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Thorne Smith


Judge Clark Almost Loses His Temper

WHEN the little party was reassembled in the courtroom an exchange of unpleasantries immediately broke out between its contending factions,

"You're a nasty little liar," Carl Bentley flung hoarsely at Tim. "What are you trying to do, get them to hang me?"

"Yes," replied Tim promptly. "I'm hoping to get you hung by your dirty neck. Officer, this assaulter is calling me bad names and threatening me with things."

"If you call her a nasty little liar again, I'll scratch your eyes out," cried Sally in a ringing falsetto.

"Calm yourself, Mr. Willows," urged one of the state troopers. "You're actually losing control of your voice. And as for you, you big gazebo, if——"

"Quiet!" commanded the other trooper. "Here comes His Honour now."

"What's his honour to me?" expostulated Tim. "I've got my own honour to take care of. Men haven't any honour anyway. They can lose it year in and year out and still be honourable men, but just let a woman lose her honour one teeny little bit and her goose is cooked for good. She's a gone coon, she is."

"No doubt you're right," said the trooper soothingly. "I don't know. Never went into the matter. Take it up with the judge. He's a very highly strung gentleman and he likes everything nice and orderly."

Tim subsided and turned his attention to the judge. He was a thin, little old judge and he gave the impression of having been hurriedly strung together on badly twisted wires. His sharp face was livid and shrunken, and a volcano of wrathful impatience flickered on the verge of eruption behind his small, beady eyes. As he slowly approached his desk he looked like a man who had already been tried too hard for one day. A long tuft of grey hair still clung to his otherwise bald head, the rest having been torn out during fits of judicial frenzy. Whenever the word went out that Judge Clark was enjoying one of his good moods the information was never accepted at its face value. His satellites had come to know through bitter experience that the rumour merely meant that the judge had not entered his chambers in a state of inarticulate rage.

As he now seated himself carefully behind his desk, it was only too apparent that he was not enjoying one of his softer moments. He favoured the two troopers and their charges with a spiteful look from his smouldering eyes.

"What are all these people doing here?" he snapped. "They disgust me."

Briefly one of the troopers endeavoured to enlighten the judge. When he had finished his sordid story, His Honour's eyes were blazing dangerously.

"Make 'em sit down," he grated. "I'll put the lot of 'em away as soon as I've cleared up these other cases."

Tim and Sally and Carl Bentley sat down, and with a feeling of increasing uneasiness watched Judge Clark's method of clearing up cases. Whatever his prisoners may have thought of it, Judge Clark's method had at least the virtue of strict simplicity and rigid impartiality. Everybody received a sentence. The first prisoner up was hardly there before he was gone again, literally whisked from the eyes of man.

"Six months," rapped out the judge. "No. Better make it seven. Next prisoner."

Business moved so briskly that finally the spectators got the impression that they were witnessing a procession of the damned rather than the administration of justice. One prisoner, a large, lachrymose Negro with hypocritically humble eyes, on being sentenced to a year less a day, endeavoured to suggest to the judge that, even accepting the word in its most casual application, what had happened to him had not even remotely resembled a trial.

"Why yo' hain't even tried me, Yo' Honour," the Negro protested. "Hain't never axed me a question."

The judge looked at the Negro a long, long time—much too long for the Negro's comfort.

"Do you want me to try you?" asked the little man, in a reedy, gentle voice. "Do you want me to ask you questions?"

"Ah reckon not," mumbled the Negro. "Ah reckon ah's just as well satisfied to hurry right along now like you says."

No smile could have been grimmer than the one that twisted the judge's lips as his snappy eyes followed the back of the retreating Negro.

Although it required no little temerity to stand beneath the baleful gaze of this terrible little man perched high above her like a bird of evil omen, Sally nevertheless accompanied Tim and Bentley when they were summoned to approach the seat of justice. The judge seemed to have forgotten he had ever seen them before. When the senior state trooper respectfully started to say his little piece the judge promptly shot up a restraining hand that was shaking with indignation as he considered the weird figure of Carl Bentley.

"Don't say one word," he commanded. "I have eyes in my head, haven't I? Am I a fool? A drivelling idiot?"

"Yes," replied Tim, unable to resist the insistence in the judge's voice.

