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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Trial of Callista Blake By Edgar Pangborn Characters: 13572

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Judge Mann watched Cecil Warner approach the witness chair like an old bull: heavy step, flaring nostrils, lowered head, eyes communicating nothing but a brooding truculence. He halted ponderously, an old bull arriving at the dubious barrier of a fence, and-just stood there. Judge Mann's pencil drifted across the scratch pad in a rapid script not much like his normal writing:

Forgive me this my virtue;

For in the fatness of these pursy times

Virtue itself of vice must pardon beg,

Yea, curb and woo for leave to do him good.

He grew fully aware of the writing with a partly pleased astonishment: almost a true dissociation. His brother Jack might be interested; he would save the page. It must have been three years since he had last read Hamlet.

He understood also, waiting out the darkness of Warner's silence, how his own self might become a battleground. Why fool himself? It had already become one. The deeper occasions of the battle, the relative wrong and right, his true position within it, not clear. More light! He had been assuming two nights ago, and less certainly last night, a mental clarity he had not yet won. Then look at it this way: the assumption had been a folly and a vanity and a failure in self-appraisal; therefore dismiss it. Accept for the moment simply the fact of inner conflict; and then what? His pencil hand stirred and advanced:

Sit you down,

And let me wring your heart: for so I shall,

If it be made of penetrable stuff....

The conflict itself was no illusion. He could oblige his mind to draw somewhat apart and provide illusive imagery for what was no illusion; an imagery, sharp enough, from happenings fourteen years ago that had been (in their time) no illusion. Northern Luzon, 1945: all they'd done that night was drop a few daisy-cutters. Why should he remember that night and not some of the livelier ones? Perhaps because his mind had been rather detached then too, his body not much scared, not much concerned. A darkened earth, flares, smoky glimpses more deceiving than dark, thunder of .75's and mad red flight of tracers; long drone overhead of the angry bug evading crossed searchlight swords, or trying to-too high for flak; we hadn't got the poor bastard. And a sudden sense in Sergeant Terence Mann of the medics, who shortly before had been annoyed mostly at the interruption of a poker game with himself three bucks ahead, of the humanly vast forces involved, the courage and hate and fear and death and love with which the stars are not concerned at all. Trying for the supply dump near Dagupan, all Joe had got was the backside of a church and two buffalos. Above, behind, including all, a sense of the flow of time that renders every victory and every defeat a part of eternity. And every moment of compromise ...

"Miss Welsh, were you with the Chalmers family in 1951 when Dr. Herbert Chalmers married Victoria Johnson Blake?"

"Yes."

"Did you attend the wedding?"

"I did." She was biting her words now, not chattering.

"In what month were they married?"

"July."

"When did you first meet the defendant, Callista Blake?"

"Guess it was August that year, 1951." Warner studied his shoes. "Well, I know it was, because C'lista was away in girls' camp while they went on a honeymoon, me with the house on my hands-" she clamped her mouth shut, glaring. Mann found it possible to be sorry for the woman. Warner's massive pauses were tough on any witness.

Warner said at last, mildly: "Thank you." The back row idiot briefly giggled. "Callista was not present at her mother's wedding?"

"Certainly wasn't."

"Why 'certainly,' Miss Welsh? She was eleven that year."

"Because you never knew when she'd throw a tantrum."

"You consider that unhappy children should not have tantrums?"

Hunter declared: "Improper question, if I ever heard one."

Mann thought: Sorry, Bud! "The Court will rule it admissible in cross-examination. Answer the question, Miss Welsh."

"Well, I don't know what she had to be unhappy about, with-"

"Miss Welsh, may I have a responsive answer to my question?"

"Haven't a notion what the question was all about."

"It may be too difficult. I withdraw it. You have known Miss Blake, by sight that is, for eight years. During that time, has your relation with her ever been cordial?"

"Naturally I tried to put up with-"

"I will repeat the question. During the eight years since 1951, has your relation with Callista Blake ever been cordial?"

