Solomon Had It Easier
Chapter 5: Rights of Passage
Copyright© 2016 by Scriptorius
Having allowed the first test match to proceed more or less unhindered – for which Judge Embert Wimple was thankful – the weather had changed, the British summer apparently having decided to set in with some severity. It was cold, wet and windy. Normally, his honour paid little attention to the elements, unless they interfered with cricket, but domestic matters had made this morning exceptional.
The judge’s day had started badly. He had been irritated almost from the outset. For the first time in fifty-two years of married life, Mrs Wimple, who usually made breakfast, had failed to produce a full measure of oat flakes. For decades, Judge Wimple had fuelled his morning exertions with porridge. On this occasion, he had been reduced to half-rations. Mrs Wimple was not one to wallow in contrition. She had responded to her husband’s complaint with some asperity, saying: “Naturally I’m sorry, but let me point out that it’s the first time in over half a century, Your Honour.” Such sarcasm! Only once before had anything similar occurred. Twenty years earlier, the judge had protested about the absence of his preferred brand of tea-time crackers, causing his wife to remark that if he didn’t stop complaining, she would get him a supply of whinger biscuits. Not a woman to trifle with.
This time, the judge had been somewhat mollified by his wife’s apology, qualified though it was, plus the timely provision of a large free-range egg, soft-boiled, with five toast soldiers for dipping. Still, the ageing custodian of the law remained a little tetchy as he prepared for the day. But a man had to make allowances. The judge reminded himself of Mrs Wimple’s recently formed addiction to painting and there was no accounting for people with artistic leanings. And it had to be admitted that Esmeralda was no dabbler. Within two years of her first flush of interest, she was selling well. Still, it was all a little trying.
Dismissing the inconvenience from his mind, the judge steeled himself to do his duty. In the eight years since he had relinquished his full-time responsibilities, Embert Wimple had found himself called upon more frequently than he had envisaged, to assist his peers in dispensing law. He would, he sometimes thought, have preferred justice, but as that was so elusive, the statutes usually had to suffice. Dwelling further on the demands made upon him, the judge thought it odd that his colleagues were often indisposed. Diet was the problem. If the young whippersnappers of sixty-five or seventy would only subscribe to a balanced intake of food, they would not be laid low as often as they were. However, deplorable though it was, the situation played into Judge Wimple’s hands, as it had given him the ammunition necessary to avoid the gardening he so hated.
The case was White versus Brown – not a black and white issue, as Judge Wimple would later remark to anyone who cared to listen. For the umpteenth time, the judge found himself dealing with those two seasoned advocates, Rodney Melliflewes and Desmond Oddley-Staggers. On this occasion, Melliflewes appeared for the prosecution, Oddley-Staggers representing the defendant. Embert Wimple was still revelling in the absence of jurors and other supernumeraries. He took the same view as the tycoon he had heard say that a business should be run by an odd number of directors, three being too many.
Having assimilated what was necessary – and having also failed to come up with prosecuting counsel’s name, or any other that seemed appropriate – the judge nodded and waved Melliflewes into action. The barrister assumed his customary hands-behind-back posture. “May it please Your Honour,” he said, “the circumstances here are uncomplicated. At shortly after three in the afternoon of the seventh of October last, my client, Mrs White, left a shop in Low Street in this city, intending to enter her car, which was parked outside the premises. She was encumbered by her purchases and almost collided with the defendant, who thrust out an arm, forcing Mrs White back into the doorway from which she had just emerged. She sustained physical injuries and suffered acute mental distress.”
“Just a moment,” the judge broke in. “Your client seems, at least superficially, to be well at present. Am I to take it that she has recovered?”
“Mercifully, the bodily harm was relatively minor. However, there is no telling what longer term psychological consequences an assault of this kind might cause. Mrs White is entitled to redress.”
Thank you, Mr Tranter,” said the judge. The keen blue eyes switched to defending counsel. “Now, Mr Enderby, what have you to say?”
Oddley-Staggers bowed. “May it please Your Honour, my client, Mr Brown, is basically in agreement with regard to the overall circumstances. However, as so often, we are concerned with subjectivity. Mrs White left the shop at great speed and Mr Brown, having perceived a threat, real or imagined, extended an arm to counter it. This was quite natural, in view of his occupation.”
“I see,” said the judge. “What is that occupation?”
“Mr Brown is a professional rugby player, Your Honour.”
Judge Wimple looked at the six-foot-one, fifteen-stone defendant. “A fine figure of a man,” he said, mentally noting the physical contrast between the parties, the plaintiff being barely five feet tall and less than half Brown’s weight. “What position does he play?”
“He is a front-row forward.”
Judge Wimple’s mind reeled back through the decades. There was a time, sixty years or so ago, when he’d been a nimble fly-half, appearing at least once at the premier grounds in England, Ireland and Wales, missing Scotland by a hairsbreadth. Still, that was another time, and perhaps another man, was it not? No bearing on the present matter. “I would imagine so,” he said. “The plaintiff would be no match for him in a scrum?”
“So it would seem, Your Honour.”
“Wouldn’t be likely to bring him down with a well-timed tackle, eh?”
“Probably not.” Oddley-Staggers had much experience of the judge’s digressions and was not disposed to attempt deflection.
His honour nodded. “Quite. Now, we must get to the details. And here I think it would be appropriate for us to consider both sides as near simultaneously as possible. First, we must establish whether there were any hand signals.”
“Hand signals?” chorused the two advocates.
“Yes, yes,” snapped the judge, his breakfast tribulations surfacing. “I am concerned to know whether either party gave them.”
Melliflewes was the first to regain composure. “Ahem, Your Honour, we would point out that hand signals are not normally used by pedestrians.”
“And a great pity, too,” said the judge, “I think they should be. That would spare us all many problems, don’t you think?”
Melliflewes bowed. “Your Honour is, as always, most incisive. However, I believe that without further deliberation we may say that no hand signals were given.”
Oddley-Staggers nodded his acquiescence.
“Very well,” said the judge. “Now, was either party breathalysed?”
Melliflewes was shaken. “Breathalysed, Your Honour?”
“Yes, breathalysed. If one or other litigant was intoxicated, or perhaps even both of them, that would influence the matter, would it not?”
Momentarily forgetting her counsel’s advice to remain silent, Mrs White strained forwards. “He was as drunk as a sk –” That was as far as she got before being subdued by a wrathful glare from Melliflewes.
The judge had delivered a googly, causing the learned gentlemen to confer with their clients and one another. Finally, Oddley-Staggers replied: “Neither party was breathalysed, Your Honour.”
The judge shook his head. “Most unfortunate. Knowing the result of such a test would have assisted us. Still, we must proceed with the information we have, however incomplete it may be. Now, with regard to the weather at the time. I imagine that has been considered.” His eyes fixed on Oddley-Staggers. “Mr Guilfoyle?”
Counsel for the defence faced the basilisk glare bravely. “The weather, Your Honour? I am wondering –”