I HAD a chat not long ago with my old friend Deacon Stebbins on the front porch of his Vermont farmhouse. He whittled as he talked, and spat occasionally as he whittled. His views are always interesting to me, because they are formed amid surroundings remote from the world’s turmoil. He cogitates upon politics while raking hay, and philosophizes upon morals as he feeds the stock; then ruminates his conclusions in an old rocking-chair upon the front stoop of an evening.
He had been reading an editorial in the Rutland paper about a growing disregard for law. ‘Folks talk so much about the breakdown of the law these days,’ he remarked, replacing a mutilated plug of chewing tobacco in his trouser pocket. ‘It’s funny they don’t say more about the break-up of lawyers. I can’t help thinkin’ that fer every malefactor of great wealth who gits around the law there’s at least one lawyer who showed him how to do it. And fer every recognized crook who escapes penalty there’s some firm of lawyers that makes a specialty of teachin’ sech as him how to escape.
‘They say it’s the fault of the income-tax law that a rich feller can evade a lot of his tax, while the poor folks hand over to the government all they owe. Wal, it’s a funny thing, or mebbe it ain’t so funny, that it was lawyers who drew up that income-tax law, and later on some of those same lawyers can pint out to their clients jest how to find the holes in it.
‘ How can you expect us ordinary citizens to keep on respecting the law when expert lawyers in the legislater can go back into practice and teach their clients how to git around the laws they helped make?’
For some time he rocked quietly, thereby regaining his wonted calm.
’Some folks call the law a noble perfession, and some call lawyers the jackals of trade. I guess there’s both kinds. But there’s enough of the worst kind in the bar associations to keep the better ones from throwing ’em out. I hear it ain’t perfessional fer one lawyer to criticize another. But I tell you, folks in general ain’t going to respect the law until they see that the lawyers, who know the most about it, respect it themselves. And I guess lawyers can’t respect it much as long as they think the perfession of the law is more important than the law itself.
‘But what gives most of us farmers a contempt fer law is the time it takes to git anything settled if you go to court over it. I had to laugh when I read in the paper that a committee of the bar association was studying the law’s delays. Any of us folks up here could tell that committee there would n’t be any law’s delays if there was n’t any lawyers.
‘There’s a successful lawyer comes up here from the city to fish in my brook, and him and I talk some, evenings. “How can you leave them important cases?” I ask him. “Oh,” he says, “I ask fer a postponement becuz my witnesses ain’t ready; the other side knows I want to go fishin’, but they agree becuz they know they might want to go fishin’ some day themselves; and the judge he agrees becuz he used to be a lawyer, and he thinks to himself, ‘What’s a little delayin’ between friends?‘”
‘Lawyers make me think of crows. Crows flock together and talk a language I can’t understand, and they’re darn glad I can’t understand it. Some folks say crows are the farmer’s friend, and git rid of my pests for me. Some say they eat seed corn. I guess mebbe there’s both kinds of crows, or else it depends on how they happen to be feeling that day. But I know darn well, whatever they do, they all stick together, and I feel easier about my cornfield when they ain’t any of ’em around.’
‘From the way you talk. Deacon,’ I ventured mildly, ‘I don’t suppose you’ve ever had much traffic with lawyers yourself?’
‘Once,’ said the Deacon, expectorating neatly on a black ant which unwisely started across the porch at that moment. ‘One time I hired one to bring suit fer the ownership of a passel of land, and I promised to give him half the land fer a fee if he won it fer me.’
‘Turned out all right?’
‘Yep. He got his half of the land, but I knew all the time it was n’t wuth anything without my half, so later on I sold mine to him fer a pretty fair price.’