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The Cater-Cornered Sex
by [?]

They had a saying down our way in the old days that Judge Priest administered law inside his courthouse and justice outside of it. Perhaps they were right. Certainly he had a way of seeking short cuts through thickets of legal verbiage to the rights of things, the which often gave acute sorrow to the souls of those members of the bar who venerated the very ink in which the statutory act had been printed and worshiped manfully before the graven images of precedent. But elsewise, generally speaking, it appeared to give satisfaction. Nobody ever beat the judge in any of his races for reelection, and after a while they just naturally quit trying.

Nor did it seem to distress him deeply when the grave and learned lords of the highest tribunal of the commonwealth saw fit, as they sometimes did, to quarrel with a decision of his which, according to their lights, ran counter to the authorities and the traditions revered by these august gentlemen.

“Ah-hah!” he would say in his high penny-flute voice when such a thing happened. “I see where the honorable court of appeals has disagreed with me agin. Well, they’ve still got quite a piece to go yit before they ketch up with the number of times I’ve disagreed with them.”

But he never said such a thing in open court. Such utterances he reserved for his cronies and confidants. Once he was under the dented tin dome where he sat for so many years he became so firm a stickler for the forms and the dignities that practically a sacerdotal air was imparted to the proceedings. As you might say, he was almost high church in his adherence to the ritualisms. Lawyers coming before him did not practice the law in their shirt sleeves. They might do this when appearing on certain neighbor circuits, but not here. They did not smoke while court was in session, or sit reared back in their chairs with their feet up on the counsel tables and on the bar railings. Of course when not actually engaged in addressing the court one might chew tobacco in moderation, it being an indisputable fact that such was conducive to lubrication of the mental processes and a sedative for the nerves besides; but the act of chewing must be discreetly and inaudibly carried on, and he who in the heat of argument or under the stress of cross-questioning a perverse witness failed to patronize the cuspidors which dotted the floor at suitable intervals stood in peril of a stern admonishment for the first offense and a fine for the second.

Off the bench our judge was the homeliest and simplest of men. On the bench he wore his baggy old alpaca coat as though it were a silken robe. And, as has been heretofore remarked, he had for his official and his private lives two different modes of speech. As His Honor, presiding, his language was invariably grammatical and precise and as carefully accented as might be expected of a man whose people never had very much use anyway for the consonant “r.” As William Pitman Priest, Esq., citizen, taxpayer, and Confederate veteran he mishandled the king’s English as though he had but small personal regard for the king or his English either.

Similarly he always showed respect, outwardly at least, for the written letter of the statute as written and cited. But when it seemed to him that justice tempered with mercy stood in danger of being choked in a lawyer’s loop of red tape he sheared through the entanglements with a promptitude which appealed more strongly, perhaps, to the lay mind than to the professional. And if, from the bench, he might not succor the deserving litigant or the penitent offender without violation to the given principles of the law, which, aiming ever for the greater good to the greater number, threatened present disaster for one deserving, he very often privily would busy himself in the matter. This, then, was why they had that saying about him.