Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. III. Sorrow and Consolation
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume III. Sorrow and Consolation.  1904.
III. Adversity
Guilty, or Not Guilty?
SHE stood at the bar of justice,
  A creature wan and wild,
In form too small for a woman,
  In feature too old for a child.
For a look so worn and pathetic        5
  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 kindly look, yet keen,        10
“Is—?” “Mary McGuire, if you please, sir.”
  “And your age?” “I am turned fifteen.”
“Well, Mary—” And then from a paper
  He slowly and gravely read,
“You are charged here—I am sorry to say it—        15
  With stealing three loaves of bread.
“You look not like an offender,
  And I hope that you can show
The charge to be false. Now, tell me,
  Are you guilty of this, or no?”        20
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 eye.
“I will tell you just how it was, sir;        25
  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,        30
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        35
  (Little Johnnie ’s but four years old).
So what was I to do, sir?
  I am guilty, but do not condemn;
I took—oh, was it stealing?
  The bread to give to them.”        40
Every man in the court-room—
  Graybeard and thoughtless youth—
Knew, as he looked upon her,
  That the prisoner spake the truth.
Out from their pockets came kerchiefs,        45
  Out from their eyes sprang tears,
And out from the old faded wallets
  Treasures hoarded for years.
The judge’s face was a study,
  The strangest you ever saw,        50
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        55
  Sorely puzzled just then.
But no one blamed him, or wondered,
  When at last these words they heard,
“The sentence of this young prisoner
  Is for the present deferred.”        60
And no one blamed him, or wondered,
  When he went to her and smiled,
And tenderly led from the court-room,
  Himself, the “guilty” child.

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