19. THE LAW WORKING
The next few days Adrian found extremely exhausting Sir Magnus had insisted that he write to everybody, however remotely connected with Rosy’s case, in spite of Adrian’s protests. He was sure half of them would be of no value to his defence.
“You’ll let me make up my mind about that, my boy,” said Sir Magnus. “Now, this Filigree woman, what about her father.”
“Oh, God no. You don’t want him,” said Adrian panic stricken. “He does nothing but talk about his reincarnations?”
“Excellent,” said Sir Magnum. “Nothing like a reincarnation to create a little confusion among the jurymen. Suggest to this girl that she bring her father with her.”
Adrian was in despair. He felt that Mr Filigree in the witness box would be almost guaranteed to get him penal servitude for life. However, in due course a cold little note appeared from Samantha saying briefly that she and her father would be willing to attend as witnesses and ending “Yours sincerely” in a chilly sort of way.
Gradually the first witnesses arrived. Mr. Pucklehammer in a gay canary yellow and black check suit and a brand new brown bowler hat, delighted to see Adrian and Rosy once more. Black Nell, who had been tracked down with some difficulty, Honoria and Ethelbert, both enjoying the drama enormously, and Honoria periodically bursting into floods of gin-promoted tears at the thought of Rosy being shot and Adrian being imprisoned. Her histrionics impressed Sir Magnus tremendously as he was no mean performer himself and when the two of them got going, Adrian got the uneasy impression that it was a grand opera they were staging, and not a defence.
Then the Filigrees arrived, Samantha cool but beautiful, shaking Adrian gravely by the hand and saying that she was delighted with this opportunity of renewing her acquaintance with Rosy, a remark which cut Adrian to the quick. Mr. Filigree was in a transport of delight for he had never seen the sea before (except in his previous incarnations) and he danced along the shore waving his fat fingers in delight like a great jelly fish. Whenever Sir Magnus wanted to question him, he would be missing and search parties would have to go down to the beach and drag him away from what had become his favourite occupation, washing Rosy down in the shallows and building sand-castles with the neighbouring children. Through them all, roaring like a bull or cooing like a dove, Sir Magnus strode gathering up the threads of their various stories.
Screech scuttled cringing at Sir Magnus’s heels, his pen squeaking like a demented wren as he wrote copious notes. Adrian had made several attempts to try and see Samantha alone, but without any success. She was polite but distant, and with each passing day Adrian grew more and more miserable. By the time the trial arrived, Adrian was in the blackest depths of despair, whereas Sir Magnus, belligerent as a Christmas turkey, strode about engulfing vast quantities of cherry brandy and exuding goodwill and confidence.
After the drab school-room like appearance of the magistrates’ court, Adrian had imagined that the one in which he was to stand trial would be the same, but to his astonishment it was a beautiful room. The judge’s chair and desk were of heavy oak, intricately carved with oak leaves, acorns, and small dimpled cherubs dancing about. Even the front of the witness box was carved. The high ceiling was white with a blue and gold bas-relief.
The air was one of hushed reverence, but with an undercurrent of bustle and activity. Sir Magnus had discovered that Screech had left half his notes at the house, and had become so incensed that Adrian feared for the poor clerk’s life. He had been occupied in trying to calm Sir Magnus down, so it was not for some minutes that he realised the court had filled up and the air of expectancy had grown even stronger.
An immensely tall, angular figure had made his appearance. His gown hung round him in long folds like the wings of a bat, and his wig was perched slightly askew over a lantern-jawed face with a blue chin, soulful spaniel-brown eyes and a turned-down mouth like a slit. But for his garb, you would have said that he was a dyspeptic undertaker in a town where nobody ever died.
“Who’s that?” Adrian asked Sir Magnus.
“Him?” said Sir Magnus, peering ferociously from under his eyebrows. “That’s Sir Augustus Talisman. He’s the prosecuting counsel.”
“I don’t think I care for the look of him,” said Adrian.
“What, old Gussy?” said Sir Magnus in surprise. “Oh, he’s a nice enough chap in his way. But if you go through life prosecuting people, you are bound to end up looking like that.”
“Who’s the judge?” asked Adrian.
“Ah,” said Sir Magnus with satisfaction. “We’ve been very lucky. We have got old Topsy.”
“Topsy!” said Adrian. “That’s an unusual name for a judge.”
“No, no,” said Sir Magnus impatiently, “he’s just called Topsy. His real name is Lord Crispin Turvey.”
“I don’t understand,” said Adrian, bewildered.
“Good heavens, boy,” said Sir Magnus. “It’s obvious isn’t it? Turvey Topsy, Topsy Turvey. He’s the best judge on this circuit. He inevitably gets the wrong end of the stick. That’s why the prosecutor looks so depressed. That’s why he’s called Topsy.”
“Do you mean to say,” said Adrian in amazement, “that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and he’s a judge?”
“Well, what he does is all right,” said Sir Magnus. “But he just does the opposite to any other judge. I should think he’s been responsible for putting more innocent people in jail than anybody else.”
