View Full Version : At My Papa's Trial. Adult, History, 2,500

November 7th, 2014, 06:08 PM
"Josh, you better get up now," my mother calls me. "We hav'ta hurry to get to your daddy's trial. He's a comin' home today."

Throwing aside a thick feather comforter, I groan and get out of bed. It being July in Ohio in the year 1863, I don't really need the heavy quilted cover but like the security and warmth it implies. I have both windows open in my room to let in cool night air. The sounds of birds chattering in a buckeye tree outside hardly distract my young mind from the fate of my father. He's on trial for shootin' an itinerant Three-Card-Monte dealer.

Papa took our savings to downtown Freeport to see 'bout buyin' a mule from Mr. Jessup at the stable. I hear he saw the cardsharp standin' at a folding table on Main street and paused to wager a few cents.

Papa isn't much of a gambler and ended up losin' the whole twenty-dollars. They say he got mad'ern hell and went in'ta the Jackson Street Saloon, run by Cousin Elmer. He's supposed to have grabbed Cousin Elmer's old horse-pistol from behind the bar and shot the bastard.

Afterward, Sheriff Adams found some thing-ma-jig in the man's sleeve that did somethin' to the cards, lettin' him cheat Papa.

Now the whole town's up in arms, some on both sides, as to whether it was even a crime or not. It's the biggest thing to happen in Freeport in a year a Sundays. We ain't never had a killing before, I don't think. But then, I'm only eight years old.

Mama hurries me through a quick breakfast of cooked cornmeal and a slice of toast, fixed by puttin' bread on the edge of the cook-stove. It's only the third store-boughten stove in town.

Cousin Travis, a single man, gave his enlistment bonus for the war to Mama, an she used fifteen dollars to buy it. She also got us that Sears Landau Carriage. It's only a one-seater, but we manage and it's better than riding Old Shep direct. That cost 'bout twenty-dollars more.

"I ain't got no use for money down in the slave states," I heard him tell her. "I'd just gamble it away or some Reb would take it off''a my body anyways."

"Shush, Trav," she told him. "That thing ain't gonna last long. They're just actin' up a little. Just like us, when planting season comes they have to stop playing little-boy games and go home to work. Most of them don't have no slave, anyway. Ain't worth dying over."

Well, we ain't heard from Travis for a month. Mebbe' he was right. Travis tried to get Daddy to go too.

"Come on, Isiah, you get a hundred Federals just for joinin' up, then at least fifteen a month for sittin' on your ass," I heard him tell Papa. "Won't take long to chase those bastards all the way to the Mexican Ocean."

"Like to, Trav," Papa replied, "but I done got me a wife an family, long with a farm ta plow."

Well, that was then, this is now. And my Papa's trial.

"Eat up, Josh, and hurry it up. We gotta be going," she tells me. "We gotta go collect Daddy when he gets out."

I can see circles under her eyes where she's been crying, so I don't know whether to believe her. Don't seem to me that shootin' a crooked gambler's such a big thing.

I finish eatin', sopping my toast in milk at the bottom of the cornmeal bowl, then jump up, ready to go.

"Comb your hair, boy," she tells me. "You gotta look good for your daddy."

So I have to spend more time, looking around for the horn-comb. It's the only one we got and always gets lost. Ain't my fault, since I don't use it anymore'n I have to. This time, Mama left it in the bathhouse out back by the stream. Papa done built it with old lumber from Mr. Jenkins, after Mr. Jenkins built his new house.

The bathhouse sits over top of Simpson's Creek, behind our place, so's we got us some privacy when we takes our weekly baths. Ain't much good in the wintertime, though. Once a week, in the cold times, we gotta build a fire in a brick fire-pit in it. It gets nice and warm inside, except the water's still freezing.

I cheat and just dip some out in a couple oaken buckets, sittin' them next to the fire for awhile to let them get warm first. Papa, though, he just plops down in the creek and laughs at me. I don't know how Mama does it 'cause she don't let me watch.

