English Literature » Mark Twain » The Judge’s “Spirited Woman”

The Judge’s “Spirited Woman” by

A correspondent quotes an incident in the Pierre Bonaparte trial as “an unusual instance of spirit in a woman” — a young and gentle woman, unaccustomed to tumultuous assemblages of strange men, and therefore likely to be the very reverse of spirited in a place like that High Court at Tours. She described the scene between herself and Victor Noir and his betrothed, when Victor was putting on and buttoning his neat new Jouvins. Then, says the correspondent:

She described how in two hours they brought him back dead. In the evening she asked those about her how the trouble came about and they told her that the Prince said Victor had given him a blow! “I went To his body,” she said, “I looked at his gloves, and when I saw them unbroken, unstained and clean and tightly fitting buttoned as I had seen them in the morning, I knew the Prince had lied!” As she said this, she pointed her finger at the Prince and looked him in the face, but he made no sign.

In a moment this little feminine outburst reminded me of the instance which an old Nevada Judge of the early times gave me as being what he sparklingly called “the most right-up and snappy ebullition of womanly git-up-and-git” that had ever fallen under his notice.

“I was sitting here,” said the Judge, “in this old pulpit, holding court, and we were trying a big wicked-looking Spanish desperado for killing the husband of a bright, pretty Mexican woman. It was a lazy summer day, and an awfully long one, and the witnesses were tedious. None of us took any interest in the trial except that nervous uneasy devil of a Mexican woman — because you know how they love and how they hate, and this one had loved her husband with all her might, and now she had boiled it all down into hate, and stood here spitting it at that Spaniard with her eyes; and I tell you she would stir me up, too, with a little of her summer lightning occasionally. Well, I had my coat off and my heels up, lolling and sweating, and smoking one of those cabbage cigars the San Francisco people used to think were good enough for us in those times; and the lawyers they all had their coats off and were smoking and whittling, and the witnesses the same, and so was the prisoner. Well, the fact is, there warn’t any interest in a murder trial then, because the fellow was always brought in not guilty, the jury expecting him to do as much for them some time; and although the evidence was straight and square against this Spaniard, we knew we could not convict him without seeming to be rather high-handed and sort of reflecting on every gentleman in the community; for there warn’t any carriages and liveries then, and so the only ‘style’ there was, was to keep your private graveyard. But that woman seemed to have her heart set on hanging that Spaniard; and you’d ought to have seen how she would glare on him a minute, and then look up at me in her pleading way, and then turn and for the next five minutes search the jury’s faces — and by and by drop her face in her hands for just a little while as if she was most ready to give up, but out she’d come again directly and be as live and anxious as ever. But when the jury announced the verdict, Not Guilty, and I told the prisoner he was acquitted and free to go, that woman rose up till she appeared to be as tall and grand as a seventy-four-gun ship, and says she:

” ‘Judge, do I understand you to say that this man is not guilty, that murdered my husband without any cause before my own eyes and my little children’s, and that all has been done to him that ever justice and the law can do?’

” ‘The same,’ says I.

“And then what do you reckon she did? Why she turned on that smirking Spanish fool like a wildcat, and out with a ‘navy’ and shot him dead in open court!”

“That was spirited, I am willing to admit.”

“Wasn’t it, though?” said the Judge, admiringly. “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I adjourned court right on the spot and we put on our coats and went out and took up a collection for her and her cubs, and sent them over the mountains to their friends. Ah, she was a spirited wench!”

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