"What!" shrilled the judge. "You call me a fool and an idiot—a drivelling one?"

"No," said Tim hastily. "I was saying 'yes' to something else."

"What were you saying 'yes' to?"

"I was merely saying 'Yes, you have.'"

"Yes, I have? Speak up, you ninny. Yes, I have what?"

"Yes, you have eyes in your head."

The judge's face blanched with passion.

"Of course I have eyes in my head," he snapped. "Who said I haven't?"

"Nobody," answered Tim. "You asked if you had."

"Asked if I had? What did I ask if I had?"

"If you had eyes in your head."

Tim was growing steadily more confused.

"But I know I have eyes in my head," said the judge.

"It seemed for a moment you didn't," was Tim's halting answer. "You see, you asked about them."

"Asked about who?"

"Whom," corrected Sally.

"What's that?" cried the judge.

"The word is 'whom'," replied Sally. "You asked about who and you shouldn't have. It's whom, that's what it is."

"Hold your tongue, sir. I'll ask about who I damn please."

Sally shrugged indifferently.

"You were asking about your eyes, Your Honour," Tim meekly put in.

"Damn my eyes!" howled the judge. "I'll clear up this case right now."

The little man leaned far over his desk and peered down at Carl Bentley, who shrank beneath the gaze.

"Don't say a word," he gritted. "I see it all quite clearly. One of my own policemen caught in a raid on a disorderly house—a bawdy place. What a sentence I'll give him!" So much had Judge Clark deduced from the undressed appearance and battered condition of Mr. Carl Bentley. "I didn't even know we had any such places conveniently at hand hereabouts," went on the judge in an injured voice. "What's this man doing with his buttons on? Strip 'em all off. Don't leave him a single button. These other two ran this brothel, I suppose."

"But Your Honour," protested one of the troopers, "if we strip off all his buttons the man will be mother-naked."

"Then arrest him for indecent exposure," said the judge blandly. "And why do you say 'mother-naked'? Why does everybody say 'mother-naked'? Do fathers never get naked? Do I understand that they sit about the house all day long muffled up to their ears? Expressions like that exasperate me. Don't answer. The implication is quite improper and it has nothing to do with this lecherous policeman. Hasn't he any clothes on under his coat? And what is he doing to my floor? Officer, remove that man at once! Hasn't he any better sense? Imagine!"

"Your Honour, he's dripping wet," explained the trooper.

"I can see that for myself," cried the judge. "The man's a regular human fountain—a gusher. Make him stop it."

"He can't, Your Honour," said the trooper.

"He can't?" gasped the judge. "What on earth is the matter with the man? Do you mean he can't or he won't? Where does he think he is?"

"He fell in the river, Your Honour."

"I was pushed in the river, Your Honour," Mr. Bentley corrected.

"Silence!" shouted the judge. "Or I'll push you in a cell. What's he got on under that coat?"

The other trooper pulled back the coat and Carl Bentley stood revealed. Judge Clark drew a sharp breath and blinked his eyes.

"What a sight," he managed to whisper. "My word, what a sight to behold. And to think that after all these years of honourable service on the bench I should at last be brought face to face with a thing like that. The man deserves to be put to death by torture—slowly."

The courtroom for some time past had been doing capacity business. It was obvious that word had gone out that the case of Sally Willows v. Carl Bentley was being tried. The elite of the town was present—any number of women whose minds were not quite as nice as their frocks or their manners. And while Judge Clark was sitting back in his chair trying to devise a legal pretext for making Mr. Bentley pay the extreme penalty, one of the state troopers once more essayed to make the case a little clearer for the benefit of the bemused jurist. When finally it was borne in on that gentleman's mind that the individual he had mistaken for a policeman was merely a plain citizen he became, if anything, madder.

"Why didn't you tell me that in the first place?" he demanded, snapping up in his chair and fixing his mad eyes on Mr. Bentley. "So he first attempted to assault this woman, then he tried to murder her."

"Not quite, Your Honour," corrected the trooper. "She tried to murder him."

"What does it matter?" retorted His Honour impatiently. "Why quibble over mere details?"

"It was a case of my honour, Your Honour," said Tim, smiling up disarmingly at the little man.

"It's a lie, Judge!" cried Carl Bentley. "Look! She still has the gun in her hand."