Anyway, this is summer. By the time I get ready, Mama has the carriage ready. Old Shep turns his head around as he feels me jiggle the Landau getting in. It's only supposed to be for one person but the seat is real wide. And we ain't got very far to go, anyways.

Meb'be I can walk back, I think, since both Mama and Papa will fill the little thing up. When they do that, I have to hang onto the rear deck. They got a little step and shelf there, and straps for the rain-cover to hold to. It's fun bouncing around back there but I'd rather walk home in nice weather.

Sides, if I walk I can stop to look for snappin' turtles in the creek on the way back. They make good eatin'. If I find a real big one, I just take a limb and stick it under him, shoving the critter on his back. The things are too dumb to turn over by themselves and they have to wait while I go get Papa.

It ain't far to town. I think Mama just wants ta show off the new Landau. We pull up to a hitching post reserved for us cause of Papa, in front of the "Patterson Saloon." I see my friend, "Turnip Top" Tribble, standing with his family.

Main Street is 'bout the only street in Freeport. It's got a couple a small streets comin' off'a it that only go a little bit farther. One stops at the town stable, put way out there 'cause a the smell. The other to the Baptist church, the only one in town. So, for practical purposes there's only one street.

We ain't got us no real courthouse, but we got three saloons. So one'a them is always chose for that. The town, to be fair, alternates t'ween them. Patterson's got the pick for Papa.

Reverend Lovejoy don't want to use his church, saying it ain't good for someone to be maybe sentenced to be hanged from inside God's house. Besides, he says, He don't wanna see none a those bastard lowlifes in there. Reverend Lovejoy is a loud and straight talker for a preacher, which makes his sermons interesting. He says they don't have to go through the church on their way to hell. They can get themselves straight there without it -- or somethin' like that.

TT Tribble sees me, and starts coming our way while Mama is tying Shep up.

"I wonder if I need the feedbag or not," she mutters. "We shouldn't be here long." Then. "I guess I better," she says, sighing. "That loudmouth lawyer, Simmons, is gonna be talking. He's worse than Lovejoy. It might take all day."

While she's puttin' a canvas bag of oats on Shep's muzzle, TT comes over to us. I notice a lot of people also comin'. The trial is proly' gonna start a'fore long. A robin flies down to land on the tip of the feedbag, just as Mama finishes tying the last rope for it.

"Beat it, bird," she says. "Come on, boy. We better go on in."

"I'll be in later, Mama," I tell her. "I wanna talk to Turnip Top, here." It won't start for awhile yet. I see Judge Thomas way over at the store, talkin' to a man gussied up in a black suit. I'll come in when I see him a'doin it.

"All right, but make sure you do, Josh. I need you in there with me. I need your support, just in case."

"Just in case a what?"

"Just in case."

I can see her eyes get wet. She has her bonnet pulled way down in front, but I'm a lot shorter than her.

Actually, me and TT don't have much ta talk 'bout except Papa, and neither one of us really wants to. We just don't wanna go in that hot room before we have to, listenin' to all those grownups talkin' up a storm.

With one eye on Judge Thomas talking to the man dressed in all black, me an TT play with a couple slivers a pine left by the horse-trough. We pretend we're the captains of two frigates fighting it out in the Mexican Ocean down on the other side of Georgia. We weave our ships around in the trough, slappin' our hands on the surface to make the splinters jump around like with cannon shots. Course we get each other splashed quite a bit too. Soon, we're a whoopin' and hollerin', trying to make our chips land on top of the other's chip ship.

"Hey, you kids get'ta hell out'a there. My horse got'ta get'a drink," a man yells, pulling up on a mustang bitch, and chases us away.

We sit for awhile, watchin' a couple a dogs making puppies over next to the general store. Ain't nothing we ain't seen before.

"Hey Josh, let's gett'um," TT says, grabbin' a beat-up tin-pan from under the slat sidewalk.

He fills it up with water from the horse-trough and we run over to the mutts while water splashes out'a a hole in'a bottom. I'm still keeping an eye on the Judge, his back turned while he jabbers. We don't wanna go ta jail or nothin'.

"Hey'a!" TT yells, throwing cold water on the dogs.

