“The difference between hell and war is that hell is a bit friendlier.”
The Yankee Maiden.
Thursday Morning, June 12, 1862
The Honorable Judge Henry Wainwright stared at me. “I do believe this is your witness to cross-examine.”
Saint Lucifer! It’s finally my time. I get to stand before everyone … listening to my every word, watching my every move.
I glanced at my mentor, Mr. Benjamin Talmadge Sage, Esquire. This is the final test for my apprenticeship. I get to cross-examine the most important defense witness. Don’t worry, Mr. Sage, I won’t let you down.
I rose from the prosecution’s table, at which Mr. Sage and I sat, and slowly, precisely strolled to the witness stand. Remember Mr. Lincoln’s advice … ‘Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other thing.’ I stared into Mr. Runnels’s eyes. A slovenly dressed man, he leaned far to one side, chewing something obnoxious. Occasionally, his lips would smack revealing a dark-brown substance inside, staining his teeth.
“Well,” Judge Wainwright blared, “have you decided on a staring contest as your mode of cross-examination?” Those in the gallery snickered.
Mr. Runnels snorted and looked at the judge. “Sir, you have to be pulling both my legs straight out of their sockets.” He pointed at me. “A female lawyer? Has the courts been overrun by insane asylum escapees?”
The judge banged his gavel. “You will be civil in my court, Mr. Runnels. Miss Samantha Lee has spent two years in training as an apprentice. How well she does today on her first cross-examination will determine if she goes before the bar on Saturday.”
“Saturday?” Mr. Runnels whisked his hand through his disheveled hair. “The court is open Saturdays?”
“This court is open every Saturday for all business except jury trials … and has been for years.”
Mr. Runnels laughed and pointed at me. “She gonna see you on Saturday, and you’re going to give her a law license?” He shook his head. “Let a woman in the courts, and it will take twice as long.” He harrumphed. “Twice as long, it will.”
Judge Wainwright pointed his gavel at Mr. Runnels. “You hush now and answer her questions.” He pulled back the gavel. “Just humor me.”
“All right.” Mr. Runnels straightened. “But I better be able to get a word in edgeways.” The gallery chuckled.
“Continue, Miss Lee.”
Here I am, the only attorney to ever move about in skirts. I tried to imagine what I would look like gliding around in my green day dress of honeycomb checks. I stepped closer to the witness and smiled. He sneered back. I lost my smile and leaned toward him with a glare. “Mr. Runnels, where were you on April nineteenth, eighteen hundred and sixty-one.”
“You know where I was.” He grunted. “Your first question,” he looked at the judge, “and it’s a stupid one.” The gallery burst into laughter.
The gavel banged and I threw up a hand toward Judge Wainwright. “It’s all right, your honor. I’ll explain it to him, if you don’t mind.”
I pointed to a man sitting at a small table to the left of the prosecutor’s table. “You see Mr. Styles there?”
Mr. Styles looked up and lowered his pen.
I took a few steps toward him. “He is the official stenographer of this trial. He’s sitting there, with his four-dollar gold pen, a price inflated by the war started last year. He puts everything into the record.” I edged back toward Mr. Runnels. “I ask questions that I know the answer to,” I swung a hand toward Judge Wainwright, our table, the defense table, and the people in the gallery, “that everyone knows the answer to so it can be entered into the official record.”
I lowered my hands and clasped them in front of my skirts. “Now, if you will please answer the question.”
Mr. Runnels whipped up one hand and tossed it aside. “Well, you took so long, that I forgot the dang question.” Mild laughter rolled through the gallery, and the gavel banged again.
“Do not encourage this witness in his rude behavior,” the judge snapped at the gallery.
I asked the question again.
Mr. Runnels wrapped his forefinger and thumb around his chin and rubbed. “Let’s see … that was over a year ago. He shoved the index finger in the air. “Ah, I was near Philadelphia Station watching the union troops march through the streets here in Baltimore on their way to Washington.”
“Are you from Baltimore?”
“Sure as hell ain’t.”
“Arkansas. Fort Smith.”
“And what are you doing in Baltimore?”
He pressed his lips tight and bounced his head from side to side. “Oh, I don’t know. It seemed like a nice place to visit.”
