Open main menu

The morning following the events detailed in the foregoing chapter, finds the august Sleepyhorn seated on his judgment-seat. The clock strikes ten as he casts his heavy eyes over the grotesque group gathered into his little, dingy court-room; and he bows to his clerk, of whom he gets his law knowledge, and with his right hand makes a sign that he is ready to admonish the erring, or pass sentence on any amount of criminals. History affords no record of a judge so unrelenting of his judgments.

A few dilapidated gentlemen of the "learned profession," with sharp features and anxious faces, fuss about among the crowd, reeking of whiskey and tobacco. Now they whisper suspiciously in the ears of forlorn prisoners, now they struggle to get a market for their legal nostrums. A few, more respectably clothed and less vicious of aspect, sit writing at a table inside the bar, while a dozen or more punch-faced policemen, affecting an air of superiority, drag themselves lazily through the crowd of seedy humanity, looking querulously over the railing encircling the dock, or exchanging recognitions with friends.

Some twenty "negro cases" having been disposed of without much respect to law, and being sent up for punishment (the Judge finds it more convenient to forego testimony in these cases), a daughter of the Emerald Isle, standing nearly six feet in her bare soles, and much shattered about the dress, is, against her inclination, arraigned before his Honor. "I think I have seen you before, Mrs. Donahue?" says the Judge, inquiringly.

"Arrah, good-morning, yer 'onher! Shure, it's only the sixth time these three weeks. Doesn't meself like to see yer smiling face, onyhow!" Here Mrs. Donahue commences complimenting the Judge in one breath, and laying no end of charges at the door of the very diminutive and harmless Mister Donahue in the next.

"This being the sixth time," returns his Honor, somewhat seriously, "I would advise you to compromise the matter with Donahue, and not be seen here again. The state of South Carolina cannot pay your fees so often—"

"Och, bad luck to Donahue! Troth, an' if yer onher'd put the fees down to Donahue, our acquaintance 'ouldn't be so fraquent." Mrs. Donahue says this with great unction, throwing her uncombed hair back, then daintily raising her dress apace, and inquiring of Mr. Sheriff Hardscrabble, who sits on his Honor's left, peering sharply through his spectacles, how he likes the spread of her broad, flat foot; "the charging the fees to Donahue, yer onher, 'd do it!" There was more truth in this remark than his Honor seemed to comprehend, for having heard the charge against her (Mr. Donahue having been caught in the act of taking a drop of her gin, she had well-nigh broken his head with the bottle), and having listened attentively while poor Donahue related his wrongs, and exhibited two very well blacked eyes and a broken nose, he came to the very just conclusion that it were well to save the blood of the Donahues. And to this end did he grant Mrs. Donahue board and lodging for one month in the old prison. Mrs. Donahue is led away, heaping curses on the head of Donahue, and compliments on that of his Honor.

A pale, sickly looking boy, some eleven years old, is next placed upon the stand. Mr. Sergeant Stubbs, who leans his corpulent figure against the clerk's desk, every few minutes bowing his sleepy head to some friend in the crowd, says: "A hard 'un—don't do no good about here. A vagrant; found him sleeping in the market."

His Honor looks at the poor boy for some minutes, a smile of kindliness seems lighting up his face; he says he would there were some place of refuge—a place where reformation rather than punishment might be the aim and end, where such poor creatures could be sent to, instead of confining them in cells occupied by depraved prisoners.

Mr. Sheriff Hardscrabble, always eager to get every one into jail he can, inasmuch as it pays him twenty-two cents a day clear profit on each and every person confined, says: "A hard customer. Found sleeping in the market, eh? Well, we must merge him in a tub of water, and scrub him up a little." Mr. Hardscrabble views him with an air of satisfaction, touches him with a small cane he holds in his hand, as if he were something very common. Indeed, Mr. Hardscrabble seems quite at a loss to know what species of animal he is, or whether he be really intended for any other use than filling up his cells and returning him twenty-two cents a day clear profit. "Probably an incendiary," mutters the sagacious sheriff. The helpless boy would explain how he came to sleep in the market—how he, a poor cabin-boy, walked, foot-sore and hungry, from Wilmington, in the hope of getting a ship; and being moneyless and friendless he laid down in the market to sleep. Mr. Hardscrabble, however, suggests that such stories are extremely common. His Honor thinks it not worth while to differ from this opinion, but to the end that no great legal wisdom may be thrown away, he orders the accused to be sent to the common jail for three months. This, in the opinion of Judge Sleepyhorn, is an extremely mild penalty for being found sleeping in the market.

