Solomon Had It Easier
Chapter 17: Country Life
Copyright© 2016 by Scriptorius
It was a wild autumn day, an equinoctial gale driving needles of rain at a sharp slant. Still, being well into his ninth decade of experiencing such things, Judge Embert Wimple was inclined to take less notice of them than he once did. There were other matters to think about. It was understandable that those obliged to spend their days in factory, office or shop fretted about being penned in when nature was smiling. However, they were protected when the elements were in uproar, so on the whole it wasn’t too bad a balance. Such was the judge’s train of thought as he was swept to court for another day of dealing with human frailties.
No cricket pro tem, but an overseas tour was not far distant and how England’s batsmen would stand up to a battery of formidable bowlers was a matter for conjecture. Still, as long as there was fair play – and wasn’t there always? – some fine entertainment was in prospect. As befitted his professional stance, the judge was impartial as to the outcome. ‘It matters not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game’, was his attitude to all matters, sporting or not.
Mellowness still prevailed in the Wimple household. Esmeralda could now barely keep abreast of the demands for her paintings, while the judge was working his way toward an overall view of the mysteries of time and space. He hoped that anytime now, he would be able to reach a conclusion about the bang-crunch interpretation as against the steady state one.
However, the immediate prospect was Bennett versus Gavins. This was something to do with theft, trespass or some equally sordid theme – and that was all his honour wished to know about it in advance. He took up his position, noting that the plaintiff’s case was in the vastly experienced – if now rather shaky – hands of Simon Fortescue, the defendant being represented by another ageing gentleman, Henry Bullivant. It was high time, the judge thought sourly, for some of these greybeards to stand aside and make room for younger advocates with a little fizz in them. What on earth was old Fortescue doing in court at seventy-eight? And Bullivant must surely be in his late sixties. Ah, well, time to make a start.
“Let us get going, Mr Fothergill,” said the judge, addressing Fortescue.
Defending counsel gave his usual slight bow. “May it please Your Honour, we are here as a result of an incident which occurred on the twenty-fourth of June this year. My client, Mr Bennett, is a farmer. His land has its southern boundary about eight miles due north of here and extends a little way further in broadly the same direction. It is Mr Bennett’s custom to inspect his estate each evening, checking walls, hedges, fences and so on. In the country northwest of his land there is a tarn from which a stream runs southeast, passing through the land of his farming neighbour to the northwest, then through Mr Bennett’s own land, then through that of his downstream neighbours, eventually debouching into the river which runs westwards. Though small, this waterway is considered very picturesque in parts.”
“Apparently a delightful rural idyll,” said the judge. “Is the description relevant?”
“Perhaps not, Your Honour. I was merely trying to paint a picture of the scene.”
“And so you have, Mr Forsdyke. I defer no-one in my admiration of your verbal artistry, but we are addressing an incident, are we not?”
“We are. During his evening round on the day in question, my client was approaching the stream, when he saw the defendant walking along by the water’s edge. Across Mr Gavins’ shoulder was a stick, from which a trout was suspended on a length of string. My client had had trouble with Mr Gavins in the past, specifically regarding trespass and suspected poaching. He called out to the defendant, who began to run away. Despite my client’s efforts to detain him, Mr Gavins made good his escape, complete with the trout. Mr Bennett does not seek redress with respect to the trespass, but feels that the time has come for him to make a stand in the matter of the unauthorised taking of fish and game from his land. He accepts that Mr Gavins is not the only offender, but contends that he is the most frequent one. Mr Bennett feels that an example must be made.”
“I see,” said the judge. “Now, the sanctity of private property is a time-honoured aspect of our legal affairs, notwithstanding the fact that much of that property was acquired by the trading of favours among a privileged minority and excluded most of the population.” Fortescue did not like the sound of that. “However,” the judge went on, “I think I understand the prosecution’s position, so we will now hear what the defence has to say. Mr Bullaway?” The judge had, during the previous evening, listened to radio documentary about affairs in southern Africa, so got the best compromise he could between defending counsel’s name and that of one of the cities mentioned in the programme.
Bullivant was mildly comforted by another of the judge’s close ones. “May it please Your Honour, our submission is that, as so often in human affairs, we are dealing with a question of interpretation. In this case, an unworthy motive appears to have been attributed to my client, who was in fact acting in a socially admirable manner.”
“Was he indeed?” said the judge. “I can hardly wait to hear more. Continue.” It had not been lost upon the judge that the defendant wasn’t making his first court appearance, not even the first before Embert Wimple. If the judge remembered correctly, James Gavins had last come within his purview after being apprehended while struggling gallantly to free a hare from a trap on land owned by one of the current plaintiff’s neighbours.
“Thank you,” said Bullivant. “We are pleased that the prosecution does not wish to pursue the matter of trespass. In fact, my client admits that he was on the plaintiff’s land. However, the explanation is simple. Mr Gavins is employed by an egg-packing company, the premises concerned being adjacent to the land of the plaintiff’s neighbour to the northwest. Now, my client does not have the benefit of motor transport and, owing to a medical condition, cannot ride a bicycle. In order to get home by road, he is faced with a two-mile walk, which is not always a pleasant prospect after a day’s work. When he took up his employment, Mr Gavins noted that he could shorten his homeward journey to less than a mile, by crossing land belonging to the plaintiff and his neighbours. With a wife and five children eagerly awaiting his return from work, my client succumbed to the temptation to take the short route. He regrets this transgression and is relieved to note that his weakness is not to be punished.”
“This is interesting” said the judge, “but it does not enlighten us with regard to the trout. What have you to say about that?”
“A good deal, Your Honour?”
“I was afraid so. Go on.”
“We are dealing here with a total misunderstanding of intentions. My client is well known for his caring attitude to creatures of the wild. Only last week he released a ram from a distressing predicament when the animal’s horns had become entangled in a barbed wire fence. Mr Gavins was injured in the process. He asks that it be noted that on the occasion in question here, he took the trout from the water upstream of the plaintiff’s land. At several points along the waterway, there are pools and it was in one of these that Mr Gavins saw the creature, which seemed to him to be in some distress.”
“In distress?” said the judge. “How did your client perceive that?”
“He is an expert in such matters, Your Honour, and noted that the trout was struggling.”
“Is it possible to make such an assessment with any real accuracy?”
“Yes, if the observer has sufficient knowledge. Mr Gavins took the trout from the pool, intending to do two things. First, having grasped that the fish was disorientated, he wished to transfer it to faster-running water, where he believed it might feel more comfortable. Second, he had studied such things extensively, his conclusion being that trout, along with salmon, tend to leap from the water quite frequently. Mr Gavins has a theory that both trout and salmon are making, as it were, a collective cri de cœur, seeking their preferred aerial environment, while aquatically bound. Not only was my client taking the trout to waters more amenable to its condition, but was also aerating it in the process, thus killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.”