Somewhere among the mementos of my youth is a silk hat mark, Part 2 of 2

Posted by | May 24, 2013

We spent Sunday night before the case opened in studying it, and then Ewing said to me :

“Well, you have this case remarkably well in hand. This is the greatest opportunity of your life. You must conduct the proceedings on our side. You examine the witnesses, argue points as best you can. Gradually unlimber your best guns. There are some big lawyers opposed to you; they know all the tricks of the game. But Josh, our friend here (the other lawyer), who will help also without fee, will sit on one side of you and I on the other. Of course we shall suggest when necessary. We shall back you up with legal citations when you are pressed by the keen wits of the defense. This is the greatest opportunity in the life of a young lawyer. Use it!”

Generously, for the fame of the case went far and near, Ewing and his friend sat, the one at my right, the other on the left, during that terrible battle, a fight for a young man’s life, the struggle for the honor of an old and untarnished family name, which dragged its agonizing length over one fearful month, day by day, early and late. To my right and a little to my rear, in the felon’s place, sat my erstwhile playmate; on one side his haggard mother in somber black, and on the other sat a slender, sweetly sad-faced girl.

Again and again I felt from time to time her eyes as I drove her brother’s witnesses from cover, prodded with the merciless power of the law into his ugly past ; or with the keenest enthusiasm born of youth, urged by a deep sense of my new duty, pictured to the jury a fitting close to his terribly misspent, warped, though brief, career at the end of a rope attached to a murderer’s gibbet!

Again and again I could hear her heart throb; and now and again as the terrible days wore slowly on, I paused as that dear old mother struggled to suppress her sobs! But in all that time, when I had to look her way, the sweet, sad, face of the girl never lifted her eves to mine!

Once during the heat of debate one of the attorneys for the defense, half-drunken and unmindful of the decorum of the court room, called me a “D — liar.” The uncouth words were scarce articulate when my distant kinsman and associate in the case, as a flash of lightning, sprang to his feet and shot a terrific fist blow full in the face of the offender! Turning, he bowed with quiet dignity to the court, expressed regret for the necessity of the act, and asked his honor to fix against him a proper fine!

Finally the jury went out, and, after yet other painful hours, as the sun was going behind the distant Cumberlands, beyond the lovely valley, in dread silence the jury filed back into court.

“Guilty,” read the clerk. “Remand the prisoner to close confinement to await the judgment of the court,” said the judge in a strangely softened tone. The crowd began silently to leave the room ; the guards were hustling the prisoner toward the door; friends were shaking hands with me. The group about me parted, there she stood, those wonderful eyes full of pathos, agony, terror, afire with some strange light I do not yet understand, met mine! One brief instant! Then, slowly, she turned and passed for all time from my presence!

Somewhere among the mementos of my youth is a silk hat mark. Ere then, ere then, upon it, in the long, long ago, her deft fingers wove my initials!

from “Clan Ewing of Scotland, early history and contribution to America; sketches of some family pioneers and their times,” by Elbert William R. Ewing, A. M., LL. B., LL. D., COBDEN PUBLISHING CO., Ballston, Virginia, 1922

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