Court House, Flemington, N.J., Feb. 13.--The charge of His Honor to the jury is advisably lucid, and as far as I am concerned, absolutely fair, and, by comparison with the crowd outside in the bright sun--waiting as if for a bull fight in the South--the court seems almost a home.
After a struggle in the light there ensues another on dim stairs as if you were in one of the circles of Dante's Inferno. To the hailstorm of incessant typewriters, messengers in khaki rush up and down, comic opera troopers in the horizon blue of French aviators bellow and push, you are squeezed through the crack of a barely open door. And then it is as if you were upon a peak in Darien. You are very high up, below you is spread a landscape of human beings. In complete silence there manifests itself the prolonged murmur of a voice. Going on and on. His Honor is charging the jury.
Faces Are Recognized
Down below it is always rather dim. You recognize faces down there. The judge's voice goes on and on. It is homelike. The tradition of a democracy manifesting itself. The faces down below are the familiar faces of the world of today--the fresh-colored judge with his grizzled hair--Colonel Lindbergh, who cups his hand always on one side; almost beside him the prisoner who never moves--who is always enigmatic, the supreme enigma.
Before you realize it the judge's voice no longer sounds--everything is now in the hands of the jury. There is a short conference of matadors huddled together before the judge's throne. Learned counsel making objections to the housing of the jury. These seem incredible pettinesses in face of the fact that the case is in the hands of the jury. It is the breathless moment. It does not seem to matter how the jury is housed; but perhaps it does.
Mrs. Hauptmann wears her new hat of yesterday. During the discussion before the bench wife and prisoner lean across the knees of the civilian and the comic opera trooper who separate them. They converse, very much like a lady and gentleman in the orchestra stalls, politely talking across the faces of the members of their theatre party, as if they were discussing the verdict of the audience on a new play. The prisoner's face retains always its thin mechanical smile. His wife talks with animation, with little quick movements of an uplifted hand, the lips parted and eager. It is now between Mrs. Hauptmann and the jury.
The jury is no longer there. The court still sits, a little emptier. His Honor rocks in his chair on high.
There runs in a band of men. You imagine the jury is coming back. But it's only the matadors and bandilleros, learned counsel and their attendants intent on making objections to the late charge of judge to jury. But they cease. It is once more between the woman who waits and the people.
The court rises. There begins once more, for the last time but one, presumably, the fantastic Greek dance of the exit of the prisoner. Colonel Lindbergh also goes out, unobtrusively, with the step of the scholar, faltering a little as if the man who can thread unerringly the currents of the air found himself uncertain amongst terrestrial ephemera. Mrs. Hauptmann's beret with the brave red feather is also no more there.
The court room is almost deserted. I sit quite alone in the press gallery.
I ask myself, if I were with the jury--I have no hesitation about the matter--I should vote for acquittal and I should stand for acquittal till the skies fell. That is in part temperamental, in part a conviction of what would be expedient, in part, if you will, fantastic.
First, in the jargon of our hunting field, I cannot think the fox was given enough grace. The prosecution was too keen. It is in my blood to think that Prosecution should have some of the impartiality of Justice herself.
No "Moral Doubt" of Guilt
I am now at liberty to say that I have no moral doubt of the guilt of the prisoner. But a wide gulf lies between moral certainty and the conviction that the prosecution has made out its case. And then I cannot--and I shall never be able to--forget that the prisoner was, as a boy of 17, in the trenches that faced us for so long years ago. That alone is enough to my mind to make a verdict of acquittal a crying necessity.
That boy's brain was warped by the consequences of our adult action far away and long ago. That it was years ago makes the responsibility ours. I took part in these combats and I regard the fact with complete equanimity. Certainly with no shade of repentance. That unfortunate boy was an enemy combatant. But perhaps if you have ever soldiered you regard your comrades of either side a little as comrades. I do not believe that this is merely an English sentimentalism. I hope most, if not all, surviving members of the A. E. F. think the like.
When I think of the uncounted millions whose eyes are toward this room of the golden haze I cannot but think that an acquittal would be at least expedient. There must remain, over the vast expanses that the record of this affair will reach, some reasonable doubt. And the affair cannot but have, however unjustly, the aspect of the most famous and fortunate man in the world versus a miserable shred of human jetsam. And there is too much class hatred in the world already and the passion for bloodshed is too keen.
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