s exactly what I said. There’s a man that ought to go higher. He’s only just begun his career, Judge Rodenbaugh has. And I’m telling you, Judge,’ — Kardos hitched his chair closer,—‘what I says goes, in my ward, with a lot of my own people!’
‘Hm!’ A look of doubt crossed Judge Rodenbaugh’s face, and his fingers moved restlessly on the table.
‘And I’m telling you, Judge,’ — Kardos paused, then rose with an air of authority, — ‘I don’t think you’ve realized what I could do for you. No, you have n’t.’ He shook his head with an impudent cunning. ‘I speak for my own people in my ward. I can do a lot, I can. And Judge,’ — his voice seemed to creep through the silence, — ‘I could use an appointment now and then, when they come your way.'
For an instant no one spoke. Judge Avery could feel the silence about him expand, grow tense with unuttered meaning. He waited, a little smile on his lips. Then Rodenbaugh sprang from his chair, his fist beating against the table. ‘Get out!’ he fairly bellowed. He stretched out his arm. ‘Get out, I say!'
Kardos turned, seemed to leap through the doorway.
‘My God!’ The judge stumbled against a chair, picked it up with both of his hands. ‘Avery! Did you ever hear anything like that in your life ?’
‘Never before to-day,’ said Judge Avery.