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Judicial Negligence

Ellis Parker Butler


JUDGE WEST, the gray-haired Justice of the Peace, was holding court late the afternoon of the day before Christmas in order that he might discharge the lot of "drunk and disorderly" cases brought before him. He had a big heart and some sympathy, and he wanted his prisoners to be able to spend Christmas at home with their families, rather than in the town lock-up. One after another he discharged them with a word of kindly advice.

"You may go, Mike Sullivan," he said, "and you, Arthur Wiggs, you lazy black reprobate, you may go too. The law says I ought to send you to jail for thirty days, Arthur Wiggs; but on this day charity and kindness should well in the hearts of all men, and they well in mine, Arthur Wiggs."

"Yassah, Jedge, yassah!" said the old negro, bowing again and again.

"So you may go home, Arthur Wiggs, you may go home. Go home to your poor, patient wife and your little children. Take them a present, Arthur Wiggs, to gladden their Christmas. Take home something to put in the pot. No more booze! No more gin-mills to-night! Understand?"

"Oh, yassah, Jcdge, yassah!"

"Then get out of here, and get out mighty quick!"

The negro hesitated a minute, seeming reluctant.

"Jedge, ef yo' jes' 'scuse me, am dat an ordeh ob de court?"

"It is!"

"Jedge," said Arthur pleadingly, "yo' ain' know mah ol' woman, is yo'? Ah reckon Ah'll jes' take dem thutty days in de calaboose, ef yo' ain' mind."

"Arthur Wiggs," thundered the Justice, "you will obey the order of this court!"

"Yassah, Jedge, yassah!" said the negro meekly. He backed out of the courtroom, almost white with fear.

When Judge West's court opened again the morning after Christmas, Arthur was back. His head was swathed in bandages and he was using a crutch. In the opposite end of the courtroom sat a husky old negro mammy and a brawny, flat-headed young negro. As Judge West saw Arthur, his anger arose.

"You back!" he cried. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, Jedge," said Arthur meekly, "ef it please yo' honor, Ah didn't come—Ah was brung. No fault o' mine, Jedge. Ain' yo' tol' me to go home to mah wife an' chile? Ah tell Sally Ann yo' tol' me, Jedge, an' Ah tell Ab'ham Lincoln. Ah say yo' mek an ordeh ob de court to dat same respect. Jedge, but 'tain't no use. Yassah! Ah tell 'em yo' says 'Tek home somethin' to put in th' pot.' Jedge. an'—"

"Jedge," cried Sally Ann excitedly, "dat nigger ain' been in mah house foh free years, he ain. Ah frowed him out free years ago, Ah did. Yassah! An' night befoh las' he come a-knockin' at de door, and he say: 'Sal Ann, lemme in. Ah got a fine big chicken fob a present foh yo' an' de chile.' Yassah, dass whut he say. So, 'co'se Ah open de door. An' it lak he say, he got de chicken, an' Ah retch out mah han' foh de chicken, an' jes' den mah chile, Ab'ham Lincoln heah, he come rushin' 'roun' de house an' he grab dish yere Arthur, an' he lam him, an' shout: 'Ah got de chicken thief! Ah got him!' Yassah, Jedge, dass what dis Arthur nigger gone done—he gone 'roun' behine mah house an' stole one o' mah chickens to present to me at mah front door!"

For a moment the Justice looked at Arthur sternly, then he gathered his wrath into sharp, clear words.

"Arthur Wiggs, you scum of humanity," he shouted at the trembling negro, "is this the way you betray the clemency of the court? I never heard anything like it! No one ever heard anything like it! Stealing a chicken from your poor old wife! Is that your idea of the Christmas spirit, Arthur Wiggs?"

"Well, 'scuse me, Jedge, 'scuse me!" said Arthur, bowing again and again. "Ah feel all along somethin's wrong 'bout dat action. Yassah, it mos' broke mah heart to steal Sal Ann's fowl. Seem lak it ain' jes' consequential, as yo' might say. But, Jedge, Ah ain' see no other way to obey de ordeh ob de court. Befo' Ah lift Sal Ann's chicken Ah try, an' Ah try mah best, Jedge, but 'tain' no use. Ah can't squeege into yo' honah's hen-house no way."


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1937, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.