I stepped to the side and faced the jury. “Is it because Baltimore is a city awash in Southern dissent … or was it because you were disillusioned that Maryland did not secede from the Union.”
He leaned toward the judge and pointed at me. “Does she have to talk like a book?”
“Yes,” Judge Wainwright said. “She may very well get her law license the day after tomorrow. All lawyers need to talk like books.”
Mr. Runnels sat back and snickered. “Funny, I never heard no book say the first word.” More laughter arose from the gallery.
The gavel banged again. “Mr. Runnels, do not make a mockery of my court, or you will be warming a jail bench for a few days.” He looked out into the gallery. “And I’ll warn our visitors not to encourage the witness’s antics.”
After Runnels lost the smirk in his face, I approached him. “Did you come East to cause dissention?”
He narrowed his eyes. “Course not. I don’t care about no dad-blamed war.” He laughed. “I’m a man of peace, I am.”
I walked back to the prosecution table where Mr. Sage handed me two sheets of paper. I took one to the judge, and the other I dropped on Mr. Farmer’s defense table. Turning, I walked toward Judge Wainwright. “Your honor, please allow me to enter into the record a note that was intercepted concerning Mr. Runnels’s real reason for being in Baltimore. You have the original note, sir.” I looked at Mr. Farmer. “And you, sir, have a transcribed copy.”
I edged toward the jury and looked from one set of eyes to another. “This note is from a Mr. Quarrels concerning information on where Southern dissidents meet to plan harassment of Northern troops passing through on Baltimore’s railway system.” I turned back to Mr. Runnels. “Anyone arriving at Philadelphia station, whose destination is south of Baltimore, must disembark and wait for the railroad cars to be disengaged and pulled by horse along tracks to the Camden station. Usually, passing troops wait nearby to form up. They march up Lombard to Hanover Street, out Hanover to Camden, and then to the train depot. This makes them susceptible to harassment along the way, does it not, Mr. Runnels?”
He looked away. “Susceptible?”
“Easy prey.” I said.
“I suppose so.”
“And that is the real reason you came all the way from Arkansas to be in Baltimore, isn’t it?”
The lead defense attorney stood. “Your honor, I must object.”
“What is the nature of your objection, Mr. Farmer?”
“Mr. Runnels is not on trial here. This is a trial to determine if Mr. Baines,” he pointed to his client seated next to the other defense attorney, “was guilty or innocent of throwing a few pebbles at some Massachusetts’ regiments.”
Mr. Sage rose. “Hardly pebbles. Rocks, all of them … except for the half-brick that struck one soldier in the head.” He looked at the judge. “He’s still recovering from his vicious wound.”
“Your honor,” I approached the bench, “it goes to the intent of this witness … his possible lack of political impartiality.” I turned and stared at Mr. Farmer. “How can someone who comes here frothed with Confederate sentiment be impartial at an event where U.S. troops were attacked?” Jabbering at both tables started.
Judge Wainwright smacked the gavel down hard. “I will accept it into the record. Now, may we continue?” The lawyers sat down as I approached Mr. Runnels again.
“Let’s cut to the chase, Mr. Runnels. Please tell us what you saw concerning the defendant.”
He pointed to the defense table. “Mr. Baines?” He jerked his arm back to his lap. “Right. I was watching the goings-on when I seen this man, the one that turned out to be Baines …, I seen him scurrying among the common people picking up stones and putting them in his pockets. Everyone else was shouting dirty words and insults … some throwing rocks. Bigguns, too!”
I folded my arms. “And what did Mr. Baines do with the rocks?”
Mr. Runnels tilted his head down and furrowed his brow. “What do you mean? I just told you. He put them in his pockets.” The gallery laughed.
I shook my head. “I meant, what did he do with the rocks once they were in his pockets.”
“He looked around a minute or so … then he broke from the crowd. I followed him, and a few streets away, he took them stones and threw them in a ditch.”
“And where did he go after that?”
He threw a hand out to one side. “Away. He walked away from the ruckus. I figured he was through and just went on home.”
“But you don’t know that he went home, do you?”
He squirmed. “I said I figured he did.”
“Well, figuring isn’t knowing … now isn’t that true?”
He pulled his arms in close. “I don’t know the law. That’s for you petty-fogging lawyers to know.”
