Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
THE DISCOMFITURE OF CYRUS
IN the morning, after a bath, which I took, but which the deputy declined, we went downstairs to breakfast, where I was stared at by the few early guests, who evidently considered me a very desperate character indeed, and where I was obliged to decline several interviews with reporters, to whom I told nothing beyond urging them to attend the trial, which I told them would probably be continued to the next week, as I should ask for time to prepare, my case thoroughly.
The morning papers had accounts of the arrest, with comments upon my personality. Upon returning home, I went at once to the courtroom, where I found Cyrus and his counsel and a crowd awaiting me.
I waived the reading of the complaint, pleaded not guilty, and asked for a continuance of one week. To this the prosecuting attorney entered a most vigorous objection, and argued the mat-. ter at great length, —to no purpose, however, as my request was reasonable and proper. I was held in bail of five hundred dollars, — although the attorney, urged on by old Cyrus, asked for five thousand, — and hurried home to explain matters.
My first anxiety was to secure the cow from examination, as I did not want the prosecution to find out the truth and spoil the fun. I found that one or two had called to see the cow, but that Dick had kept the barn locked.
The week I spent before the trial was one of the queerest and most amusing, and at times uncomfortable, I had ever spent in my life. The papers devoted a good deal of space to me, and evidently considered me a rather hopeless case. Indeed, to judge from the talk of my fellow citizens, I had been a whited sepulchre, a wolf in sheep's clothing and several other objectionable things, for a long time. Much to my pleasure, my neighbors, to a man, stood by me. I suppose they considered that of two evils, I, as the newest comer, could not be as bad as old Cyrus, or one tenth as bad as he painted me.
The day before the trial my wife was, to her intense indignation, summoned as a witness by the prosecution. Although as my wife she could not be compelled to testify against me, I persuaded her to waive her rights and to testify, telling her how great a compliment they paid her in being willing to assume that she would tell the truth even if it sent her helpmeet to a felon's cell.
The great day arrived, and there was vast excitement in our midst. I had never been tried for my life or liberty before, and naturally woke early and ate but little breakfast. I drank, however, two cups of strong coffee, and after breakfast went to the stable to arrange with Pat to bring my main witness, the cow, to the court at the proper time. I had bought a handsome blanket for her, and before Pat put it on I examined her carefully. Although she had shed a considerable amount of hair during the week, the letters and figures were as distinct as ever.
Then, giving Pat instructions to wait until sent for, and on no account to let any one examine her or lift the blanket, and arming him with a long whip to enforce my commands, I started for the court-house with my devoted family. As we approached the edifice, we saw an immense crowd gathered around the door and steps and sidewalk.
Cameras clicked and snapped and took our lineaments and our widely divergent, joint and several proportions, to their secret recesses; impertinent strangers climbed on one another's shoulders and stared and voted us generally a bad lot, and frowned and sneered when our friends, or some of them, smiled and wished us luck.
It took the entire police posse to force an entrance to the court-room, and after we had taken seats the prosecuting attorney began his opening address, upon which he had spent the entire week. He pictured me as a monster, a bloodless, cruel, devilish vampire, a man with a heart barred to every human impulse, with blood as cold as an iceberg. He pictured the meek, mild, gentle cow, made for man's delight, for woman's happiness, for children's life and welfare, thrown roughly to the floor, pinioned and helpless, while the cruel, scorching, red-hot branding-irons burned their relentless way into her shrinking, palpitating tissues, leaving their shameful brand like the mark of Cain or the Scarlet Letter. He said, — but perhaps it is unnecessary to repeat all he said; but at the close of his address the audience turned from me with loathing, or glared at me with baleful eyes, and my wife, on hearing her name called as the first witness, jumped as if some one had jabbed her with a hat pin.
Mrs. Shute, being sworn, testified that she was the wife of the respondent, that she lived with him on Pine Street, that he was perfectly sane and responsible,. and had never acted queerly, — no, sir! he certainly had not; that he kept a Jersey cow, — that it was bought the year before that there were no marks nor brands on it then, nor later; that she first saw them a week ago; the marks were, on the left side, Mr. Shute's initials, H. A. S., a circular brand on the shoulder, three X's on the flank, and on the right side a serpent and a circular brand; that they were put there during the winter, — by her husband as he said; that she had heard the cow bellowing not long before — about the time they sold the calf; supposed it was that; never saw any branding-irons; Mr. Shute could have had them without her knowledge; did get angry and scolded her husband; did say it was the cruelest thing he ever did.
Mrs. Shute was excused, Mr. Shute not asking her any questions.
By this time the audience were ready to applaud a death-sentence.
Dr. LePelletier was sworn: Was a veterinarian; made an examination of cow; found her covered with brands; must have been made with red-hot irons; must have caused great agony to her; bellowing was undoubtedly caused by torture; cicatrices very plain; hair never would grow again because hide burned through; marks could not be removed except by skinning cow; marks were not on cow the preceding autumn.
Cross-examined: Not nearer the cow than across the fence — about two rods; could not have been mistaken; marks made with branding-irons or red-hot end of iron; cows sometimes bellow when calf taken from them; called to view cow by Mr. Pettigrew; very nice man, Mr. Pettigrew.
Dr. LePelletier stepped down.