On the doodle-pad a freshly drawn bull contemplated a tiny spinster-angular long skirt, hat with cherries, defensive umbrella. No fence between her and the beast. Mann drew one, post-and-rail, the top rail fallen. He felt rather proud of the bull: a fine solidity in the foreshortened barrel body; grandeur and melancholy. He sketched in grass and bending daisies to answer the curves of huge elongated scrotum and ponderous sheath. In the right foreground he added a miniature rabbit bundled up in a black gown. Cecil might enjoy the damned thing, on some relaxed evening far in time from the present hour.

"I don't-I don't understand the question."

"Very well-I withdraw it. Is that wrist watch the one you were wearing on the evening of last August 16th?"

"Yes."

"Does it have a luminous dial?"

"No, I don't want radium and things in my system."

"But last August 16th, in the deep twilight after nine o'clock, you could easily read it?"

She smirked, recovering. "Lights were on in the living-room."

Judge Mann watched Hunter's faint smile appear and fade.

"Thank you for remembering that now, Miss Welsh. Is it your custom to look at your watch when anything captures your interest?"

"I explained why I did that when I heard the car."

"Yes, you were concerned about juvenile delinquency."

"I didn't say that!"

"Why, I thought I heard a reference to the menace of juvenile delinquents in parked cars."

"Oh, that-dare say I was thinking out loud."

"I see. Thank you. Had you other reasons to check the time?"

"Well, I wondered if the family was expecting C'lista, so I-"

"Miss Welsh, in direct testimony you said you wondered if the family was expecting anyone, no names mentioned. Then you admitted this deep concern about juvenile delinquents in parked cars. Now we learn the family might have been expecting Callista. All three statements true?"

"Oh, what's all the fuss? I knew it was her car."

"But preferred not to say so in direct testimony. All right-how did you know it was her car?"

"I explained that. Loose license plate, and that buzzy noise."

"You did testify to hearing something like a loose license plate. You didn't say Miss Blake's car had one."

"Well, it did, and I heard it."

"Miss Welsh,

a hypothetical question. If, when the defense opens, you learn that Miss Blake's Volkswagen had a garage check-up on Friday, August 14th, and that the license-plate holder was repaired at that time, would you, if recalled under oath, still claim you heard that plate rattling on Sunday evening, August 16th?"

The passion of resentment simmering behind the woman's blinking eyes was a kind of sickness. Once or twice she opened her lips without sound; then: "All I got to say, it wasn't natural how men went crazy for her-not even pretty-any man, garage man, anything in pants-"

Mann thought sharply: Okay, that's torn it. He saw Warner turn slowly, facing the bench. "Your Honor, I respectfully request that this witness be held in contempt of court."

Mann flipped the doodle-pad face down. He said: "There will be a ten-minute recess. Counsel in chambers, please. The jury will remain." Entering the dingy retreat off the courtroom, he was aware of T. J. Hunter standing aside to let Warner precede him. "You don't want to toil up to the sixth floor, do you? I suppose I could locate a nip of something."

Warner said: "No, Judge, I'm too fat to ride that thing you call an elevator. It busts, I'm liable for have-his-carcass."

"All right-shouldn't anyway. We'll settle for a smoke."

Warner sat down, an old man and weary, impersonally accepting the impersonal courtesy when Hunter snapped a lighter for his cigarette. His fat hand waved aside the curling fantasy of smoke between him and his enemy. "Okay, T. J., I think you asked for it. Why couldn't you establish corpus delecti with Herb Chalmers? Could've, no sweat."

"Grab off a natural defense witness when I don't have to?"

"What makes you think I want Herb?"

Hunter chuckled and strolled to the window. "Just fishing."

Mann asked: "What's your view, T. J.?"

The back of Hunter's neck was calm. "Just among us girls, Welsh certainly goofed. Honest, I sweated blood trying to give her the rudiments of courtroom behavior. Seems it was mostly hooting down a rain-barrel."

Warner said: "They goofed the same way over Joan of Arc."

Hunter swung around and exclaimed: "After all, Cecil!"

