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   Chapter 2 No.2

The Trial of Callista Blake By Edgar Pangborn Characters: 13730

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Edith Nolan studied eleven faces, and the twelfth now giving the prosecutor stiffly reasonable answers. She wondered if Cecil Warner would dislike, as she did, Mr. Francis Fielding's buttoned-in upper lip. A statistician in the records office of Winchester's biggest department store, forty, consciously literate, rather too good to be true. Edith sensed the fanatic, the acrid mind that must be always right. But such a disposition might harden in favor of acquittal instead of conviction.

Since her tasteless sandwich luncheon, the afternoon had been for Edith a desert of echoes, all voices unfamiliar except Cecil Warner's. Fast work, she supposed, to have a jury almost complete, and the hour not quite four. The heat had been turned higher after the noon recess, the courtroom growing sickly with a mustiness of flesh, disinfectant, dust. Edith's head ached, a dull frontal throb. The hard seat nagged at thin buttocks, unpadded backbone. When Callista looked her way, Edith wriggled and grimaced, trying to add a mild humor to her silent message: Head up, Cal! We're going to win. Briefly, Callista smiled.

Imaginary pressure of eyes at the back of her neck was a misery. Callista's mother and stepfather were two or three rows behind. At the noon recess they had been unwillingly jammed against her in the corridor outside. Mrs. Chalmers would have liked to cut her then, Edith thought, but washed together so in the loud human tide, that hadn't been quite possible even for Victoria Chalmers. The Pale Professor might even have rebelled at it-he was bravely friendly, pleased to stoop in his weedy tallness and shake hands, keeping haunted uncourageous eyes obstinately turned away from the great stone face. And so the Face had talked, pronouncing deadly commonplaces in Victoria's public manner, which always suggested the need of an organ obligato-a spate of commonplaces, all of them somehow conveying the implication that Edith Nolan was at the very least a Bad Influence.

Edith had never discovered much resemblance between Victoria and her daughter, except for prominent cheekbones and uncommonly white skin. Victoria's nose was classically straight, without the irregularity that gave Callista's features an almost Indian cast. Victoria's smoky-pale hyperthyroid eyes somehow lacked alertness, as though she could not be bothered with anything so simple as direct observation. Her hands were stodgy, unalive-nothing there of Callista, and nothing of Callista in her mother's rugged frame and Madam-Chairman chestiness. Edith could picture that bust inflating for voice projection when Victoria was about to read a paper before the Thursday Society of Shanesville-they "did" book reviews and current events. She had met Victoria on her home grounds twice, when Callista had invited her out to Shanesville with wry warnings. At home, Victoria was invincible, a conversational Juggernaut riding over a crumpled evening with every adverb in place.

And yet now, Edith thought, Victoria was probably suffering, in her fashion. She would be regarding Callista's trouble as an unwarranted attack of the universe against Mrs. Victoria Johnson Blake Chalmers; but with whatever strength of emotion remained, with whatever capability of love may exist in a person who must be always right, Victoria would be feeling a genuine distress for her maverick daughter, perhaps also for dead Ann Doherty, even for Jim Doherty. Maybe. Or maybe Callista had been right in the quick, casual, bitter remark that Edith remembered from many months ago: "Something was left out when Mother's chromosomes got slung together-I believe it was humanity."

Or the truth could lie as usual somewhere in the middle. In the noon recess, it had seemed to Edith that she glimpsed flickerings of real pain in Victoria-some kind of pain; under such conditions it might be hard to tell the difference between grief and the pinch of a tight girdle. Then the crowd had thinned enough to let them escape, and Victoria, still resonantly talking nothings, had marched Professor Herbert Chalmers away, a trainer jerking the leash on a shambling mournful Great Dane.

The electric clock behind Mr. Delehanty clicked and twitched, another scrap of eternity chipped off as Mr. Fielding declared: "I have no objection to the death penalty, and would make no exception for a woman."

