18. THE LAW
Sir Magnus’s “tiny place” turned out to be a fairly newly erected mansion, done in the Tudor style, set in its own grounds up on top of the cliffs just outside the town. Rosy was installed in a large shed in the stable yard, and Adrian took up residence with Sir Magnus.
Sir Magnus was, to say the least, an exacting host. To begin with he had a deep and abiding passion for cherry brandy which he consumed (and insisted that Adrian consume) in vast quantities. With the cherry brandy he played a sort of chess game by mixing it with various other substances to see what effects he could achieve. After a couple of days Adrian’s stomach was suffering from the endless permutations that Sir Magnus managed to achieve, and he had definitely decided that cherry brandy mixed with stout and milk and consumed out of a tankard was not really his drink at all.
Sir Magnus also appeared to be able to exist without any sleep. For the first three days he insisted that Adrian tell him the story of his adventures over and over again, while he paced up and down his study or stood at the table mixing a new variation on the cherry brandy theme. At two or three in the morning Adrian would stagger to bed, more dead than alive, and no sooner had his head touched the pillow than Sir Magnus—in a fascinating nightshirt constructed of broderie anglaise—would be standing by his bed shaking him awake to get him to repeat a certain portion of his story.
On the fourth morning Adrian dragged himself down to breakfast, his head throbbing and ringing with the chimes of cherry brandy and his eyelids glued together with lack of sleep. He found Sir Magnus, looking as perky as though he had just returned from a long and luxurious holiday, consuming a mammoth omelette.
“Now,” said Sir Magnus, as though the conversation of the previous night had not ceased, “what we have got to do is this. We have got to get everybody, but everybody connected with this trail of carnage that you have left, as witnesses.”
“I really don’t see what good that is going to do,” said Adrian dispiritedly.
“Think,” said Sir Magnus, scattering a handful of black pepper on a forkful of omelette and shoving it into his mouth. “Think of the jury, dear boy.”
Adrian, toying in a slightly nauseated fashion with a lightly boiled egg, was in no condition to think of the jury.
“What about them?” he asked.
Sir Magnus leant back in his chair, wiped his mouth with a damask napkin, pulled out his snuff box, applied snuff to his nostrils, sneezed volcanically and then blew his nose.
“The beauty of the English legal system,” he said, voice growing rich and fruity, “is that it is built up upon two completely illogical maxims. Firstly, everyone imagines that they are tried by a jury, and this of course Is ridiculous. In fact, you are tried by a judge who instructs jury. Now, let us take the jury themselves. Working on the extraordinary system that twelve men are better than two or six or four, nobody takes into consideration that twelve imbeciles might be more dangerous than two. In my experience all judges and all juries are imbeciles. Therefore the average honest-to-god criminal hasn’t got a chance and the innocent man is doomed before he even steps into the dock.”
Adrian was puzzled.
“I thought it was a very fair system,” he said.
“It’s about as fair as a particularly savage rugby match,” said Sir Magnus coolly.
“I still don’t see,” said Adrian, “how dragging a lot of people from all over the country to this case is going to help me.”
Sir Magnus took another pinch of snuff and sneezed. “That, my dear boy, is because you don’t apply your mind to the problem,” he said. “Now, imagine that I am a sheep dog.” He leaned forward and glared at Adrian under his eyebrows, looking if anything more like a malevolent cairn terrier than a sheep dog. However, Adrian dutifully tried to imagine him as a sheep dog.
“And imagine,” continued Sir Magnus, waving a finger at him, “that the jury are a flock of sheep, and when I say a flock of sheep I am putting their collective intelligence at a much higher level than they normally display.”
He paused and cast a thoughtful look at the large flagon of cherry brandy which stood on the sideboard, then glanced at his watch and sighed in a dispirited manner.
“Now,” he said, “you have got. me as a sheep dog, the jury as the flock of sheep and the judge as a sheep stealer.” On these last words his voice sank to a hissing whisper. He got up and paced up and down the length of the breakfast table. “So,” he said suddenly wheeling upon Adrian, “what is the system, eh? It is my job as sheep dog to savage the sheep stealer and herd all my little curly jury lambs into the fold of right decision. D’you take my point?”
“Well, roughly,” said Adrian, “yes, but I don’t think you can be so high-handed with a judge, can you?”
“Judges,” said Sir Magnus coldly, “are merely inexperienced lawyers.”
Adrian could not help feeling that this summary of the legal system left a certain amount to be desired, but having no experience himself, he was not in a position to argue. Sir Magnus went to the door of the dining-room, flung it open and bellowed, “Screech!”
In response to this a shrivelled, bald individual cringed and undulated his way into the room.
“Screech here,” said Sir Magnus waving an airy hand at him, “will write suitable letters to all the people I want as witnesses You will spend the morning closeted together giving him the necessary details.” “All right:” said Adrian, “anything you say.”
It had suddenly occurred to him, and the thought suffused his whole body in a warm glow, that he could write to Samantha and get her as a witness. Sir Magnus cast a glance at the cherry brandy decanter as though he had noticed it for the first time.
“You cannot, however,” he said, “start work of this sort on an empty stomach. Have some cherry brandy.”
“I don’t think I will, if you don’t mind,” said Adrian. “If we have got to write all these letters, I’d like to keep a dear head.”