I walked slowly back to Mr. Sage and raised my eyebrows at him. He nodded ever so slightly. I spun. “Mr. Runnels, do you know a Mrs. Strudelmeier?”
“Were you aware that she testified for the prosecution?”
“Of course not. Witnesses ain’t allowed in the courtroom except to testify. We don’t know nothing about the case except what we know.”
I glanced at the jury and stepped toward Mr. Runnels. “Please allow me to restate that for you.” I stopped and turned to the jury. “Mr. Runnels, in fact any witness, only knows what goes on in a courtroom during the brief time in which they testify. They do not have knowledge of the facts of the trial.” I turned back to Mr. Runnels. “Isn’t that so, Mr. Runnels? You know nothing of the trial except for what you witnessed here today, isn’t that right?”
He made a few faces, then scrunched lower. “Guess so.”
I walked closer. “Could you speak a little louder, sir?”
He stiffened. “That’s the way it is. It ain’t my fault.”
Mr. Farmer stood. “Accounts of trials are reported in the newspapers, isn’t that correct, Mr. Runnels?”
“Course they are.”
“Thank you.” Mr. Farmer sat.
I directed my attention back to Mr. Runnels. “Are you literate?”
He squinted, looked at the judge, then back at me. “What do you mean?”
I leaned on the rail in front of him. “Can you read?”
“Well …,” he looked around. “… never had no book learning, if that’s what you mean.”
Mr. Farmer stood. “I object, your honor.”
“State the nature of the objection.”
“Miss Lee is straying off topic. She started by mentioning Mrs. Strudelmeier’s testimony.” He extended a hand to the jury. “A testimony that we all are familiar with, and then drops the subject like a hot coal.”
Judge Wainwright raised a hand. “Let the coals tend to themselves. I’m curious as to where Miss Lee is going with this.” He looked at me. “Please continue … and try to be brief. The moment I detect a lack of direction … you’re done. You hear me?”
I nodded. “Yes, your honor.”
I turned to Mr. Runnels with hands on hips. “So, no book learning means you cannot read. Is that correct?”
He looked down at his wringing hands. “Suppose so.”
“Then you cannot know the circumstances of the trial.”
He looked up and glared. “I heared tell.”
“I heared others around me talk of it.”
“And where were you when you heard people discussing the trial?”
“At the Horse.”
I snapped my head back. “The Horse? Baltimore’s most famous … and possible infamous pub?” I spread my arms apart. “Oh, The Horse You Came In On bar. The leading establishment for gossip and slander.” I folded my arms and stepped back. “Hardly a reliable source.” I lowered my arms. “And how many speakers of the trial were drunk?”
“I object, your honor,” Mr. Farmer said without standing.
Judge Wainwright tapped the gavel on its pad once. “Hurry this along, Miss Lee. Let’s get to the point before dinner.”
“Yes, your honor.” I turned my back on Mr. Runnels and walked away. “So, did you hear of Mrs. Strudelmeier’s testimony?”
“Of course not.”
I spun. “No?”
I turned to the jury. “Mrs. Strudelmeier testified yesterday that she helped Mr. Baines collect rocks and watched him throw them at the Massachusetts troops.”
Mr. Runnels shook his head. “It’s a lie. I saw no such thing.”
“Tell me, Mr. Runnels, did you come from The Horse before happening upon the riot.”
“Of course not.”
I walked toward him. “You were drunk before you showed up to watch Mr. Baines, weren’t you?”
He shot his arms by his side. “I was not drunk.”
I raised my hands and walked toward the jury. “You were drunk out of your mind and had no idea what was going on at the riot. Isn’t that right?””
He stamped his foot. “That’s not true! You’re putting words in my mouth!”
I faced him. “You’re not interested in justice unless it can be found in a bottle.”
“That’s a lie! You’re a liar!”
I walked toward him. “You came along … drunk as Dionysus, saw the commotion, and went to investigate. Maybe you even threw a few stones of your own. Did you?”
He smacked his hand on the rail before him. “I did no such thing!”
Reaching him, I glared. “You came here to get information on how to disrupt just such a scene. That shows that you hated Yankees.”
“Yeah, I hate Yankees, but I ain’t lying about Mr. Baines!”
“Yes, you are. You probably threw rocks with him.”
“I did no such thing!”
“So, how much did he pay you to lie for him?”
