An Eloquence of Grief by Stephen Crane
The windows were high and saintly, of the shape that is found in
churches. From time to time a policeman at the door spoke sharply to
some incoming person. "Take your hat off!" He displayed in his voice
the horror of a priest when the sanctity of a chapel is defied or
forgotten. The court-room was crowded with people who sloped back
comfortably in their chairs, regarding with undeviating glances the
procession and its attendant and guardian policemen that moved slowly
inside the spear-topped railing. All persons connected with a case went
close to the magistrate's desk before a word was spoken in the matter,
and then their voices were toned to the ordinary talking strength. The
crowd in the court-room could not hear a sentence; they could merely
see shifting figures, men that gestured quietly, women that sometimes
raised an eager eloquent arm. They could not always see the judge,
although they were able to estimate his location by the tall stands
surmounted by white globes that were at either hand of him. And so
those who had come for curiosity's sweet sake wore an air of being in
wait for a cry of
anguish, some loud painful protestation that would
bring the proper thrill to their jaded, world-weary nerves—wires that
refused to vibrate for ordinary affairs.
Inside the railing the court officers shuffled the various groups with
speed and skill; and behind the desk the magistrate patiently toiled
his way through mazes of wonderful testimony.
In a corner of this space, devoted to those who had business before
the judge, an officer in plain clothes stood with a girl that wept
constantly. None seemed to notice the girl, and there was no reason why
she should be noticed, if the curious in the body of the court-room
were not interested in the devastation which tears bring upon some
complexions. Her tears seemed to burn like acid, and they left fierce
pink marks on her face. Occasionally the girl looked across the room,
where two well-dressed young women and a man stood waiting with the
serenity of people who are not concerned as to the interior fittings of
The business of the court progressed, and presently the girl, the
officer, and the well-dressed contingent stood before the judge.
Thereupon two lawyers engaged in some preliminary fire-wheels, which
were endured generally in silence. The girl, it appeared, was accused
of stealing fifty dollars' worth of silk clothing from the room of one
of the well-dressed women. She had been a servant in the house.
In a clear way, and with none of the ferocity that an accuser often
exhibits in a police-court, calmly and moderately, the two young women
testimony. Behind them stood their escort, always mute.
His part, evidently, was to furnish the dignity, and he furnished it
heavily, almost massively.
When they had finished, the girl told her part. She had full, almost
Afric, lips, and they had turned quite white. The lawyer for the others
asked some questions, which he did—be it said, in passing—with the
air of a man throwing flower-pots at a stone house.
It was a short case and soon finished. At the end of it the judge said
that, considering the evidence, he would have to commit the girl for
trial. Instantly the quick-eyed court officer began to clear the way
for the next case. The well-dressed women and their escort turned one
way and the girl turned another, toward a door with an austere arch
leading into a stone-paved passage. Then it was that a great cry rang
through the court-room, the cry of this girl who believed that she was
The loungers, many of them, underwent a spasmodic movement as if they
had been knived. The court officers rallied quickly. The girl fell back
opportunely for the arms of one of them, and her wild heels clicked
twice on the floor. "I am innocent! Oh, I am innocent!"
People pity those who need none, and the guilty sob alone; but innocent
or guilty, this girl's scream described such a profound depth of
woe—it was so graphic of grief, that it slit with a dagger's sweep the
curtain of common-place, and disclosed the gloom-shrouded spectre that
sat in the young girl's heart so plainly, in so universal a tone of the
mind, that a
man heard expressed some far-off midnight terror of his own thought.
The cries died away down the stone-paved passage. A patrol-man leaned
one arm composedly on the railing, and down below him stood an aged,
almost toothless wanderer, tottering and grinning.
"Plase, yer honer," said the old man as the time arrived for him to
speak, "if ye'll lave me go this time, I've niver been dhrunk befoor,
A court officer lifted his hand to hide a smile.