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Be-consarned if these lawyers weren't forever dragging up fancy-sounding Latin terms instead of talking in plain English. This here aller sans jour—it sure sounded sneaky; and the worst was that it looked as if a killer was going to be acquitted, because even Judge Steele realized that the evidence they had on hand against him was shaky, to say the most...

Aller Sans Jour

 Judge Steele Story 

by Lon Williams

JUDGE WARDLOW STEELE eased onto his judicial chair with a premonition that he was about to be licked. In a courtroom crowded with Flat Creek's mongrel citizenry his blue, savage eyes sought an old friend, Vigilante Chief Bill Hacker, whose crusade for law and order in a lawless, roaring gold-rush town had contributed most to establishment of this clumsy court.

His Honor's roving eyes did not find what they sought. Yet Vigies along the walls assured him that his old friends were still around, that Bill Hacker had not withdrawn what he had often called his moral support of legal and orderly justice.

Steele tugged at his straw-colored mustache and nodded to his right. "Sheriff, call court."

Big Jerd Buckalew rose and pounded with his forty-five. "Court's now in session. Don't let your doubts change you to a corpse."

Steele glanced at another court official. "Skiffy, call fust case."

Clerk James Skiffington rose, specter- like. His voice was harsh and terrifying. "People versus Hardy Fingerstall, alias Lord Bolingbroke. Charge, first-degree murder."

Steele glared down at a bench reserved for scoundrels about to set out upon a oneway journey. There sat as confident and arrogant a red-nosed rascal as had ever sat before a bar of justice. He was distinguished looking, of elegant proportions, dark, smooth-faced except for an up-curving mustache, with long hair and a broad, intellectual forehead. Greatness and dignity undoubtedly had been his birthright, but pale, gray-green eyes by their shifty queerness suggested why he had missed his manifest destiny.

In glaring at him, Steele felt impelled to growl, as one huge canine at sight of another of like size. "Murder, eh? Beconsarned if you oughtn't go somewhars and get a pay-job murdering important people. You're wasting your talents hyar in Flat Creek. You got a lawyer?"

A lean, tall gentleman in black suit, white vest and black tie got up, his dark hair exquisitely parted and brushed, his smooth face calm and unworried. "1 am his lawyer, your honor. French Demeree."

Steele had seen him there beside Fingerstall, had derived momentary tight- jawed satisfaction from ignoring him.

"Yeah, Demeree from Tennessee. Beconsarned if we wouldn't have a heap less trouble hanging these murdering varmints, if you'd go back whar you come from."

Demeree nodded leisurely, "I regard your wish as a compliment, your honor."

"Well, by thunder, it ain't meant for one." Steele swung left. "Whar's our man?"

A stocky redhead with noble brow and enlightened demeanor got up. "Wade Claybrook, your honor. Prosecuting attorney."

Steele contemplated his man Claybrook with mixed hope and doubt. "Now, Wade, we've got a big-size walrus to be hung this time. All we need to hang him is a stout rope from Sheriff Buckalew and a stout heart from you. Is your pulse beating like a strikin'-hammer?"

"Your honor," said Claybrook with quiet fervor, "justice is not a matter of passion, but of deliberate application of law to facts. If evidence establishes this defendant's guilt, I am confident there will be tree limbs strong enough to support his weight, and hearts stout enough to string him up."

"Mightily spoken, Claybrook," declared Steele, hope descending and doubt ascending on his mental seesaw. He was thinking what a fine thing it would be, if Claybrook got some passion into his sense of justice. He glared at Hardy Fingerstall. "All right, you scarlet-snouted hippopotamus, what's your plea?"

Demeree answered, "Defendant's plea is not guilty, your honor."

"So you mean to make a fight of it, eh? And if you can find some tricky loophole, you'll drag him through it. Well, by thunder, you'll have to drag mighty hard. Bucky, panel a jury."

Buckalew jerked his head. "Call names, Skiffy."

SKIFFINGTON called names, and there was a tug between Demeree and Claybrook as to who should sit in Judgment. It ended with twelve honorable citizens—too consarned honorable, in Steele's opinion—sitting in various attitudes of open-mindedness and calm resolution.

"Witnesses come and be sworn," Steele shouted, disappointment lending brittleness to his speech....

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