“Ten dol ….” He threw a hand to his mouth and shot his brows upward. He looked like a horse had just stepped on his foot.
“Ten dollars. I see.” I walked toward the judge. “No more questions, your honor.”
Judge Wainwright looked around his courtroom and settled on the defense attorney. “Any re-cross of Mr. Runnels?”
“No, your honor.” Mr. Farmer shook his head. “The defense rests.”
The judge looked at Mr. Sage. “Does the prosecution rest?”
“Yes, your honor.”
The judge raised his gavel. “Miss Lee and Mr. Sage, please approach the bench when we are adjourned.” He banged the gavel once. “This court is adjourned for dinner. We will reconvene at two p.m. for summations.”
The gallery broke out in excited chatter.
“You really livened things up,” Mr. Sage said once the ruckus settled down and the gallery started filing out.
I smiled at him. “I did all right, then?”
“For content, it couldn’t have gone better, but the vocabulary …?” He held out a hand and tipped it right and left rapidly. “If you admire Mr. Lincoln so much … speak the common man’s language. Don’t try to impress the judge.”
I nodded and we rose. Catching movement out of the corner of one eye, I turned to discover my best friend among the leaving throng, waving her hands vigorously with a big grin on her face.
Rebecca? I waved back. She pointed toward the exit and nodded. I returned her nod, and she turned and left the courtroom.
“Is that Miss Howard? It’s nice to have your friend here to cheer you on.”
“This was her doing. I had no idea she would be here. Maybe we could take dinner together and you could really get a chance to know her?”
“I have a few errands to run. I’ll do the summation this afternoon, then I’ll see you bright and early Saturday morning … ten a.m. for your oral law exam.”
“Saint Lucifer! I’ll be able to take the Orals, then?”
“I’m going to recommend that to the judge. I strongly feel that he is of the same mind.”
“You think the verdict on Mr. Baines will be in before Saturday?”
“Should happen tomorrow sometime. You just spend your time studying. Do you have Bouvier’s Law Dictionary memorized?”
“Not quite, but I will by Saturday.”
The gavel banged. “Members of the prosecution …. let’s move it. I’m hungry.”
I walked to the defense table and held out my hand. “You did a fine job, Mr. Farmer. I learned a lot from you during this trial.” We shook hands. I eased mine back, grasping the other and held them before my bosom. “You once told me at the start of the trial that I stuck out like an elephant at a train station. Well, Mr. Lincoln once said, ‘When you have got an elephant by the hind legs, and she is trying to run away, it’s best to let her run.’” He laughed which allowed me to. He’s being a good sport about it. “No hard feelings, then?”
He shook his head. “I wish you luck on Saturday. One word of advice though … drop the ten-dollar words and speak to the people.”
I smiled. “I will.”
“Miss Lee,” Judge Wainwright said. “Mr. Sage and I are waiting.”
“Yes, your honor.” I approached them.
The judge stared at me with raised eyebrows. “Well, you look happy with yourself, and you should be. That’s about the finest performance from an apprentice attorney I’ve ever seen.”
I felt myself grinning. “Thank you, your honor.”
“One would think, however, since you admire Mr. Lincoln’s courtroom style so much, that you would ease back on the fancy-pants words.”
“So I have been told.” I bit my lower lip. “Well, since I don’t wear pants, I suppose I’ll make my words less fancy.”
He laughed. “Are you ready to take the exam on Saturday?”
I felt my eyebrows stretch toward my hairline. “Then, I may take the Orals?”
“Yes, you may. Ten a.m. sharp … for all the good it will do you. No one who has not been adjudicated mentally incompetent will hire you, though. You will be the first woman in this country to have certification to practice law … and no law to practice.”
I nodded. “Don’t worry, your honor. I will find some adjudicated incompetents.”
He smiled. “You’re just stubborn enough.” He shooed his hands at me. “Now, go. Study hard, and I hope you pass. Not many apprentices do the first time.”
As Mr. Sage and I walked toward the courtroom exit, he leaned down. “You know everyone’s been humoring you … even your father.”
“I know it. But it got me to this point.”
“If he weren’t the owner of the most productive plantation in the State of Maryland, you would never be here.”
I nodded. “I count my lucky stars every night, sir.”
