Guilty or Not Guilty
She stood at the bar of Justice,
A creature, wan and wild,
In form too small for a woman,
In features too old for a child.
For a look so worn and pathetic
Was stamped on her pale young face,
It seemed long years of suffering
Must have left that silent trace.
“Your name,” said the judge, as he eyed her with a kindly look, yet keen.
Mary Aguirre, if you please, sir.””
“And your age?” “I am fifteen.”
“Well, Mary,” – and then from a paper
He slowly and gravely read –
“You are charged here – I am sorry to say it – with stealing three loaves of bread.
“You took not like an old offender,
And I hope that you can show the charge to be false.
Now tell me, Are you guilty of this, or not?”
A passionate burst of weeping
Was at first her sole reply;
But she dried her tears in a moment,
And looked in the judge’s eyes.
I will tell you just how it was, sir
My father and mother are dead,
And my little brothers and sisters were hungry
And asked me for bread.
At first, I earned it for them
By working hard all day.
But somehow the times were hard, sir, and the work all fell away.
I could get no more employment,
The weather was bitter cold;
The young ones cried and shivered
So what was I to do, sir?
I am guilty, but do not condemn;
I took – O! was it stealing? –
The bread to give to them.
Every man in the courtroom,
Graybeard and thoughless youth –
Knew, as he looked upon her,
That the prisoner spoke the truth,
Out from their pockets came kerchiefs,
Out from old, faded wallets
Treasures hoarded for years.
The judge’s face was a study,
The strangest you ever saw,
As he cleared his throat and murmured
Something about the law.
For one so learned in such matters,
So wise in dealing with men
He seemed, on a simple question
Sorely puzzled just then.
No one blamed him, or wondered
When at last these words they heard
“The sentence of this young prisoner is for the present deferred.”
And no one blamed him or wondered
When he went to her and smiled
And tenderly left from the courtroom
Himself, the “guilty” child!