Next there comes forward a lean, up-country Cracker, (an half-civilized native,) who commences telling his story with commendable simplicity, the Judge in the meanwhile endeavoring to suppress a smile, which the quaintness of his remarks excite. Making a tenement of his cart, as is usual with these people when they visit the city, which they do now and then for the purpose of replenishing their stock of whiskey, he had, about eleven o'clock on the previous night, been set upon by three intoxicated students, who, having driven off his mule, overturned his cart, landing him and his wife prostrate in the ditch. A great noise was the result, and the guard, with their accustomed zeal for seizing upon the innocent party, dragged up the weaker (the Cracker and his wife) and let the guilty go free. He had brought the good wife, he added, as a living evidence of the truth of what he said, and would bring the mule if his honor was not satisfied. The good wife commences a volley of what she is pleased to call voluntary testimony, praising and defending all the good qualities of her much-abused husband, without permitting any one else an opposing word. No sufficient charge being brought against the Cracker (he wisely slipped a five dollar bill into the hands of Stubbs), he joins his good wife and goes on his way rejoicing.

During this little episode between the court and the Cracker's wife, Madame Grace Ashley, arrayed in her most fashionable toilet, comes blazing into Court, bows to the Judge and a few of her most select friends of the Bar. A seat for Madame is provided near his Honor's desk. His Honor's blushes seem somewhat overtaxed; Madame, on the other hand, is not at all disconcerted; indeed, she claims an extensive acquaintance with the most distinguished of the Bar.

The Judge suggests to Mr. Stubbs that it would be as well to waive the charge against the clergyman. Somewhat the worse for his night in the guard-house, Parson Patterson comes forward and commences in the most unintelligible manner to explain the whole affair, when the Judge very blandly interrupts by inquiring if he is a member of the clergy at this moment. "Welle," returns the parson, with characteristic drawl, "can't zactly say I am." The natural seediness of the parson excites suspicion, nevertheless he is scrupulous of his white cravat, and preserves withal a strictly clerical aspect. Having paused a few moments and exchanged glances with the Judge, he continues: "I do nigger preaching on Sunday—that is (Parson Patterson corrects himself), I hold forth, here and there—we are all flesh and blood—on plantations when I have a demand for my services. Our large planters hold it good policy to encourage the piety of their property."

"You make a good thing of it?" inquires the Judge, jocosely. The parson replies, with much meekness of manner, that business is not so good as it was, planters having got it into their heads that sermons can be got at a very low figure. Here he commences to explain his singular position. He happened to meet an old and much-esteemed friend, whom he accompanied home, and while spending the evening conversing on spiritual matters—it was best not to lie—he took a little too much. On his way to the hotel he selected Beresford street as a short cut, and being near the house where he was unfortunately found when the shooting took place, he ran into it to escape the police—

"Don't believe a word he says," interrupts Madame Ashley, springing suddenly to her feet, and commencing to pour out her phials of wrath on the head of the poor parson, whom she accuses of being a suspicious and extremely unprofitable frequenter of her house, which she describes as exceedingly respectable. "Your Honor can bear me out in what I say!" pursues Madame, bowing with an air of exultation, as the sheriff demands order.

"A sorry lot, these plantation preachers! Punish him right soundly, your honor. It is not the first time he has damaged the respectability of my house!" again interrupts Madame Ashley. His Honor replies only with a blush. Mr. Snivel, who watches with quisical countenance, over the bar, enjoys the joke wonderfully.

Order being restored, the Judge turns to address the parson.

"I see, my friend—I always address my prisoners familiarly—you place but little value on the fact of your being a clergyman, on the ground that you only preach to slaves. This charge brought against you is a grave one—I assure you! And I cannot incline to the view you take of your profession. I may not be as erudite as some; however, I hold it that the ignorant and not the learned have most need of good example."

"Aye! I always told the old reprobate so," interposes Madam Ashley, with great fervor.

"A charge," resumes the Judge, "quite sufficient to warrant me in committing you to durance vile, might be preferred. You may thank my generosity that it is not. These houses, as you know, Mr. Patterson, are not only dangerous, but damaging to men of potent morality like you."

"But, your Honor knows, they are much frequented," meekly drawls the parson.

"It affords no palliation," sharply responds the Judge, his face crimsoning with blushes. "Mark ye, my friend of the clergy, these places make sad destruction of our young men. Indeed I may say with becoming sincerity and truth, that they spread a poison over the community, and act as the great enemy of our social system."

"Heigh ho!" ejaculates Madame Ashley, to the great delight of the throng assembled, "Satan has come to rebuke sin." Madame bids his Honor a very polite good morning, and takes her departure, looking disdainfully over her shoulder as she disappears out of the door.

Not a little disturbed in his equanimity, the Judge pursues his charge. "The clergy ought to keep their garments clear of such places, for being the source of all evil, the effect on the community is not good—I mean when such things are brought to light! I would address you frankly and admonish you to go no more into such places. Let your ways merit the approbation of those to whom you preach the Gospel. You can go. Henceforth, live after the ways of the virtuous."

Parson Patterson thanks his Honor, begs to assure him of his innocence, and seems only too anxious to get away. His Honor bows to Mr. Patterson, Mr. Patterson returns it, and adds another for the audience, whereupon the court adjourns, and so ends the episode. His Honor takes Mr. Snivel's arm, and together they proceed to the "most convenient" saloon, where, over a well-compounded punch, "the bench and the bar" compliment each other on the happy disposal of such vexatious cases.