He shook his head. “The abolitionist daughter of the largest slave holding plantation ….. Now that’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one.”
I turned and smiled. “Let’s keep it in the common man’s language, Mr. Sage. It’s a contradiction.”
He laughed as we breezed through the exit. “How did your father ever allow you to apprentice?”
“He thinks it’s a farce, but he knew it would keep me out of his hair for two years … and keep my mind off Mama’s passing.”
I looked ahead and caught Rebecca hurriedly approaching.
She hugged me, then pulled away again. “You were brilliant!” She turned to my mentor. “Wasn’t she, Mr. Sage?”
He smiled. “Oh, yes. The most brilliant apprentice I’ve ever had.”
“Of course I am,” I said, “because I’m the only one he’s ever had.” I stared at him. “Attorneys don’t take apprentices until they are at least thirty-three, and you, sir, are thirty-two.”
Rebecca giggled and hugged me again. “It’s because no one else would have you.”
After she pulled away again, I felt a tear forming in my eye. “That’s true enough.” I turned to my mentor. “I sure thank you, Mr. Sage. Without you, I could never have achieved this.”
Rebecca raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to hire her, Mr. Sage?”
“It’s not up to me. As a court litigant, I work for the system.”
I nodded. “And there’s no way the courts are going to want me representing them. No, I’m going to hang out my own shingle.”
He smiled. “However, if you ever need a recommendation, I will write you the finest.”
Mr. Sage bid adieu and walked off toward the right. Rebecca and I strode off arm-in-arm in the other direction along the boardwalk.
Rebecca held one hand in front of her and swiped it from left to right. “Sam Lee, Attorney at Law. That’s what you should use as your name. Not Samantha. Then when clients show up, you can pretend to be Sam’s clerk. They’ll never know until you show up for trial.” She laughed.
I smiled. “That would certainly be unethical.”
“It would only take one client. You’d be so brilliant in the courtroom … like today … and clients would come flocking like robins to the south in winter.”
“Oh, but a dream for dreams’ sake.”
“Quoting Shakespeare again.”
“No.” I repeated her hand gesture spelling out my name and title. “Sam Lee, Attorney at Law.”
We laughed heartily until someone grabbed my arm and swung me around.
“Bitch!” Mr. Runnels said. “You tricked me in there! Now, I’m going to have an ounce of your flesh!”
“Careful,” Rebecca said. “You just might get a pound of resistance.”
He gawked at her. “Shut your filthy hole!”
I stepped between them. “Now, wait a minute, Mr. Runnels. You can’t insult my best friend and neighbor in that manner. I badgered you in court, and I was just doing my duty as a prosecuting attorney.”
He shoved Rebecca aside.
I stepped forward. “Hey! That is uncalled for!”
“Well, here’s another!” He swung his left fist, and I ducked under it taking a pugilist’s stance. Before he could recover from his miss, I jabbed him two heavy blows to the body followed by an uppercut that reeled him backwards.
Stunned, he stood still as two constables ran up and grabbed his arms.
“Wha … Wha … What?” Mr. Runnels glanced at both. “What are you scum doing?”
“You’re under arrest, Mr. Runnels,” one of them said.
“Taking a bribe and conspiring to obstruct justice.”
He struggled, but the constables held him steady. He glared at me with hatred dripping from his eyes. “I’ll get you for this, Miss. One day … I will get you!”
They escorted him towards the courthouse.
I turned to Rebecca. “Are you all right?”
She took my hands and stared at my left one. “Are you?” She rubbed it gently, and I flinched. “Sam, that’s going to be sore.”
Rebecca and I strolled to the livery where we climbed into my two-seater carriage and drove to 34 West Pratt Street. Securing the horse in front of the Fulton House, we approached its door in silence. As we neared it, she stopped.
“It’s a good thing your younger brother George taught you to defend yourself.”
“Yes, but who would have thought I’d need it to as an attorney? I was amazed how instinctually I fell into the pugilist’s thinking.”
“That’s why you train. So, when the day comes, you just do it without thinking. Remember, you were defending yourself. You would never attack anyone.”
The door burst open, struck me, and I flew to the side rolling on the boardwalk.
A white man grabbing the scruff of a Negro’s shirt skirted by, stopped, and hurled the black man into the street.
END OF SAMPLE
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