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A Juror In Waiting
by [?]

The first wife in one of the bigamy cases went into the witness-box, and I saw what to me was an incredible sight–an Englishwoman of thirty who could neither read nor write. Red-haired, tearful, weary, she did not even know the months of the year. She said a telegram had been sent to her husband saying she was dangerously ill in February. “Was that this year or last year?” asked counsel. “I don’t know, sir,” she said. “Come, come,” said the judge, “you must know whether you were suffering from a dangerous illness this year or last.” “No, sir,” she replied shakily; “you see, sir, not bein’ a scholar, I couldn’t ‘ardly tell, sir.” Then a bright idea struck her. “My hospital papers could tell the date, sir.” She produced from her pocket a paper saying that she had undergone an operation in a hospital in September 1919. That was all that could be got out of her. The counsel on the other side rose to cross-examine her about the dates. “You had an operation in September, you say. Were you laid up at any other time during the past two years?” “No, sir.” “But you have sworn that you were ill in February, when a telegram was sent to your husband?” “Yes, sir.” “And now you say that you weren’t ill at any other time except in September?” “No, sir.” “So you weren’t ill in February?” “Oh yes, sir; I had the ‘flu, sir.” She was as obstinate about it all as the child in We are Seven. But she kept assuring us that she was no scholar. Her husband said that he had received a letter saying she was dead, and, though he had lost it, he quoted it at length “as far as he could remember it.” It was a beautiful letter, expressing regret that he had not been at the side of the deathbed, where, the writer was sure, whatever faults had been on either side would have been forgiven. “You never were dead?” the judge asked the woman. “No sir,” she replied in the same tone of We are Seven seriousness.

A girl was put in the dock, charged with having stolen a Post Office savings bank book. A policeman, giving evidence, said: “Until the 6th of December she was in the Wacks.” “You say,” said the judge, rather bewildered by the good appearance of the girl, “that she was in the workhouse!” “In the Wacks, my lord.” “I think he means the Royal Air Force,” prosecuting counsel helped the judge out of his perplexity. And the word “Wraf” went from mouth to mouth round the court. The girl was guilty, but the judge told her that he was not going to send her to prison. “I don’t think it would do you any good, and I don’t think the interests of society call for it,” he said. “What I’m going to do is to bind you over to come up for judgment if called upon. Now, go away home, and be a good girl, and, if you are, you won’t hear anything more about it. You have done a very disgraceful thing, but you can live it down by good conduct in the future.” There was another thief, a boy of eighteen, who had been deserted by his mother at the age of three, and whom the judge also told, though not in those words, to go and sin no more. There was also a boy who had forged his father’s consent to his marriage, and he and his girl wife were lectured like children and sent home to do better in future. As the judge said to the boy: “This is not a thing you are likely to do again.” His wife, who was expecting a baby, had to be carried fainting from the dock. Counsel could not bring himself to say that she was expecting a baby. He said that she was “in a certain condition.” The modesty of the law is marvellous. One of the most interesting of the prisoners was a little sleek-headed man accused of fraud, who kept moving his head about like a tortoise’s out of its shell. His head was black and shining where it was not bald and shining. He had gold-rimmed spectacles and a sallow face. He glided his hands over the knobs on the front of the dock with a reptilian smoothness. He had persuaded a number of tradesmen and hotel-keepers that he was an English peer. He had even complained to one shopkeeper of the smallness of a wallet, as he needed something larger to hold the title-deeds relating to the peerage. In another case, a young man, staying in a house, had stolen, along with other things, his hostess’s false teeth, her best dress and a great quantity of underclothing. A parcel of clothing had been recovered from a second-hand shop and was shown to the lady when in the witness-box. She took up one of the garments and fingered it. “Well,” said the prosecuting counsel, encouragingly, “is that your best dress?” “Naoh,” she said melancholily, “that’s me ypron.” Then there was a young man who stole a motor-bicycle by presenting a revolver at the head of the owner. He denied that he had stolen it, and maintained that, after he had apologised to the owner “for having treated him so abruptly,” they had become friendly and he had been told to take the bicycle away and pay for it later. Alas! there is a limit to human credulity. Besides, the young man had a crooked mouth. After two days in court, one begins to believe that one can tell an honest man from a liar by looking at him. Probably one is over-confident.