“Well, please yourself,” said Sir Magnus and he went across to the sideboard and mixed a liberal measure of cherry brandy with a beakerful of Irish whiskey and the juice of two lemons, tossed it down his throat and then stood shuddering for a brief moment.
“Interesting,” he said softly with his eyes closed. He then turned on the unfortunate clerk.
“You know what to do, Screech,” he barked. “Mr. Rookwhistle here will give you the details and I shall expect all the letters in the post by twelve o’clock.”
“But of course, Sir Magnus,” said Screech. “Certainly, Sir Magnus.”
Sir Magnus strode out of the room and slammed the door behind him, leaving Adrian alone with Screech, who, he soon discovered was a painstaking individual who wrote a beautiful copperplate hand, but whose personality was as exciting and ineffectual as cottonwool covered with glue. Finally, at ten to twelve, the last letter—the letter to Samantha—was written and as Sir Magnus came storming back into the room Screech gathered up his papers and scuttled out obsequiously.
“I have decided,” said Sir Magnus, “that you are looking a little bit under the weather. I cannot have my prize client looking peaky in court.”
“I think,” said Adrian, stifling a yawn, “it is more lack of sleep than anything.”
“Nonsense,” said Sir Magnus. “It is lack of stimulation. One can do without steep, but one cannot do without stimulation. ” Adrian wondered dully what Sir Magnus would consider stimulation. He assumed it would be the fighting and killing of seventeen Spanish bulls before lunch.
“You may be right,” he said peaceably.
“After lunch,” said Sir Magnus rubbing his hands, “I propose you and I and Rosy take the air.”
“Take the air?” said Adrian startled.
“Yes,” said Sir Magnus. “We will take a walk along the sea front.”
“Do you think that is a good idea . . . ?” began Adrian.
“I think it is an excellent idea,” said Sir Magnus with satisfaction. “A light snack for lunch and then a brisk walk and you will find that the sea air does you a power of good.”
Once they had disposed of the light snack—which consisted of a dozen oysters apiece followed by a mushroom souffl'e as light and as yellow as a sunset cloud, a saddle of beef squatting regally in thick brown gravy, its melting slices as pink as coral, surrounded by all the appropriate vegetables and rounded off by a trifle whose basic ingredient appeared to be cherry brandy, aided and abetted by four or five pints of clotted cream—they went for a walk along the sea front, taking Rosy with them.
Adrian, bloated with food and dragged down by lack of sleep, could not help feeling that this exercise did his case no good in the eyes of the local inhabitants. Sir Magnus seemed completely oblivious to the effect that they were creating. He had placed his walking-stick across his shoulder and had hooked the end round Rosy’s trunk and so, thus linked together, they walked along very amicably. Every time a group of children, round-eyed and excited, appeared, Sir Magnus, doffing his top hat with a regal gesture, would pull Rosy forward with the aid of his walking-stick and allow them to pat her legs and fondle her trunk. Rosy who, like most good-natured animals, was under the impression that no human being could do wrong, was delighted and with the tip of her trunk, a weapon which could be so devastating when she cared to employ it, she delicately snuffled and explored the freckled faces, the grubby hands and the pigtails.
At five o’clock, to Adrian’s intense relief, after they had walked along the promenade fourteen times, they returned to Sir Magnus’s house, bedded Rosy down in her stable and retired to the library where they had tea. Sir Magnus, for some obscure reason, appeared to be delighted with their outing. As Adrian munched his way through acres of brown hot toast running with butter, crisp scones shrouded in cream and strawberry jam, and great moist black slices of fruit cake as fragrant as a whole forest in mid-winter, he listened to Sir Magnus giving him a lecture on the legal system, ninety per cent of which was incomprehensible to him.
“Tell me,” he interrupted at last, “why were you so pleased that we went out for a walk?”
Sir Magnus with a critical and enquiring eye added a teaspoonful of cherry brandy to his cup of tea and stirred it thoughtfully.
“It may not have occurred to you, my dear boy,” he said fulsomely, with the air of one addressing a small and rather retarded child, “that the paths of justice are never smooth. To-day we have been seen by a multitude of people, taking the air in a quiet, civilized fashion, accompanied by Rosy. Rosy, as I thought she would, behaved in an exemplary fashion, while the gawping adult populace looked on. She, with a restraint that did her credit, nuzzled and cosseted the populace’s awful, snotty-nosed progeny. Do you think for one moment that Rosy’s apparent adoration and gentleness with children has not been reported in the humblest hovels in the town?”
Sir Magnus paused to engulf another cream and strawberry jam encrusted scone. He wiped his mouth and, speaking somewhat indistinctly, continued.
“I don’t care where they get their jury from,” he said with slight smugness, “but as soon as they arrive, they will be told by somebody what a civilised creature Rosy is.”
“But,” said Adrian aghast, “I thought the whole point of a jury was that you could not influence them.”
Sir Magnus drew himself up to his full height of four feet and looked at Adrian imperiously.
“You cannot,” he said harshly, “deliberately corrupt a jury. That would be unethical.”
“Yes,” said Adrian, “that’s what I thought.”
“You can, however,” said Sir Magnus smoothly, “since juries are notoriously ill-constructed mentally, tell them what to think.”
He poured some cherry brandy into his empty cup and drained it with a flourish.