The grand jury was returning after lunch for the afternoon session. Something they had done the previous day had aroused the assistant State attorney’s ire, so that he had felt justified in punishing their foolish temerity with two calls that day instead of one.
A little group had gathered in the front of the jury-room. They were discussing the cases passed, and speculating upon those to come. One and all were wearied with the monotony of the duty the State had imposed upon them.
“And the worst of it is,” said one of the younger members of the panel, “it’s all so utterly futile. When I was summoned as a grand juror I had a kind of feeling that the State had placed a great responsibility upon my shoulders, that she had honored me above other men, and placed me in a position where I might help to accomplish something really worth while for my fellow man.”
One of the bank presidents laughed.
“And the reality you find to be quite different, eh?”
“Quite. I hear only one side of a great string of sordid, revolting stories, and I hear nothing more than the assistant State attorney wishes me to hear. There are momentous questions stirring the people of the city, but when we suggest that we should investigate the conditions underlying them we are told that we are not an investigating body—that those questions are none of our business unless they are brought to our attention through the regular channel of the State attorney’s office. We are told that the judge who charged us to investigate these very conditions had never charged a grand jury before, and while doubtless he meant well he didn’t know what he was talking about.”
“I understand,” said another juror, “that we will get our chance at the vice problem to-day ‘through the regular channel’—the Abe Farris case is on the docket for this afternoon.”
“And what will we do?” asked the young man. “We’ll listen to answers to such questions as the assistant State attorney sees fit to ask, and if we start asking embarrassing questions he’ll have the sergeant-at-arms hustle the witness out of the jury-room. Then we’ll hem and haw, and end up by doing whatever the assistant State attorney wants us to do. We’ve done it on every important case—you watch.”
“You are quite right, sir,” spoke up a retired capitalist. “In theory the grand jury system is the bulwark of our liberty—it was, in fact, when it was instituted in the twelfth or thirteenth century, at a time when there were several hundred crimes punishable by death; but now that there are only two, murder and treason; it is a useless and wasteful relic of a dead past.
“The court that is competent to hold men to the grand jury is much more competent to indict them than is the grand jury itself. In fact, in cases where the punishment is less than death the court that now entertains the preliminary hearing might, to much better advantage to both the accused and public, pass sentence at once. It hears both sides, but all that it can do is discharge the prisoner or hold him for the grand jury. After this there is the expense of holding the prisoner in jail until his case comes to us, and then all the expensive paraphernalia of a grand jury is required to thresh over only one side of what has already been thoroughly heard before a trained and competent jurist. If we vote a true bill a third expensive trial is necessitated.”
“Personally,” said Ogden Secor, the foreman of the jury, “the whole thing strikes me as a farce. The grand jury, while not quite the tool of the State attorney’s office, is considered by them a more or less harmless impediment to the transaction of the business of their office—a burden to be borne, but lightened in the most expeditious manner.
“I, as foreman, am a dummy; the secretary is a dummy; the sergeant-at-arms is a dummy. We look to the assistant State attorney for direction in our every move. We come from businesses in which we have never, in all probability, come in contact with criminal law, and we are expected to grasp the machinery of our new duties on a moment’s notice.
“Were it purely a matter of justice to be dispensed, I have no doubt but that we might do quite as well as any court; but we are up against a very different thing from justice—at every hand we are trammeled by law.”
The assistant State attorney entered the room.
“Sorry to have been late, gentlemen,” he said. “Call the next case, Mr. Sergeant-at-arms,” and the routine of the jury-room commenced half an hour after the appointed time, although a quorum of the grand jury had been present for thirty-five minutes.
The last case of the afternoon call was that against Abe Farris. There were only two witnesses—Officer Doarty and the girl, Maggie Lynch. Doarty had suffered a remarkable change of heart since the evening he stood in the alley back of Farris’s. He was chastened in spirit. His recollection of the affair was vague. After the assistant State attorney had ceased questioning him several of the jurors asked additional information.
“What sort of person is the complaining witness, officer?” asked the banker.
Mr. Doarty looked about and grinned sheepishly. He would not have been at a loss for a word to describe her had a fellow policeman asked him this question, but this august body of dignified business men seemed to call for a special brand of denatured diction in the description of a spade.
“Oh,” he said finally, “she’s just like the rest of ’em down there—she’s on the town.”
“Would you believe her story?” asked the banker.
Doarty grinned and shrugged. “Hard to say,” he replied.
“In your opinion, officer,” asked the assistant State attorney, “have you any case against Farris? Could we get a conviction?”
“No, I don’t think you could,” answered the policeman. It was the question he had been awaiting.
“That’s all, officer,” said the assistant State attorney. “Just a moment, Mr. Sergeant-at-arms, before you call another witness.”
“A moment, please, officer; I want to ask another question before you go,” spoke up one of the jurymen.
The assistant State attorney sighed and looked bored. He had found this the most effective means of silencing jurymen.