“Well, I don’t see how that’s going to help me,” said Adrian.
Sir Magnus sighed with the air of somebody who is suffering a fool, if not gladly, with a certain amount of patience.
“Look,” he said kindly, “you start off with a confused judge, you see?”
“Yes,” said Adrian dutifully.
“Well, if your judge is confused before he even starts, you are half way home,” said Sir Magnus. “He will then confuse the jury and I will then confuse both of them.”
“I really don’t see . . .” began Adrian.
“You’d be surprised,” said Sir Magnus, “what you can get away with if you create enough confusion. It’s like a smoke-screen in battle.”
“Oh,” said Adrian. “I think I what you mean,” But inwardly he was resigning himself to the fact that with Sir Magnus defending him he would have to spend at least ten years in prison.
The clerk of the court got to his feet.
“All rise,” he said in a tremulous falsetto.
The court was filled with scrapings and rustlings as everyone got to their feet. A door opened and in shuffled a tiny, wizened little man, clad in red robes, who seated himself in the great carved chair and peered round, looking rather like a surprised mole. Everyone sat down and there was much throat clearing and rustling of papers. The clerk of the court rose to his feet again.
“My lord,” he fluted, “the case of the Crown versus Adrian Rookwhistle. Adrian Rookwhistle,” he said peering at Adrian, who had risen to his feet, “the charge against you is that on the 5th June at the Alhambra Theatre at Scallop in the County of Brockelberry you did in a public place, to wit the Alhambra Theatre at Scallop, cause a public disturbance in the aforesaid Alhambra Theatre and did thereby cause grievous bodily harm to one Emanuel S. Clattercup, using for this purpose a large wild pachyderm, to wit an elephant, to the aforesaid Clattercup in the aforesaid Alhambra Theatre. How do you plead?”
Adrian was so confused at the charge that he just stood there staring at the clerk.
“Not guilty,” said Sir Magnus.
“Not guilty,” said Adrian.
The clerk of the court sat down A large and jovial constable who was sharing the dock with Adrian in a companionable fashion stuck a finger in his ribs.
“Sit down, lad,” he said in a whisper.
Adrian leant over the dock.
“What happens now?” he asked Sir Magnus.
Sir Magnus took a pinch of snuff and startled the entire court with a gigantic sneeze.
“Old Gussy drones on for a bit,” he said. “Just relax for a little. Doze if you feel like it.”
The judge had been peering about unsteadily to try and locate the precise area of the court from which the sneeze had emanated. Eventually he managed to fix his wavering eyes upon Sir Magnus.
“Sir Magnus,” he said.
“M’Iord?” said Sir Magnus, rising to his feet and bowing with false obsequiousness.
“I am aware of the fact,” said the judge, “that you are addicted to taking snuff. I would be very grateful if you could inform me as to whether we are going to be constantly interrupted by that extremely startling noise that you seem forced to make every time you do so.”
“Beg pardon, m’lord,” said Sir Magnus. “I shall stifle it next time.”
“See that you do,” said the judge.
He looked at the prosecuting counsel.
“Since Sir Magnus has finished clearing his nasal passage; you may proceed, Sir Augustus,” be said.
Sir Augustus Talisman rose to his feet, ducked his head in the general direction of the judge and spent several moments adjusting the sleeves of his robe and fiddling with a pile of notes on the table in front of him. Then he turned and had a whispered consultation with his clerk. The clerk dived under the table and reappeared clasping five or six massive volumes, each carefully marked with long strips of pink paper, which he placed on the table next to Sir Augustus Both Sir Magnus and the judge, having settled the matter of the snuff, appeared to have dozed off. Sir Augustus rearranged his robe once more, cleared his throat, clasped his lapel firmly in one hand and spoke.
“My lord,” he said in a mellifluous voice, “the case before you is, to say the least, somewhat unusual. So unusual, in fact, that it has taken me considerable time and patience to find any precedent in the laws of this country.” Here he paused and laid his hand affectionately upon the pile of calf-bound volumes on the table in front of him.
“Briefly, m’lord,” he continued, “for I have no wish to waste your lordship’s valuable time—nor indeed am I under the erroneous impression that your lordship prefers anything that is not succinct and to the point—I would say that this outrage (and I feel that by saying outrage I am not being in any way too harsh in my description) this outrage is one of the most extraordinary cases that I have come across in a long career at the Bar.”
He paused and glanced down at his notes, tapping them thoughtfully with a forefinger. Sir Magnus appeared to be in a deep and untroubled slumber. Adrian had expected him at this point to leap up and protest, and so was somewhat disappointed.
“The defendant. Adrian Rookwhistle,” continued Sir Augustus, “apparently inherited from his uncle a fully grown female elephant. The elephant’s name is apparently Rosy, and so, in order to avoid confusion, and with your lordship’s permission of course, I will refer to her by that name.
