Solomon Had It Easier
Chapter 29: Thinking Thin
Copyright© 2016 by Scriptorius
The elements had relented. Having for several days done its best to confound the lion and lamb adage, March had given in and was ending placidly, with a high light-grey sky, no wind, no rain, no ice, no snow, and a moderate temperature. Judge Embert Wimple wondered why it couldn’t always be like this – days without any noticeable weather.
His honour was about to deal with his penultimate case. And high time too, was the thought uppermost in his mind. There were other engrossing things to do. Esmeralda, having in short order become not only an accomplished painter, but a teacher in her chosen field, was now often surrounded by acolytes. To her husband’s profound satisfaction, she had expressed relief at having finally consigned to the scrapheap all other artistic ideas. The judge had got the message. Mrs Wimple’s adoption of a new passion late in life – she had never before had any consuming interest – was just what the doctor would have ordered, had she consulted one, which she had not done for at least twenty years. Good for the goose, good for the gander, was his honour’s conclusion.
Wrapped in a comforting cloak of thought about a fresh start after six decades of wallowing in the morass of jurisprudence, Judge Wimple had only the vaguest notion of what awaited him in court. As ever, he was unruffled by this, as he had always been an adept improviser, never failing to astound learned counsels by recovering from a reverie or nap to demonstrate that somehow his subconscious had grasped all that had occurred during his apparent mental absence. Not once in over thirty years on the bench had he been obliged to admit to having lost track of proceedings.
Today’s treat was unusual, in that the litigants were both women and his honour had to think hard to recall his last such case. In his experience, the ladies were generally inclined to avoid the blunt instrument of legal proceedings as a means of resolving their differences. Of course, there had been the recent case involving Mesdames Duckworth and Thompson, so perhaps things were changing. The plaintiff, Susan Chapman, was a middle-aged woman, a little under five feet tall and of average build, with shoulder-length black hair. She wore a black jacket and skirt, a white blouse and black flat-heeled shoes. The defendant, Sharon Hill appeared to be in her early twenties. She had close-cropped blond hair and was about five foot seven and extraordinarily slim, a feature emphasised by a skin-tight red jumper and blue jeans which seemed to have been sprayed onto her slender form. White trainers completed her ensemble. Representing the plaintiff was the almost intimidatingly competent Arabella Bray, appearing for the second time opposite the urbane Rodney Melliflewes. If there were to be any fireworks here, they would, the judge thought, be one-sided. He nodded at Bray. “Very well, Ms Froy. You may turn the ignition key.”
Not having seen ‘The Lady Vanishes’, prosecuting counsel failed to understand the judge’s train of thought, but was not dismayed. “Thank you, Your Honour. There is not much to detain us here. The incident we are addressing occurred at about noon on the fifteenth of December last. The defendant walked into my client’s shop, clearly in a truculent frame of mind. She demanded a beef sandwich. My client said that she had none. Ms Hill expressed some annoyance, then said that she would accept a chicken breast and chips. Again, Mrs Chapman was unable to help. This seemed to raise Ms Hill’s ire. She went on to ask for two further snack items, neither of which Mrs Chapman had available. Finally, Ms Hill said that failing all else, she would accept a slice of pizza. She was again disappointed and flew into a rage, using language which it would inappropriate to repeat here.”
The judge broke in. “Perhaps she was unusually hungry, or possibly trying to get her lunch in limited time? Such circumstances have been known to try the patience of some people. Also, she seems to have requested fairly common things.”
“Superficially a reasonable assessment, Your Honour. However, if the young lady was affected by hunger or time pressure, we submit that she should not have called on my client, who is a florist.”
The judge, who had been known to lay verbal traps for counsels, had walked into that one. His already high estimate of Bray’s skills increased by several notches. “Oh, that certainly puts a different slant on the matter. Mrs Chapman does not sell food at all?”
“No. Only flowers.”
“Extraordinary. No wonder the two found themselves at cross-purposes. Still, such requests as Ms Hill’s are not viewed as strange in some parts of the world. I once spent a little time in the West of Ireland, where an order like the defendant’s would not have raised an eyebrow. Indeed, on one occasion I was speaking to a shopkeeper in a village in County Clare, when a local farmer interrupted us with an order for two pounds of tomatoes, a pair of slippers and a garden gate. The proprietor was not in the least incommoded and supplied the items without showing any surprise.” The judge was about to plough another furrow in the same field, but noticed that Bray, who was not a great fan of his anecdotes, was demonstrating the body language of impatience. “Sorry I distracted you. Please carry on.”
“Thank you. I was about to say that Ms Hill’s behaviour progressed from aggressive language to physical action. She brandished a fist at my client, using her other hand to slap the counter quite violently, causing a pen used by Mrs Chapman to roll from a pad on which it was resting. Ms Hill’s conduct then became even more extraordinary. Evidently noticing that the fountain pen was a high-class item, she seized it and rushed from the shop – or rather to the door, where she tripped over the threshold, falling face-down across the pavement. The pen flew from her grasp into the road, where it was run over and mangled by a passing bus.”
“A number nine, I suppose?” said the judge.
“I was merely thinking that in such tales as this, any bus involved is usually a number nine, although I seem to remember one occasion on which it was a number seventy-three.”
As always, Bray had done her homework. “It happens that the number nine does pass my client’s shop, but only on the half-hour. Several other bus routes run along the same street and the one that caused the damage may have been a number twenty-four, although we cannot be sure. Anyway, it was almost certainly not a number nine.”
The judge smiled. “Ah, foiled again. I had hopes of confirming my preconception, but we must accept what we can get. However, you mustn’t take us along these byways. What happened next.”
“Mrs Chapman hurried outside and summoned the help of two passing pedestrians, who subdued the defendant until her name and address were established. My client, having noted the wreckage of the pen, had begun to think in terms of taking action.”
“Legal proceedings over a fountain pen? Was there something special about the item?”
“Yes. It had great sentimental value to my client. Having belonged to her mother, it was much treasured.”
“I see. But what about the intrinsic value?”
“Nothing identical is made today. The only guide we have is that a short time after the incident, Mrs Chapman noticed something vaguely similar in a flea market. These objects are increasingly sought and the one she saw was priced at fifteen pounds. This cannot begin to compensate my client. In addition, she suffered severe shock from the defendant’s behaviour.”
“Very well, Ms Graves. Now, as that seems to be all from your side,” – the judge had no intention of listening to any more – “we will hear what the defence has to offer. Mr Milestone?”