“Why did you wish me milder? would you have me
False to my nature? Rather say I play
The man I am.”
— SHAKESPEARE, Coriolanus
The shouting of the mob at the very door of the courtroom as well as the panicked behavior of the jury – all of these were hardly conducive to an atmosphere of calm thought. However, Judge Complin seemed remarkably unperturbed given the circumstances; I suppose that a man who gambles with the lives of men for sport must prepare himself for some sort of eventual retaliation.
“You, sir,” he said, addressing my customary guard. “I would have you go downstairs and arm yourself and the rest of the men under your command with as many muskets as you can gather. Stay a moment,” he added as the guard made a motion to leave. “I wish you and your fellow guards armed to the teeth and at attention here – but also as inconspicuous as possible. It is my hope to give them honey rather than blood to drink.”
Once the guard had departed, Complin turned to me. “Why, you appear pale, Alan!” he exclaimed with a look of irony. “Can it be that you are frightened on my behalf? Do you fear to see me fall into the hands of those men of violence?”
“Perhaps,” I said, “Or perhaps my fear is on behalf of those who wish justice at your hands and will uncover only a deeper vein of ruthlessness.”
“Pity yourself, then,” he said. “For you have uncovered far more of that part of my soul than any member of this mob. You fear that ruthlessness will be exercised upon them? What they shall taste of it, should they resist me, shall be but a fastidious little sip compared to the thick, copious drops that I shall have you swallow.”
I tried to retort, but I confess that I was so filled with horror at this speech that my voice failed me and I could only bite my lip in a kind of wordless agony. He smiled almost gently as he observed this effect in me, but before our awful intercourse could progress any further, the guard returned and gave Complin a nod, signalling that all was ready.
“Excellent,” the Judge murmured. “But we must let them break in upon us by their own power. It would injure their pride to be let in, though it is our invisible sufferance that allows their passage.”
“Then you do fear their power to a certain extent,” I said, with a slight smile. “Why else do you court their good will so assiduously?”
Complin looked at me, his gaze cold and contemplative. Had I at last touched a hidden nerve? If I had, he recovered swiftly, for he replied, “You are a clever young man, Alan, but you are still too tender in years to make a particularly keen philosopher. You give too much attention to the grand gestures of the actors and not enough attention to the subtler motions and motivations that undergird the theatre in which you find yourself entrapped. You see a musket blow out a courthouse window and you imagine that it is some sort of populist triumph. You see me make an effort to conciliate this mob of merchants and farmers and you believe that I am motivated by fear. I am no painted Herod, boy, and I would fain have you dissect me with a subtler instrument, for the one that you use at present is too dull to cut me. Has it not even occurred to you that perhaps I court for my own pleasure?”
“I cannot believe it – I know your ways too well. Your courting is never one of conciliation.”
“Of course I do not court you in any other way save through terror. What other way would have won you so entirely? But do you imagine that this mob would love me if I ruled them with an iron-gauntleted hand? They are not like you, Alan – you have the tastes of a young, romantic monk or a devoted, courtly knight. You wish to be ruled by a power that overshadows and deprives you – you resent me only because you still cling to some mad, desperate hope of escape for yourself. The moment when you at last come to realize that your fate is utterly and absolutely bound to my will, you will dissolve into rapturous air at my glance. But this mob is different: they wish to feel my strength and yet also imagine that I am somehow beholden to them. Once they have reassured themselves of my courteous behavior and democratic sentiments, they will allow me to continue hanging as many members of their body as I please, without a single murmur.”
“This is all quite a lot for a young man like myself to comprehend at a single hearing,” I said.
“I imagined so, which is why I would urge you to cease in your attempts to understand anything save that you are beholden to me.”
“I shall try to restrain myself, my lord.”
“I would appreciate that, Alan.”
“I’m sure that you would, my lord.”
Complin seemed at last on the verge of losing his temper, but by that time the mob had managed to break the last barrier that held them from the courtroom and were now swarming within, their shouts rising angrily over the murmur of the jurors and spectators.
“Where is Judge Complin?” one of their leaders shouted. “Where is the man of blood?”
