Solomon Had It Easier
Chapter 25: Fowl Play
Copyright© 2016 by Scriptorius
Judge Embert Wimple was cruising towards the end of his long legal career. Time was closing in and his honour had not yet solved the riddle of the universe. He now accepted the Big Bang theory, but what about the position before that event? A man needed leisure to come up with an answer, to indulge in the famous ninety-nine per cent perspiration which just might precede a great mental breakthrough. The judge was also ever-more conscious of his growing crankiness. Some of his recent interjections from the bench had left his own jaw dropping, let alone those of counsels and their principals. Today might well produce more of the same, for Embert Wimple was feeling a little cantankerous. That was his own fault for staying awake half the night, listening to the doings of England’s cricketers on their overseas tour. Well, he would try to curb himself.
Now, what was on the menu today? Ah, yes, Oldroyd versus Oldroyd. That didn’t seem too promising. Probably another tiresome family wrangle and, his honour noted, one concerning an incident which took place outside his normal jurisdiction, the third of its kind in short order. No doubt there were reasons, into which he did not wish to enquire. A further point of interest was that the advocates represented the extremes of age among the local practitioners. The plaintiff, George Oldroyd, had placed his case in the hands of the vastly experienced but rapidly declining Simon Fortescue, while the defendant, Margaret Oldroyd, had entrusted hers to the young terrier, Arabella Bray. Fortescue had let it be known that he was likely to retire in the near future, so any case now might be his last. High time, in Embert Wimple’s view. For goodness sake, the man must in his late seventies.
Still revelling in his position of not being inconvenienced by a jury, the judge took his place, verified that all was as it should be and, assuming his most brisk manner, addressed Fortescue. “Let’s get going, Mr Forecastle.”
Prosecuting counsel, who had been busy massaging his knuckles, sprang to attention. “May it please Your Honour, we are dealing here with a dispute between husband and wife. Mr and Mrs Oldroyd are in their middle fifties and have been married for twenty-eight years.”
The judge pounced immediately, giving vent to a touch of irascibility. “I assume you mean married to one another?” he said sharply.
“Yes. In –”
“It’s just as well to be precise in these matters. Go on.”
Slightly shaken, Fortescue offered a small bow. “Thank you. In recent years, there have been marital strains. Though continuing to live together conventionally, the parties were drifting into estrangement. Finally, my client decided that something should be done to impart spice to the union. With this in mind, he suggested to his wife that the two might undertake an expedition.”
“Did he indeed?” said the judge, his romantic side evoking visions of dizzy mountains, mighty chasms, white water, jungles and the like. “That certainly sounds lively enough. Something Himalayan, perhaps?”
“Not quite, Your Honour. Mr Oldroyd proposed a walk on Ilkley Moor, his idea being to rekindle something of the spirit of courtship years.”
The judge leapt in again. “Possibly not what many might consider high adventure, but no doubt all such things are relative. However, let us not digress. Continue, please.”
Fortescue wasn’t amused by this further interruption, but was too world-weary to care much. “Mrs Oldroyd agreed and the two set out in the afternoon of the sixth of November last year. They parked their car at the end of an unsurfaced road about fifteen miles north of here, then proceeded on foot through a conifer plantation, over two or three stiles and onto the moorland. It was a dull, misty day and Mrs Oldroyd did not wish to walk too far. At about a quarter past four, Mr Oldroyd, who was in the rear, stumbled. He pushed out his hands, inadvertently striking his wife in the back. Both parties fell. As this was a special occasion, Mr Oldroyd was particularly concerned to be solicitous with regard to his wife’s wellbeing. On checking for injuries, he detected what seemed to him to be a swelling of Mrs Oldroyd’s right ankle. Assuming a severe sprain, he insisted that his wife remain on the spot, while he summoned assistance. Confident that he could negotiate his way back to the car, he left Mrs Oldroyd, assuring her that he would soon return.”
The judge, now immersed in the story, leaned forwards. “So the lady was left on Ilkley Moor. Was she, in the immortal words, baht ‘at?”
This caused Fortescue to go into a brief huddle with his client, before reporting back to the judge. “Yes, Your Honour, the lady was indeed baht ‘at. However, she had a hooded anorak, so was not entirely deficient in the matter of headgear.”
“Thank you. Proceed.”
“Mr Oldroyd located the car, only to find that it had been vandalised. The driver’s side door lock had been chiselled out. The Oldroyds had left nothing of value in the vehicle and the would-be thieves, having been deprived of booty, had spitefully deflated two tyres and made off. Under the rear bench seat was a foot-pump, which the miscreants had either overlooked, or thought unworthy of their attention. Mr Oldroyd managed to reflate the tyres, then drove home, intending to raise the alarm.”
“One moment,” said the judge. “Did it not occur to him to call at a local house. I mean, his wife was in distress, was she not?”
“People do not always think rationally in such circumstances, Your Honour. My client’s dominant feeling was to get home, then alert the authorities. In that, he may have been in error, but he was under pressure and confused.”
“I see. Carry on.”
“At a little after six o’clock, Mr Oldroyd was about to initiate a rescue when, to his surprise, his wife appeared. He was further startled when she attacked him.”
“Good heavens,” said the judge. She hurled herself upon him, did she?” It had not been lost upon his honour that Mrs Oldroyd was well-endowed in the matter of avoirdupois and was three inches taller than her spouse.
“Not exactly, Your Honour. She assaulted my client with a chicken.”
“What?” squawked the judge, his tone not dissimilar to that of a specimen of the fowl just mentioned. “Explain.”
“Mrs Oldroyd had left a frozen chicken in a pan, intending it for the evening meal. The thawing was not complete, so the creature was hard and heavy and a formidable weapon. Blows were administered to my client’s head and face. He lost two teeth and sustained severe lacerations. For this he seeks satisfaction and is willing to accept Your Honour’s decision.”
“Dear me,” said the judge. “I think it is high time for us to hear from the defence. He turned to Arabella Bray. “Ms Greystoke?” The judge had been reading Edgar Rice Burroughs and was mentally swinging through the jungle.
Defending counsel was getting to grips with Embert Wimple’s idiosyncrasies. “Thank you. What we have heard so far is an incomplete version of the events. My client was an ill-used woman and her patience was exhausted. It is true that she was persuaded to embark upon the adventure described by the prosecution, and that there was a fall. However, for reasons which will become clear, Mrs Oldroyd believed that this was an attempt by the plaintiff to incapacitate her. As we shall show, the effort was unsuccessful.”
“I can hardly wait,” said the judge.