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Blue Eyes Far Away
MacKinlay Kantor

     When neighbors climbed the steep hill road to bring Esther Lee the news they did not want to bring, they found their task easier than they had expected.
     She was sitting on a bench under the old cedar tree. Her blue eyes seemed very empty and blank behind her glasses.
     “Mrs. Lee,” said George Dutton uneasily, “we came to tell you-there’s been an accident and your husband was-. They took him to the hospital. I think you’d better come, right away.”
     Joseph Lee’s wife didn’t say anything. Slowly she rose to her feet. The wide black purse on her lap slid to the ground.
     George Dutton turned away while his wife put her arm around Esther Lee’s shoulders. “Now, Mrs. Lee-he’s hurt bad, but maybe he’ll be all right.”
     “It was an automobile accident,” the farmer said. “The highway police have got the fellow that hit him, too. If it’s possible to convict him, we’re going to do it.”
     Convict him, thought Esther Lee. That meant, then that Joseph was--
     “Can we go now?” she asked.
     “Yes. Our car is right out here at the gate. Don’t you want to lock your house? And what about your purse?”
     “Leave them be,” the woman said quietly.
     It was a flimsy case, a weak case at best. It was really no case at all-except that a man had been killed when his car was struck by the powerful bright red automobile of a young man.
     The curse in the road had been deserted at the time of the accident. The two men were the only ones there. But noise of the crash had drawn people from all directions.
     The police checked the record of Archie Stolt, the man who drove the red automobile. It was found that he had been involved in several other accidents. His reputation for wild and reckless driving was known. But you can’t convict a man on his reputation, said the young fellow’s lawyers.
     The young man was charged with manslaughter. But after that things moved slowly.
     Interest in the case was not great. Joseph Lee was neither a wealthy nor a well-known man. The courtroom was not crowded. The defense knew that in the case of the State of New Jersey versus Archie Stolt, matters would be simple, routine. The case would cost Archie Stolt money. But he could well afford it. The defense did not know, however, that the night before the trial began, a small, elderly woman in a shabby cloth dress and old black hat went to see the prosecutor.
     The defense lawyers for Mr. Stolt shrugged when they was her sitting in court. A weak attempt, they whispered, to get sympathy from the jury.
     Esther Lee was the last witness called by the State. Earlier they had tried to put in the record Archie Stolt’s other accidents and his bad reputation. But woman said she was Esther Lee, widow of Joseph Lee who had been killed.
     “Where do you live, Mrs. Lee:” came the prosecutor’s question.
     “On Watchung Mountain.”
     “Were you home on the afternoon of June 20th, at about 5:30 P.M?”
     “Yes, sir,” said Esther Lee.
     The lawyer cleared his throat. “Mrs. Lee, how long have you lived there?”
     “Well,” she said in her mild voice, “quite a while. See, when Joseph and I were first married, we lived down at Barnegat. He fished. We lived there for thirty-one years. And then his nephew left him this place up on Watchung Mountain. We were getting older, so we moved up there. We lived there for nearly eleven years. We...“
     “Your honor,” said Archie Stolt’s lawyer, “I object. The answers by the witness have nothing to do with the case and are beside the point. They are only intended to gain sympathy for...“
     The judge rapped. “Objection sustained.”
     The next question came like an explosion through the close air of the courtroom. “Mrs. Lee, did you see the accident in which your husband met his death?”
     The woman nodded yes. Her reply was lost in the sudden stir and scuffling as people moved forward.      “Tell the court what you saw.”
     “Well,” said Esther Lee, “Joseph had gone to Union. He drove there everyday because he had good customers there. I sat out in front, always, to watch for him. I always used to do that, when he fished at Barnegat_” Archie Stolt’s lawyer was on his feet, but the prosecutor motioned him into his chair. “Tell only about the accident, please,” he said to Esther Lee.
     Esther Lee’s blue eyes were wet. “I watched Joseph’s old car come around a bend in the road,” she said slowly, “and he was on the right side of the road. And then the red car came from the other way- on the wrong side of the road. And-Joseph’s car swung out toward the middle-to try and miss it, I guess. But the other car swung out, too…. They hit. That’s all, sir. But the red car was on the wrong side of...”
     “Your Honor!” cried the lawyer for the defense.      Archie Stolt settled back into his chair with a scornful smile on his face. They couldn’t pull anything like that and get away with it.
     “I object!” said the lawyer for the defense. “It was not possible for Esther Lee to have seen the accident from so far away! Not possible! The scene of the accident is miles from her home. I ...”
     The judge turned and looked solemnly at the old woman. “I must remind you,” he said, “that telling a lie here is a very serious offense. You have sworn t tell nothing but he truth. How far is it from your home to the scene of the accident?”
     “Must be a good three miles,” whispered Esther Lee. Three miles… People in the courtroom shook their heads.
     The woman’s rough fingers fumbled as she opened the black purse on her lap. “I always watched for Joseph, though,” she said. “Just like I used to do when he’d come in with his fish at Barnegat.”
     She held up a shiny brass telescope. “This was his,” she explained. “I always watched for Joseph, when he came home.”