Cassius, on arraignment, had pleaded not guilty, according to the ancient ritual of his profession. Notwithstanding his evident and expressed desire to return to a haven of peace and luxury, he was far too conscientious a criminal to violate the soundest—it may well be said, the elemental—law of his craft, by pleading guilty to anything.
It was a matter of principle with him. Circumstances had nothing to do with it. The instant he found himself in court, he reverted to type, somewhat gleefully setting about to make as much trouble as possible. He adhered to the principle that no criminal is adequately punished unless the people are made to pay for the privilege of suppressing him. The only way to make the people respect the law, he contended, is to let ’em understand that it costs money to enforce it. Besides, crime has a certain, clearly established dignity that must be reckoned with. The world thinks a great deal less of you if after you have violated the law, you also refuse to fight it.
Take the judge, for instance. (I quote Smilk.) What sort of an opinion does he have of you if you slide up to the little “gate,” with your tail between your legs and plead guilty? Why, he hardly notices you. He has to put on his spectacles in order to see you at all and he doesn’t even have to look in the statute book to refresh his memory as to the minimum penalty for larceny or whatever it is. And the way the Assistant District Attorney looks at you! And the bailiffs too. But put up a fight and see what happens. The whole blamed works sits up and takes notice. The judge looks over his spectacles and says to himself, “by gosh, he’s a tough lookin’ bird, that guy is;” the District Attorney goes around tellin’ everybody in a whisper that you’re a desperate character; the clerk of the court, the stenographer and all the bailiffs sort of wake up and act busy; the men waiting to be examined for jobs on the jury begin to fidget and wonder whether the judge is a “crab” or a nice, decent feller what’ll let ’em off when they tell him they got sickness in the family, and all of ’em ha tin’ you worse than poison because you didn’t plead guilty.
He was remanded for trial within two weeks after his arrest. The court, finding him penniless, announced he would appoint counsel to defend him. Whereupon Smilk sauntered back to the Tombs with a light heart, confident that his sojourn there would be brief and that March at the very latest would see him snugly settled in his rent-free, food-free, landlordless home on the Hudson, entertainment for man and beast provided without discrimination, crime no object.
First of all, his lawyer unexpectedly got a job to represent a shady lady in a sensational breach of promise suit that drew weekly postponements over a period of five months and finally died a natural death out of court sometime in June.