The bald athlete Talbot J. Hunter stepped aside, and Cecil Warner, wilted and ancient, took over. The Old Man was tired, his questions a mere mopping up of areas Hunter had ignored: Fielding's newspaper reading, length of residence in Winchester; perhaps he just wanted to hear a few more overtones. In this case Cecil Warner-(Edith understood it fully today for the first time)-was not interested in the fee, the publicity, or the abstraction of justice. He was there because, with the curious devotion of an old man, he loved Callista. To use one of his own worn phrases, it was that simple. Since a woman of thirty-one does not live in the world of a battle-worn man of sixty-eight, Edith knew she could grasp the quality of that love from the outside only, with the mind only: enough, to accept the fact. But didn't a defense counsel need some inner coldness to sustain him?

She studied the twelve faces, their names already carved into her memory. She would retain the look of them as vividly as though each juror had sat in her studio under the clever lights while she examined the faults, planes, good points, chatted with them to let self-consciousness and vanity subside, searched for the portrait they wouldn't see, and at last finished her shots-one to please the customer if possible; one, if lucky, to please herself as a frozen instant of relative truth.

Peter Anson-oh, if he were furry instead of bald you could use color film and get a pink panda. That notion was not quite her own, but like something Callista might have said in one of her fantastic moods, more impudent than funny, more funny than spiteful. Anson's chubbiness would be deceptive, his good nature not the kind that he would maintain under serious pressure. His kindness would be limited to what he understood. Beyond that limit, Anson could be cruel.

Dora Lagovski, twenty-four, mammal, housewife. Dora would want to be photographed with a big mouthful of teeth, and you better do it.

Emerson Lake, newsdealer, sixty-five. If not born in a cool pocket of the White Mountains, he should have been. Humanity gleamed in him like an ember under the crust of a clotted briar pipe.

Emma Beales, forty, housewife. Smooth round conscientious face, all hell on civic duty. Never plagued with an original idea, capable of talking both arms off at the deltoids, but not a bad old girl. Edith estimated that she must have made about twenty portraits of Emma every year; it was only in the bad moods that they

all looked alike.

Stella Wainwright, thirty-seven, grade school teacher. Her brown hair curved in what Edith decided was a natural wave, not helped by her dowdy muddy-brown dress. The kids probably liked her; she would not be expected to teach them much about the passion and confusion of the world: not for Stella the sweat and garbage, the sunrises and the music of moon-drenched nights, the labors of love, the fields of cornflowers, the screaming in the disturbed ward. They had people to take care of all that stuff while Stella taught social studies. But on this jury Stella would do her best, and it might be good enough.

Elizabeth Grant, twenty-six, housewife. How could life write on a face of dough? Unfair, maybe; nevertheless Edith distrusted Mrs. Grant, reflecting what atrocious cruelty can be accomplished by well-meaning souls devoid of humor and imagination. The woman was opaque, her simplest answers under voir dire examination sounding like quotations from a wholesome family magazine.

Ralph LaSalle, thirty-one, shoe-store clerk. Cecil Warner and Hunter, Edith supposed, would both have recognized the minority he represented. His mask was good, the too-long blond hair and somewhat mannered accent betraying it. Cecil Warner might be counting on LaSalle to show fairness toward a white crow of another sort; Hunter possibly expected him to be hostile toward all women. Both lawyers could be wrong; Edith expected LaSalle to act and think simply as a human being with a good intelligence and rational sympathies.

Rachel Kleinman, housewife, forty-eight. They would be needing Mother Rachel at home; Edith hoped there was a daughter old enough to cook. But Rachel would stay with it; warmth and gentleness were in her; she would not knowingly burn another woman for a witch. And when Edith took the stand, she might look for this woman Rachel to understand why Callista Blake had smashed the heater and poured ice-water into her tank of tropical fish when she knew she was to be arrested.

Emmet Hoag, hardware salesman, twenty-nine. A little bit handsome, Edith noted-like a healthy pig. He would consider himself hell on the women until snared and housebroken by some broad-beamed breeder who knew what she wanted. A born No. 12 sure to go along with the majority: what else could he do? Well, Edith thought in a gust of weariness, he could drop dead.