“As I understand it, you worked this case up, am I right?” asked the juryman.
“If you had enough evidence three weeks ago to warrant the arrest of Farris, why haven’t you got enough now to insure conviction?”
Doarty looked uncomfortable. He fingered his cap, and turned an appealing look toward the assistant State attorney. That functionary came to his rescue.
“You see, Mr.—a—Smith, pardon me for interrupting,” he said, “the girl swore out a warrant, and it was necessary to make the arrest. That’s all, officer, you may go now.”
“But,” insisted Mr. Smith, “it was quite apparent from the newspaper account at the time that the girl was an unwilling complainant—that the police officer worked up the case.”
In the mean time, Doarty, only too anxious to do so, had left the grand jury-room. The sergeant-at-arms stood with his hand upon the knob of the door looking questioningly at the assistant State attorney.
“You do not care to question any other witnesses, do you?” asked that young gentleman of the jury.
“What other witnesses are there?” asked Mr. Smith.
“Only the girl,” replied the assistant State attorney; “but you can see from the officer’s testimony that it is scarcely worth our while to hear from the girl. You might as well take a vote, Mr. Foreman,” he concluded, turning toward Ogden Secor.
“All those in favor of a true bill raise their right hands,” commanded Mr. Secor.
“Just a moment, Mr. Foreman,” interrupted Mr. Smith.
The assistant State attorney scowled and sighed, then settled back in his chair in martyrlike resignation. Mr. Smith was a thorn in the flesh.
“It seems to me, Mr. Foreman,” said Mr. Smith, “that until we have heard all the witnesses we are in no position to vote intelligently. I, for one, am in favor of calling in the girl.”
“Yes,” “ Yes,” came from several of the jurors.
The sergeant-at-arms looked toward the assistant State attorney for authority.
“Call the next witness,” said Ogden Secor.
The sergeant-at-arms was surprised to receive a command from the foreman of the jury, but the assistant State attorney made no demur, so he opened the door.
“Next witness!” he called, and the grand jury clerk, whose office is just outside the grand jury-room, beckoned to a girl who sat in a chair in the far corner shielding her face with her arm from the glaring eyes of two press cameras. As she rose two flashlights exploded simultaneously. Then she hurried across the room and passed through the doorway into the presence of the grand jury.
Ogden Secor had had not the faintest curiosity regarding her. From earliest boyhood he had learned to shudder at the very thought of the hideous, painted creatures who plied their sickening vocation in a part of the town to which neither business, accident, nor inclination, had ever led him. For a city-bred man whose boyhood had been surrounded with every luxury and whose spending allowance had been practically unlimited, he was remarkably clean. His high ideals were still unsullied, and though a man’s man mentally and physically, morally he was almost a prude.
It was with difficulty that he raised his eyes to the girl’s face as he administered the oath, and it was with a distinct shock of surprised incredulity that he saw that she was neither painted nor hideous. Her brown eyes fell the moment that they met his—there was no slightest sign of boldness in them, and when she turned to face the jury as the assistant State attorney began questioning her her attitude was merely of quiet self-possession.
The young foreman could not reconcile the refinement of her appearance and the well-modulated voice with his preconceived ideas concerning her kind. He had been prepared for a sort of coarse, animal beauty, perhaps, and he had fully expected gaudy apparel and quantities of cheap jewelry; but instead he saw a demure, quietly dressed girl who might have stepped fresh from a convent. It was appalling to think that she had been an inmate of Farris’s.
As she answered the often brutal questions of the assistant State attorney Ogden Secor watched her profile. He saw that the girl was actually suffering under the ordeal; and he had thought that she would welcome the notoriety and brazenly flaunt her shame in the faces of the jurymen!
And he saw, too, as he studied her face, that she was not merely ordinarily good-looking—hers was a face that would have been commented upon anywhere as exceptionally beautiful. He could not believe that the girl before him had voluntarily chosen the career she had been following.
The assistant State attorney had finished questioning her. He had brought out only the simple story she had told Doarty the night he had discovered her upon the fire-escape. It had not been a part of his plan to bring out much of anything bearing on the case. When he had finished Mr. Smith arose.
“How did you happen to be at Farris’s place at all?” he asked. “ Did you go there of your own volition?”
“Yes,” replied the girl.
“You knew the life that you would have to lead there?”
“No; I did not know what kind of place it was.”
“Tell us how you came there then,” said Mr. Smith.
“I would rather not,” she replied. “It has no bearing upon this case.”
“Would you go back there if Farris would take you?” asked another jury-man.
“He will not take me.”
“What do you intend doing?”
“I shall have to go to some other city where I am not known.”
“And there you will continue the—ah—the same vocation?”
“What else is there for me?” she asked.
“There are many good men who would help you,” said Mr. Smith. She shrugged, and for the first time Secor caught a note of hardness in her voice as she replied.
“There are no good men,” she said.
There was a finality to her statement that put an end to further questioning.