The judge looked as requested, and his eyes grew so wide they seemed about ready to explode.

"Are my eyes playing me false?" he asked, in a voice choked with emotion. "Do I see what I see or do I don't, or whatever it is? As God is my judge I can't bring myself to hear the truth." He glared out over the courtroom as if he were trying to decide whether it would not be better to sentence everyone in sight to a life of penal servitude and then call it a day. Then he fastened his gimlet-like eyes on the two state troopers. "You've put me on the spot," he said in a cold, thin voice. "You'll be asking me to go riding next. Don't answer. It is inconceivable to me that you have allowed this woman—the most irresponsible of all God's less agreeable creations—to confront your own judge with a revolver in her hand. It is inconceivable, I say, yet it has come to pass. Do you know what I'd like to do? I'd like to claw off your buttons with these!"

As if to make himself thoroughly understood Judge Clark thrust out two skinny hands and wriggled their fingers horribly in the pallid faces of the two state troopers.

"That's what she did to me," put in Carl Bentley, thinking the moment propitious for attempting to get on the right side of the judge. "She dragged my trousers off with her own bare hands."

"Shut up, you!" mouthed the judge.

"I wouldn't touch that person's trousers with a pair of tongs, Your Honour," Tim declared scornfully.

Judge Clark looked down at the disputant out of a pair of venom-drugged eyes.

"Tongs?" he muttered in a puzzled voice. "How did tongs get into this case?"

"They're not really in it," answered Tim. "This case is about my honour, Your Honour. I've been saying so all along."

"You haven't a spark of honour," retorted Carl Bentley bitterly. "You never had any honour. You lost it before you'd finished cutting your teeth."

This was too much for Sally. After all, it was really her honour that was being thus publicly assailed. She completely lost her temper.

"Shoot him, Tim!" she cried in a high-pitched voice. "He's insinuating things."

"Insinuating?" laughed Tim madly. "He's damn well making a clean breast of them. I'll load him so full of lead he won't even need a coffin."

As Tim levelled the automatic, Judge Clark and Mr. Bentley emitted piercing screams, but for vastly different reasons, the latter's being one of unadulterated terror while the judge's was merely the cry of an infuriated soul.

"Unarm that woman!" he shrilled passionately above the tumult of the courtroom. "Am I to be forced to sit on this bench and witness a cold-blooded murder?"

"But the thing isn't loaded, Your Honour," one of the troopers shouted.

"What!" cried the judge. "You say it isn't loaded? That settles it. That finishes everything. I'd like to crash you over the head with the butt of it. What do you think my court is, a nursery in which to practise Chicago? Will I be asked to join you in a game of ping-ping next?"

"Pong," corrected Sally.

"What's that?" asked the judge suspiciously.

"Pong," repeated Sally.

"Pong what?" inquired the judge

"Ping-pong," said Sally briskly.

"Are you trying to play games with me?" the judge asked severely.

A peal of high, girlish laughter bursting from the bewhiskered lips of a full-grown male turned the anger of the small jurist to profound alarm. He looked at Sally as if she were some visitant from a remote planet.

"Have my ears gone back on me, too?" he muttered in a tremulous voice. "Surely no male creature can make a noise like that. It's positively uncanny. I shall have to punish this person under the law prohibiting female impersonation."

When Sally had gained control of herself the judge leaned over and spoke to her in a confidential voice.

"How did you ever manage to make a noise like that?" he asked. "It's the most extraordinary thing I've ever heard."

"It's an old family custom, Judge," Sally replied recklessly.

"Must have been a peculiar family," the judge observed thoughtfully. "Most confusing to live in. I daresay it was terrible for the neighbours."

"Nobody ever spoke to us," said Sally.

"Can't say as I blame them," commented Judge Clark. "Where I'm going to put you nobody will ever speak to you either."

"Come! Come!" boomed Tim in a deep bass voice. "Let's get on with the case."

Judge Clark spun about in his chair and looked with horror on the fair face of the speaker.

"Something's happened to her voice now," he exclaimed. "Are you two prisoners trying to befuddle me? Is this whole ghastly business a deep-laid conspiracy to rob me of my reason, or has that already gone? For God's sake don't tell me it was a custom in your family too."