"No comparison between the principals," Warner said, "except age and sex. You admire Joan? I don't, much. But there's an obvious parallel between twentieth- and fifteenth-century attitudes toward the accused maverick. Takes more than five hundred years for the human race to learn anything important." His slow voice was acquiring a snarl. "You know, T. J.-you know what the newspapers have been doing. Far as Welsh is concerned, I don't care a fractionated brass-bound tinker's fart whether she's held in contempt or not. I do care about keeping this thing from turning into a witchcraft trial. I'm not sitting peaceful on my fat ass, understand, while they turn my girl into a succubus."

Hunter said stiffly: "I think you could trust me to prevent any nonsense of that kind." Warner studied him, dark eyes searching and sad in their slightly yellowed and bloodshot fields of white. Hunter went on: "Your hypothetical was a dilly, by the way. The defense introduces testimony at this point? You want the State to pack up and go home?"

"Why wouldn't I?"

"Fine! You going to claim the Volkswagen wasn't there?"

Warner shook his head indifferently.

Mann said: "T. J., I still want your view, on Welsh. I'd be half minded to throw the book, only I'm not sure Welsh is that important."

"Well, I don't think she is, Judge. But I'm sort of indifferent. The facts of her testimony will remain with the jury, and that's all that concerns me. The contempt thing-important to the Court, and to me as a lawyer, but not so important to People vs. Blake."

"For a prosecutor," said Warner, "you're curiously frank, T. J. Now that she's squeezed in her 'anything-in-pants' remark, you're content, you can go fishing-that's what you're saying."

"Look here-"

Judge Mann struck the desk lightly with the flat of his hand. "Cecil, do you have many more questions for her?"

"Not many, Judge. Ought to be done in a few minutes, before one o'clock anyhow."

"Hope so-I'm unjudicially hungry and I'll be glad to see the last of her. I'm not holding her in contempt, Cecil, unless she pulls another one. It's not quite justified, I'm not even too sure of the ground, and-" he rubbed out his cigarette, glancing at the somewhat frozen face of T. J. Hunter-"I particularly don't want to make a martyr out of her. Let's get back on the job."

Maud Welsh's rigid face told him the ten minutes of anticipation might have been punishment enough. He had not intended that: merely a courtroom happen-so. "Miss Welsh, contempt of court is a serious thing. It must be, to preserve respect for law. For willfully disregarding the instructions given you about limiting your answers and avoiding prejudicial comments, you could, if this court so ordered, be severely punished." There she goes sniffling, and to some of the jury she'll have the face of Mom. "It is not the present intention of the Court to hold you in contempt. You are being let off with a warning, for the last time. Consider yourself fortunate. Mr. Warner?"

"Miss Welsh, I quote to you certain words: 'Assume a virtue if you have it not.' Are those words familiar to you?"

Her streaked face glowing, perhaps with relief, Maud Welsh also looked bewildered. "No-no, sir, I don't think so."

"Have you ever read Shakespeare's play Hamlet?"

"I'm sure we had it in school, but-" she smiled placatingly-"that's quite a while. I never get the time to read much."

"Here are some other famous lines from the same source: 'Forgive me this my virtue; for in the fatness of these pursy times virtue itself of vice must pardon beg'-familiar?"

"That's what I heard C'lista say to her mother."

"Did you overhear anything else?"

"I wasn't eavesdropping, sir."

"You're not accused of it." Warner was speaking gently. "We're only concerned with what you heard. Was there anything else?"

"Well, like I said, I heard Mrs. Chalmers crying."

"Can you be certain it wasn't her daughter you heard?"

"Yes. Their voices are mighty different."

"You had heard Mrs. Chalmers cry before?"

"Yes, sir, now and then."

"And Callista?"

"She never cried."

"Not even as a child, having tantrums?"

"No, she'd just go white and-walk away, or-is it all right to say this?"

"Go ahead."

"Walk away, or sort of run away sometimes, I mean off into the woods or like that, and practically have to be dragged home. I thought it was-can I say this?-I don't want to say anything wrong, I-"

"Go ahead, Miss Welsh."

"Well, just-I thought it was real unnatural, that I never heard Callista cry."

"No further questions."

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