With a yelp, the bitch takes off, dragging her smaller lover behind her, him screaming, still stuck in her. It's the funniest thing I seen for awhile.

Oops. The judge is walking this way. We straighten up and shut up, like we din't do nothing. Then we goes in the saloon a'fore he gets there.

Inside, someone's threw some sheets of canvas over a rope strung across in front of the bar, hidin' it from us kids. Don't know why, since I'm used to going in to buy buckets a beer for Papa. The tables are all against one wall, except for one for the judge and a couple others.

Mama's sittin' at one. There are a whole bunch'a chairs and benches lined up toward the back, spotted with womenfolk and a few men.

It's plenty hot, even with all the windows open an a mess'a noise comin' from a'hind the canvased section. Also, a lot a moving lumps shoving on the other side of the sheet. I guess Mr. Patterson is doin' a brisk business with the menfolk behind there. Why not? The trial ain't started yet.

A lookout at the door almost tramples me and TT as he runs up to the bar to tell them the judge is coming. Immediately, most of the men from town pour themselves out'a there, hurrying to get seats before the judge comes in and catches them drinkin'. You ain't supposed to drink at trials, Mama said.

Papa is with them, not looking very sad as he takes his seat with Mama and Mr. Simmons, the lawyer. He had'a spend the night in a spare room at the Judge's house and couldn't come home.

I notice the other table ain't got nobody sittin' at it. TT goes to a bench with his parents while I go up to squeeze in between Papa and Mr. Simmons.

As Papa hugs me, I can smell whiskey on his breath. He tells a joke to Mr. Simmons and they both laugh. It's somethin' about two mules a woman an a goat, that I don't get. But I laugh too.

Judge Thomas bangs the table with a empty beer mug, quietin' everyone down.

"Let's finish up this here thing now. I got'ta lot a work ta do today," he says. "We didn't bother with no jury, so we'll call for a show of hands. Justice must be followed, so anyone that votes better sign the book before you leave, along with your vote. And they better be the same as my hand count, less you want to be called back in here ta do it agin'. Men only. No women, children, or mules can vote." He gets a lot of laughing with that, the idea of women or mules voting.

"You've all heard the evidence by now. That yestaday’, 'bout noon, Isiah Warner, here, shot that thievin' crook. You proly made up your minds a'ready. But ta follow the law, we still gotta let you hear summations from both sides.

"First comes the prosecution. Does anyone want to speak for that thieving asshole? If so, stand up and be heard."

There's a murmur and a few giggles, but nobody feels like sayin' anything good about the thief.

"Now then, that settled we'll have to let Mr. Simmons bend our ears for a good spell. Sorry, but we just got'ta."

The judge can't even keep a straight face, though I can see him tryin'. There are sighs and jeers comin' from the back of the room.

Mr. Simmons stands up, holding a bunch'a papers in his hand. He starts talking, turning back and forth from his papers to the judge, and then to the rest of the room. I can't understand one in two of what he says, mostly words big enough to choke a jackass.

Instead, I sit, scrooch around a little and look around the room. It looks like a couple of robins on one windowsill are going to sleep while listenin'. I know I hear snoring from Mr. Jablonski, the blacksmith. He snores real loud, as anyone bringing a horse in to be shod can tell you.

I'm about to doze off myself, when I wake to loud cheering as Mr. Simmons sits back down next to me.

"All right. Thank you, Mr. Simmons," Judge Thomas says, shuffling papers around. "Now lets get down ta it. Everyone votin' ta acquit Mr. Warner, raise your hands." He counts under his breath but I can hear him in the still room. "Not you, Mrs. Jones. Only men," he says. "Okay. How many want to convict this brave and honorable citizen of our town?"

I look back and don't see no hands raised. Only a bunch of women starting to stand and smooth down their clothin', gettin' ready ta leave.

"Not guilty! Now, since we saved the money designated for the jury, drinks are on the town," the judge says, getting up.

Me and TT, along with other kids, have a long time to play in the morning sun as the menfolk celebrate Papa goin' home. Anyways, that's what happened at my Papa's trial.

The End.