"As a matter of fact it was," Tim replied easily. "But that's neither here nor there. It's a matter of my honour against his honour, Your Honour."

"That's one of the most baffling utterances I've ever heard," stated the judge.

"How so?" inquired Tim. "I merely said that I was counting on your honour to judge rightly between his honour and my honour, Your Honour."

"Don't go on and on," barked the judge. "What has my honour got to do with it?"

"Not a thing," replied Tim sweetly, returning to Sally's soft accents. "Why, a man of your integrity can't be seduc——"

"Stop!" shrilled the judge, seizing his last lock of hair. "Clear the court! Drive 'em out! Woman, do you realise what you're saying? Look at me. I'm a judge!"

"I wouldn't like to be a judge," said Tim in pitying tones. "But tell me, Your Honour. Can't they even be seduced?"

"Madam, are you trying to debauch me?" demanded the judge. "Do you realise that every word you utter is making the case blacker against you? I can hardly believe this object here attempted to assault you. He wouldn't have found it necessary."

"But he did, Your Honour," said Tim earnestly. "I swear to God he did. The first time he tried to assault me——"

"Am I to understand that he attempted to assault you more than once?" interposed Judge Clark.

"You are, Your Honour," replied Tim. "He was indefatigable about it. Kept it up all morning until finally I lost my patience. 'Sally Willows,' I said to myself, 'if this guy keeps on trying to assault you, you'll never get any housework done.' You know how it is, Your Honour. A woman can't give up her entire day to warding off assaults. And I do like to keep my home looking neat and nice. You can't do that being assaulted, Judge, because as I was saying you don't know anything about assaults—not those sort of assaults, you know. It's simply impossible to try to dust and sweep with one hand and repel assaults with the other. Simply impossible. The broom gets tangled and the dust all spills and—of course you can use one foot, but that's not very ladylike and it might prove disastrous. Have you ever been caught by the foot? Well, it doesn't matter. So after doing everything in my power to make this person get it through his thick head that I was in no mood for assaults, and certainly not at such a time, what with my housework and all, I finally got my husband's gun and drove him out of the house. What else was there for me to do? I ask you that."

"Madam," thundered the judge, "I've let you run on. Experience has convinced me that is the only thing one can do with a woman. Is there one tittle of truth in all the loose things you've been saying? I ask you that."

"Tittle?" repeated Tim as if puzzled. "I don't quite understand."

At this moment Tim's face underwent a sudden alteration in its features. He jumped as if someone had pinched him. Then he stood still as if listening, and an expression of surprise and alarm spread over his face.

"What's the matter with you now?" demanded the judge.

"I don't know," answered Tim faintly. "It's very odd. Very odd indeed. I think I'd better sit down."

"But you must know what's happening to you," protested the judge. "Haven't you the slightest idea?"

Tim merely shook his head and indulged in several small jumps and budges while the judge's eyes grew strained with curiosity.

"Can't you even guess?" he asked.

"I could, Your Honour, but I'm afraid you might get mad," said Tim.

"No, I won't," Judge Clark promised eagerly. "Go on and tell. I won't get mad."

"It's really quite the most bewildering thing I've ever experienced, Your Honour," said Tim, looking the part of a thoroughly bewildered and alarmed young woman. "My appendix seems to be jumping. It's like an assault. That's why I was afraid to tell you. Thought it might make you mad. The fact is, Judge, I've been kicked often enough on the outside, but never before on the in. And that's what's happening to me now. Someone's deliberately kicking me."

"The most extraordinary story I've ever heard," observed the judge. "Can't make head or tail out of it."

"Neither can I, Your Honour," gasped Tim, giving another startled little jump. "I'm scared."

"You're making me extremely nervous," Judge Clark complained. "Can't you stop it?"

Sally had been observing her husband's strange antics with a puzzled expression. Her face now cleared and she actually indulged in a series of girlish giggles. His Honour turned reproving eyes on her.

"My dear sir, I want you to know this is no laughing matter," he snapped.

"It certainly is, Your Honour," came the amazing reply. "He's such an awful fool. Why, it's only Baby stretching. She's going to have a child."

"What?" cried the judge. "Here—now? My word!"

"When I get my hands on that baby I'll give it a piece of my mind," exclaimed Tim. "A nice time it picks out to be rollicking about on its own."