Dolores Acevedo, secretary, twenty-nine-and actually not over thirty-five. Hair midnight black and skin of honey brown, born to be beautiful and surely knowing it with a simplicity too placid for vanity. By rights Dolores should be a rich man's mistress, maybe was. Edith also guessed that anywhere outside the region of sexual competition Dolores might be generous and kind, even very kind-and admitted that it was no more than a guess. For that matter, would a woman as outrageously lovely as Dolores ever get far enough from the sex arena for other elements of her nature to dominate? Nothing cold or contrived about that kind of beauty-warm as tropic night, Dolores. Yet she might also think, and reason, and be kind-she just might.

Helen Butler, fifty-two, gift-shop proprietor. And a Sunday painter, Edith doubtfully remembered. She had met Miss Butler a few months ago, when prowling the gift shop for book ends. Callista had not gone along, and Edith recalled she had not given Miss Butler her name, though they enjoyed a quarter-hour of small talk. Books mostly; some deprecating mention by Miss Butler of her landscape painting, or was it still life? Nothing in that to make the lady disqualify herself from the jury, if she remembered. A salty spirit with independent opinions, laughter wrinkles at the eyes, unmalicious wit. A bit old-maidish, maybe no great force of character. But intelligent, moderate, good.

They were the Twelve.

Edith looked again at the slight and silver-templed man in black. No schoolmastery fuss from him at that bad moment of the morning when impulse had betrayed her into speaking out of turn. Even a kind of friendliness behind the rebuke he had been forced to make. He would be harder to photograph than any of the jury, or ambitious Hunter. Harder than anyone present except Callista herself, and Cecil Warner who had posed for Edith in actuality a year ago.

And Cal had drawn one of her three-minute cartoons of Warner, which delighted the Old Man-their first meeting. Had he adored her then? Why, then, a year ago, Cal's ordeal of love with Jim Doherty had not even begun. It occurred to Edith that for the human race a magic power of foresight would be a burden unendurable. Fair enough to guess, and plan within limits, but no one should ever know to a certainty what will happen in the next hour, or day, or year.

The time might arrive when Callista would be forced to know that-or perhaps almost know it, and be tortured by a series of meaningless reprieves. In Salem, less than three hundred years ago, they had crushed Giles Corey to death by gradually adding rocks to the pile on his breast. Edith warned herself sharply: Stop that!

Cecil Warner was moving away from the jury box, straightening his round shoulders with a tired twist. "Thank you, Mr. Fielding. May it please the Court, the defense is satisfied with this jury."

Mr. Delehanty announced: "The jury will rise." In Mr. Delehanty's pocket a gleaming triangle of handkerchief shone, still perfect, spotless at the weary end of the day. And the jury was standing.

Graceless in the group and clumsy, they mutely apologized to each other for their elbows, raised their hands for the burbling of Mr. Delehanty of the perfect handkerchief. They swore. Too much finality. A true verdict render?-but what is truth? No, too much. Behind the half-comic front, too vast a thing for the Hoags, Lagovskis, Kleinmans.

But, Edith thought, that's how it's done. And we persuade ourselves that what we wish to call truth may emerge from it. We accept the ludicrous fancy that you multiply wisdom when you multiply one by twelve.

Mr. Delehanty laid down the Bible. Flushed, important, the jury took their seats. The prosecutor stood. Edith's stomach twisted. She bent forward, covering her face. Too much.

She thought: But I know Callista!

Frail, damaged, miraculous body; wild, difficult, exasperating, wholly irreplaceable brain that understood, needed, desired so much-everything that was Callista could be and might be charred to rubbish, to satisfy the mythology of a still vengeful and superstitious race. Surely not even guilty; but if she were-

Edith knew then that the same emotional storm would have struck her if she had believed Callista Blake guilty of this and a thousand other crimes. A storm including personal shame and horror at taking part, if only by silent presence, in an act of barbarism.

What are we doing here?

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