At the close of the doctor's testimony the audience showed their feelings quite plainly, and evidently considered burying me at a cross-road with a stake through my heart as the least thing that could be done under the circumstances.
Cyrus Pettigrew, sworn. Cyrus made the responses to the oath with great vigor and distinctness. Was a neighbor; saw cow when she was bought, and every day until winter; saw her last eight days ago; branded all over, — horribly; described marks at great length: large scars of burning; heard cow bellowing dreadfully a short time before; pounding in stable; sounded like struggle; Mr. Shute a man of ungovernable temper, very profane; boy takes after his father; heard Mrs. Shute complain of Mr. Shute's brutality to the cow; she was very angry at it; heard him say he did it; heard her call him a cruel man; remembered smelling burning hair and flesh at different times during the winter; heard bellowing; did not go over because did not wish to intrude; didn't imagine a man could be so cruel; had no interest in case except to stop brutality.
Cross-examination: Didn't have any trouble over fence; moved fence over because it belonged there; did shoot hens because they did damage; hens can do damage in winter; did eat them when they were sent him; did not shoot dog; was shot on his land; don't know who did it; saw respondent and son there with dog; could not say but they did it; did try to drive respondent's son off land; had whip in hand; didn't strike boy because only wanted to scare him; might have said some things to boy; boy was "sassy"; was never convicted of girdling trees of neighbor.
Violent objection by counsel for prosecution, who demanded to know whether or not witness had any rights, and whether or not we were living in "Rooshia."
Objection overruled by court, who decided for counsel's benefit that we were still in America.
Witness ordered to answer: Was not convicted; was arrested once on false charge; did pay some money to help neighbor out; didn't remember how much; never had trouble with neighbors; had shot Professor Miller's hens; Professor Miller did not make any trouble; had some students arrested once; students were discharged; was sure marks on cow were made by hot iron; could see scars; had no ill-will toward respondent; had given warrant to deputy in evening; gave him no instruction except where to find respondent; knew respondent was to give lecture; did tell deputy to arrest at once; did not tell deputy he was a damned fool to let respondent finish lecture; may have said something like that.
At the close of the cross-examination of old Cyrus, it was plain to see that he had not helped the prosecution much, but had created a distinctly bad impression, and that the audience would be satisfied with plain electrocution.
The prosecuting attorney then demanded that the cow be brought in as a witness, and said that, inasmuch as he had served a subpoena duces tecum upon me, and the object of the duces tecum had not appeared, he moved for an attachment for contempt.
In reply I purged myself of contempt by assuring the court that the cow was then and there in transitu, and I should call her as my first witness. The prosecution then rested, and I asked the court to take a recess for five minutes, when I would be ready. In less than that time Dick, who had left the court-room, returned, saying that the cow was in the square in front of the building, and I asked the court to adjourn to the square for a view.
This was done, the audience piling out like school-boys. Arrived in the square, a dense crowd had collected about the Jersey, who, blanketed and guarded by two burly Irishmen, stared inquiringly about until she saw me, when she gave a soft moo of recognition. With some difficulty the officers cleared a large ring, in the centre of which stood the cow, Mike, Pat, the honorable Court, the respondent, the complainant, the attorney for the prosecution.
I then addressed the court as follows: "May it please the Court; I now propose to demonstrate by the clearest evidence possible how far the malicious ingenuity of a vicious old man, and a bad neighbor, will go to make trouble for a person who never did him an unkindness, — in short that the cow never was hurt or tortured or branded; that the whole thing was an innocent joke, a fool joke perhaps, but one that never hurt or injured any one or anything."
I then stripped off the blanket, and there in plain sight were the various marks on the cow's hide. At my request the court and the attorney ran their hands over her and found no' scars.
"Now, to show your Honor how these marks were made —"
"It is unnecessary," said the court, "I have owned cows myself, and perhaps I can illustrate as well as you"; and stepping forward, with rapid hands he fashioned upon her side the word "Stung," at which there was a roar of delight and appreciation from the crowd. "Respondent discharged," he continued, "and court is adjourned."
The whole thing was an innocent joke
At the close of the formalities I held an impromptu reception in the square and shook hands with several hundred people. But before an hour had elapsed I had issued a Capita for old Cyrus in a fifty-thousand-dollar suit for malicious prosecution.
In vain he tried to get bail; nobody would bail him, and that night for the first time in his life, perhaps, he slept in jail. The April term was in progress and my suit could not be entered until October, and in the event of not obtaining bail he would have to remain in jail until October.
The next day he sent for me. I refused to see him. The day after he sent me a written appeal. I threw it in the waste-basket. The third day an old acquaintance of his, and one whom he had wronged, called and begged me to give him a chance. I made him wait a few days. By this time the old man's appeals were abject.
At the end of a week I went to see him. Re had aged terribly in that week, and I couldn't help pitying him. But I was cold and stern and firm, and before I left I had a sworn statement from him of certain things that would have brought him perilously near state prison, but which I promised not to use as long as he behaved himself.
I then withdrew my suit, and he came from jail a thoroughly humbled and broken-spirited old man. He did not remain in Exeter long, but as soon as he could sell his property left the state. He died a year or so ago in a distant state. Poor old chap! I have sometimes wondered if I were not a bit too hard on him. Perhaps I was.