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A REAL JUDGE WOKE THE LAW FROM ITS
30-YEAR SLEEP AND PASSED HUMAN SENTENCE
BY R. F. PAINE
Mountain and desert, canyon and arroyo, rock and chapparaL dry river
bed, rice swamp, mine dump, rawness, roughness, rockiness pretty coarse,
uncultured, unread and unsung is Arkansas. Yet the Lord hides the prec
ious gold in the hardest quartz, puts the rose on a twig beside a thorn and
fills with the grandest of human sacrifice the hearts of an Andreas Hofer
and a Toussaint L'Ouverture, and so even in what has been called God-forsaken
Arkansas a precious germ of mercy, justice, love and other attributes
, One miserable, raw day, lately, there was "a scene" in the circuit court
of Judge Paul Little at Fort Smith. The prisoners at the bar were Tom
Jones, Cliff Davis and H. F. Rodgers, caught stealing eight sacks of flour
from a freight car. Call them tramps, villians, violators of the law, destroy
ers of the peace and dignity of the state. They're ragged, hungry, despair
ing, moneyless, lawyerless, guilty, and to rob a freight car of flour when one
is jobless and starving means four years in the penitentiary, at least. So
ciety must be protected. Railroad property must be protected. Food must
be protected. You and your wife and your mother and your baby may
starve in society's midst, but, steal a sack of flour from a box car and
Society will jail you for four years take four awful years o;ut of your life
and put them into the lives of your wife, mother and babe. Tom Jones, Cliff
Davis and Rodgers hang their heads as Judge little says "four years."
But back there in the courtroom are others whose hearts stop, whose
limbs tremble, whose eyes fill over the words "four years" Toil Jones'
old mother and father, Rodgers' wife and two children, Cliff Davis' wife
and 9-months'-old babe, consumers of the stolen flour but guilty ones whom,
for some reason, the vengeance of the-, criminal code does not jail.
And filling wo-thirds of the courtroom space are "the best citizens" of
the town bankers, merchants, retired capitalists, ministers, just plain,
decent men and women. These are the lawyers for the defense. They've
investigated. Jones, Davis and Rodgers hunted long for work, in 'vain.
Bread gave out. Fuel gave out Bedding and clothes were pawned and gave,
out. All that was theirs in their poor homes was sold and gave out. Mrs.
Rodgers found a pair of men's trousers and a man's shirt, and wore them.
Cliff Davis' little baby moaned as it clawed at its mother's empty breast.
Tom Jones' old mother and father gnawed roots and crusts, and drank
their own tears. Hope and honor gave out, and Jones, Davis and Rodgers
stole that Jlour. Such was the defense of those lawyers for the defense,
whose very presence in court shrieked for mercy besides justice.
But the code says: "If you steal food, you shall labor hard in a prison
for not less than four years. I am society. I am justice. I am inexor
able. I am the law!"
Isn't it a fine courtroom scene setting? There are the bloody-handed
condemned criminals, there the hopeless wives, children and aged parents,
and there public sentiment helpless before its own created statute.
And, above all, sits the judge, Paul Little. Who is Paul Little? We
don't know. We don't know where in the mountain the vein of gold runs.
We don't know what it is in the rosebud that means the splendid American
beauty. We don't know whence came that glory in the heart of Hofer
that made him defy the mighty Napoleon and die for the freedom of his
native mountains,-or that glory in the soul of the black Toussaint that
kfre&ag -... .' . -