"Come! Come!" spluttered Judge Clark. "Madam, just remember this, you can't have a baby here. It's outrageous. Using my court as a maternity ward. It's an imposition, I tell you. Abandon the idea."

"It's not my idea," Tim shot back. "And who wants to have a baby in your old court, anyway? I'm not going to budge. I want to sit down. There it goes again. The fresh thing."

"You may sit down," said the judge, "but don't lie down. Don't try to have that baby. If you do I'll arrest you for something." He paused and looked distractedly about him. "I'll arrest you for contempt of court. Mr. Willows, please speak to your wife. Prevail on her to desist. Make it clear to her that a courtroom is not the proper place in which to bear a child. Do something. Do anything."

"Your Honour," said Sally respectfully, "when a baby wants to get itself born nothing's going to stop it. It goes right ahead regardless of time and place and all the laws you can pass." Sally turned to Tim, who was sitting miserably in a chair that one of the state troopers had sympathetically provided. "Think you're going to have your baby now?" she asked.

"How should I know?" demanded Tim. "I'm not a shark at this business. I'm merely an amateur—a rank outsider. But I feel as if I'm going to have something—a whole string of babies, perhaps."

"Oh, this is simply terrible," put in the judge. "Really, it is, you know. I'm very much upset. Why didn't you tell me you were that way, madam?"

"Why should you be upset?" demanded Tim. "You're not having this baby. I wish you were." Judge Clark started violently and gazed with injured eyes upon the prospective mother. "Anyway," went on Tim, "I thought all along you knew. If you'd only used your eyes you could have seen I was highly pregnant."

Judge Clark looked at the small object of his anxiety as if it were not only highly pregnant but also highly explosive—a dangerous mine in the path of decency. Tim was growing a little calmer. The baby which by rights his wife should have been bearing had evidently decided to call it a day and had resumed its orderly repose.

"I'm feeling better now," declared Tim. "Sorry to have caused all this disturbance, but I daresay the little monster was getting impatient at having his mother heckled and baited and assaulted and mistreated in general. He isn't old enough to realise that suffering is a woman's lot in life."

"I'm sorry, madam," said the judge, mopping his face with his handkerchief. "I can understand many things now that previously were not quite clear. I can by no means understand all." He considered a slip of paper for a moment, then turned accusingly on Carl Bentley. "According to this paper," rasped the judge, "you intend to prefer charges of attempted murder, defamation of character, and mental anguish against a woman who at any minute now is going to become a mother. Do you wish to withdraw those charges or would you rather hear me sentence you to twenty years of hard and humiliating labour?"

"From the way you put it," said Bentley, still suspecting Sally of some trick, "I think it would be wiser to withdraw the charges."

"Then I'll call the whole thing off," cried Tim. "And after all, Your Honour, some of you men are like that. It's merely their idea of being clubby and entertaining. Then, of course, there are lots of women who feel slighted unless a man tries to assault them at least once each time he calls. But I'm not that way. I'm magnanimous, Judge. I might have my faults like everyone else, but my worst enemy can't say that I'm not magnificent—I mean magnanimous."

"Then you're at liberty to go your separate ways," replied Judge Clark impressively. "And I hope most devoutly they never again cross mine. I'm getting altogether too old for this sort of thing. I'd prefer to spend my closing days dealing peacefully with mere murderers and cutthroats and dope fiends and people I can understand."

"May I have my husband's gun back?" Tim asked one of the troopers. "He'll be awful mad at me."

The chivalrous trooper slipped the gun into Tim's hand. He examined it a moment, then carelessly pressed the trigger. Immediately there was a tremendous explosion and Carl Bentley instinctively resumed his running. From under his desk came the impassioned voice of Judge Clark.

"What damn fool gave her that gun?" he shouted. "She'll murder the lot of us. Overpower her and take that gun away."

"It's all right, Judge," said Tim calmly. "No harm done, but I almost had twins that time."

"My God, so did I," moaned the little jurist, his lock of grey hair appearing like a flag of truce above the top of his desk.

"I just wanted to see if it was loaded," Tim explained sweetly. "I guess it was."

Incoherent noises issued from the lips of the judge. They left him greedily scrutinising the buttons of the two state troopers. The little man appeared to be counting them.

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