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Ninety Days Inside The Empire: A Novel by William Appleman Williams

A Visit with The Judge

Page 30

The heavy squalls made The Reverend uneasy; put him to squirming with his consequences. Mitch had put his ass on the line and those young men were up there in a nasty storm.

But nothin' but to do it, so he wrote Lette a note that he was off to talk with The Judge. On his way he checked the Church windows in the hail, turned the heat up a mite, said a prayer and drove on downtown.

The Judge was not unevened by the meteorological disturbance. Actually, he paid it no heed. He had been through many worse changes in temperature and pressure.

Marshall Oliver Harland lived alone in the impressive old city hotel. The architecture was half Spanish Mission and half Gringo Commercial, but comfortable for all that: easy services, honest booze, a fine kitchen and his corner suite had a magnificent view. He had stopped there when he arrived in town many years ago, and he'd never found any reason to get married or move. He usually laughed to himself after he told that simple tale to one or another of the many curious.

-- Well, now, Marsh, he sometimes joshed himself, it's now and again permissible to embellish the truth in a court of law if you know your client is innocent, or when other people elsewhere are tryin' to wiggle their fingers in your head, but you got to stay honest with yourself.

He usually did good being honest with himself. It took its toll, but he did it. He was also candid with a few carefully selected others. Every statement in his public catechism was correct. (He used that term talking to himself because he was a very low-church Episcopalian.) He had worked his way through Tulane on the tugs and the barges and the docks. He had never been married, and he had never lived any place but the hotel-though originally in one small room-since he'd arrived in Texas. But his life was defined by many other facts he seldom revealed.

Consider his name. His father was Edward Louis Harland, and his grandfather was John Chase Harland. Both had been lawyers in Louisana, and the older one a parish judge. The great-grandfather had been an anti-slavery farmer in Tennessee, and he was the one who started the tradition of naming children after Supreme Court judges or women abolitionists.

Sometimes Marsh drank too much alone late at night worrying about not having a child to continue that charming habit. It was not yet too late. He could still, even in his sixties, give a woman a romp to remember. But a full-fashion jelly-belly-roll up and down and off the bed was not a marriage, let alone a family, those ended one night long ago in Alabama.

-- Marsh stirred. Oh, so much pain. It's horseshit you don't remember pain.

The father and grandfather had treasured The Law as the best way to save what was good from the past and make it better for the present and the future. They had been true believers, as the old Judge had once told a packed parish courthouse in a case against the railroads, that people should govern themselves through democracy and use law to help correct mistakes and point the way to more equitable relationships among all citizens. He and his seed had been very largely color blind, and taken the lumps and bumps that wisdom earned in Louisiana. Both men walked with a gimpy gait, and the old man died of kidneys beaten to a pulp.

Marsh had a kind of hobble-rock-a-bye. If he could have done it with a bit more rhythm people might have mistaken him for an old clipper sailor who had turned The Horn for twenty years. But he lurched. He told some people why, but they kept his truth. And so the stories became ever more lurid: a duel over a woman and the husband had shot him in the hips; a beating by Niggers back in Alabama; a fight over gambling debts in New Orleans. Whatever, it gave him a persona that he used to serve the tradition of his father and his grandfathers.

He was coming awake now; not that he wanted to get too serious too quickly. But he remembered that The Reverend had called and was goin' to stop by for a talk.

-- To hell with it. Let's float some more.

It had been a long night with little sleep, and that with one leg up on the davenport without a blanket.

-- Shit, I need a woman to remember the blanket.