Like a hawk gathering his wings before a flight, Complin moved with a peculiarly light, fluid grace to his podium, his black robes trailing. The sight of him, even to those who now held muskets and other cruel weapons in their hands, caused that throng of violent men to shudder. Complin ran his eyes over them and for a moment I fancied that I saw a corresponding shudder move him, though it was so brief that I doubted that any gaze save mine beheld it. I wondered then if that awful being ever dreamt of his own suffering – ever wondered, as he gloated upon the jerking bodies that were suspended for his pleasure, if he would ever feel such agony himself. As irresistible as his strength felt to those who suffered beneath its power, surely he knew better than any save God and Satan himself what hidden frailties could topple his corrupt foundation. Surely such thoughts, particularly at the frosty midnight hour when all the world was at rest, crept into his mind to torment him with the same keen skill with which he tortured others. I almost pitied him – yes, pitied my arch-torturer himself – when I thought of what terrors must pillow his head every night.
At last, Complin spoke, and O, what a hush descended upon that gathering as he said:
“Men of Stanehyve, you have striven against the guards of this sacred courtroom and have wrested your way into our presence, but I know you too well to believe that your intentions are unjust. Will you not tell me how have I wronged you?”
There was a silence and I could see from the faces of the mob leaders that they had not expected so gentle a reception. Yet one of them stepped forward, a man perhaps ten years my senior with a forthright look about him as though he sensed some guile in Complin’s manner, and said, “Your Honor, ten years you have ruled this court and judged men and women – and can you not deny that in all those years, you have pronounced death upon the majority of those who have been condemned?”
Complin looked him full in the eye and then unexpectedly asked, “Sir, what is your name and occupation?”
“My name is John Turnbull, Your Honor, and I run the printing press in town.”
“Then I would have you issue a fresh broadside tomorrow for your readers. Glanville is innocent and acquitted.”
The mob had been expecting a wholly different verdict and there was a murmur of confusion in their ranks at this announcement. But Glanville cried, “Not by this Judge’s doing, I assure you! He did his utmost to have me hanged and it was only the jury’s mercy that saved my life!”
Complin raised his hand, silencing the outraged shouts that arose at Glanville’s protestation. “It is true that I suspected and still suspect this man’s innocence. But my hands are tied, gentlemen, for I derive all my power from my jury and they are selected from your ranks. You protest that when a man or woman is pronounced guilty, that my sentences are peculiarly brutal? Name me one judge in the land who, after hearing of the infamous exploits of the French revolutionaries, has not tightened his hold upon the law, lest such savagery find its way into our land. I assure you, gentlemen, that if such a day comes, you will suffer as much as men of my rank – your houses will burn as merrily as my estate.” He paused and I fancied that his eye dimmed, as though with a compassionate tear. I glanced at the men of the gathered mob as they watched this affected performance, supposing that they would detect the Judge’s hypocrisy – but to my horror, I saw that they watched with looks of unwilling sympathy.
“Do you not believe that I am moved when I think of the souls that are sent to Heaven’s judgment seat at my command? If you wish to rail, then I beg you to rail against these disastrous times, when men seek to revolt against their lords, destroying the peace and livelihood of their fellow countrymen. Pray, I implore you, that a day comes when mercy shall be perceived as a strength rather than a deadly weakness. Until then, I shall guard your law with a jealous and – I freely admit it – a ruthless eye.
“Go forth at liberty, Glanville!” he continued, raising his voice. “And Master Turnbull,” he added, to the printer, who alone among his comrades retained a skeptical look. “While you ready your press to issue an announcement of Glanville’s acquittal, I bid you to proclaim as well that the trial of Mr. Alan Williams will commence tomorrow.” He took me by the shoulders and said, “This creature stole his mistress’s silver in the dead of night – the mistress who trusted him and raised him as her own son. And yet this creature hopes for your mercy. Oh, friends – is this not the sort of conniving spite that has wrecked our modern age?—that has stolen the chivalrous beauty that was once the tenor of our law? – that has forced cold, rigorous, brutal justice to gain ascendancy over Christian mercy?”
The mob fairly screamed its fury, for all the wrath that they had felt for the Judge was now directed upon me.
“Patience, friends,” Complin said. “Justice shall be meted out soon enough. By the end of this week, we shall assuredly have our satisfaction.”
TO BE CONTINUED…