“On the evening of 31st May, Rookwhistle arrived in Scallop and the following day made his way to the Alhambra Theatre where he applied to Mr. Clattercup, the owner, for a job. Mr. Clattercup, feeling that the introduction of a tame, and, my lord, I stress the word, tame elephant, into his performance (which I believe was called Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves), would provide a strong appeal, engaged Rookwhistle and the elephant Rosy. Mr. Clattercup had spent a considerable sum of money on the production of this pantomime. On the first night, the theatre was, as would be expected, full of our local inhabitants who hold culture so dear to their hearts. Half of the first scene was enacted without incident, but it was then that Rookwhistle, who had, according to witnesses, been imbibing and had encouraged the elephant to imbibe as well, lost control of the animal. It ran berserk.”
Adrian, shocked at this contumely, glanced at Sir Magnus, but his defending counsel still slept peacefully.
“I have here, m’lord (and I needn’t worry you with the details) a list of the actual damage that was done by the aforementioned elephant, but this was damage to scenery and various stage properties. We now come to the personal damage that the animal inflicted. The violinist of the orchestra suffered numerous cuts and contusions when struck by a palm tree wielded by the elephant. The leader of the orchestra suffered severe concussion and Mr. Clattercup, the owner, not only received severe bruising, but also sustained a broken leg as a result of being hurled into the orchestra pit by the maddened and enraged creature.”
At this point the judge gave a small squeak which may or may not have been laughter.
“M’lord,” said Sir Augustus in the tones of one delivering a funeral oration, “I will bring evidence to show that the defendant Rookwhistle had for some considerable time been travelling the country with this animal, creating havoc wherever he passed and that, in consequence, his acceptance of this job at the Alhambra Theatre was obtained through guile and deceit, since he professed that the animal was tame while knowing that it was in fact a fierce, intractable and uncontrollable creature, a risk to life and property.”
Adrian was so incensed at this twisting of the facts that he leant over the dock, seized Sir Magnus’s shoulder and shook it.
“Ah,” said Sir Magnus brightly, “Gussy’s finished, has he? Hear what he was saying?”
“Yes,” hissed Adrian, “he’s twisting everything to make it look as though Rosy and I are guilty.”
“Bound to,” said Sir Magnus. “That’s what he’s paid for.”
“But can’t you say something?” said Adrian. “Can’t you get up and tell the judge it isn’t true?”
“Don’t panic, dear boy,” said Sir Magnus. “Remember that a spider spends hours weaving a web which you can destroy with a walking-stick with the flick of a wrist.”
And with this Adrian had to be content. Sir Augustus was shuffling through his notes and re-settling his gown, and Adrian examined the jury.
All of them looked sour-faced, gimlet-eyed and unrelenting, and those who had not immediately gone into a trance spent their time looking surreptitiously at their watches and did not appear to be concentrating on anything in particular. They looked at Adrian as though they would be willing to condemn him there and then, either from a sense of vindictiveness or from a desire to get back to their businesses as rapidly as possible.
“I will now call my first witness,” said Sir Augustus “Sir Hubert Darcey.”
“Call Sir Hubert Darcey,” cried the clerk of the court.
Sir Hubert strode into the court as though on to a parade ground. He looked even more magnificently be-whiskered and terrifying than Adrian had remembered him. He stamped into the witness box and took the oath with the air of one who finds it faintly insulting that anyone should even question his truthfulness.
“You,” said Sir Augustus, “are Hubert Darcey of Bangalore Manor in the village of Monkspepper?”
“Yes,” replied Darcey thunderously.
“Sir Hubert,” said the judge, “I wonder if you would be so good as to offer your evidence in a slightly lower tone of voice? The acoustics of this place are such that if you use the full power of your lungs, it sets up an extraordinary reverberation which runs through both my desk and my chair.”
“Very good, my lord,” Darcey barked.
“You are the Master of the Monkspepper Hunt, are you not?” enquired Sir Augustus.
“Yes,” said Darcey. “Have been for twenty years.”
“Now, do you recall the 20th April?”
“I do,” said Darcey. “Vividly,”
“Well, would you be so kind as to tell his lordship and the jury, in your own words, exactly what happened.”
“Yes,” said Darcey in his muted roar. “It was a fine mornin’, mi lud, and the hounds had found in the oak woods behind Monkspepper . . .”
“Found what?” enquired the judge.
“The scent,” said Darcey.
“What sort of scent?” enquired the judge with interest.
“The scent of a fox,” said Darcey.
“These rural pursuits are really most interesting,” said the judge musingly. “Pray continue.”
“Well, the line took us through the oak woods down the Monkspepper Road and eventually led us into a meadow which abuts the river. I would like to say that there was only one entrance to this meadow and it was completely surrounded by a very thick and large bull-finch,”
“Did you say bull-finch?” enquired the judge.
“Yes,” said Darcey.
“I think, my lord,” said Sir Augustus, feeling that at this rate he would be unable to get any evidence out of his witness at all, “I think the witness means a thick hedge. A bull-finch is a term meaning a thick hedge.”
“I thought it was a term meaning a bird with a red breast.”
“It is the same word, but with different connotations,” said Sir Augustus.
“Thank you,” said the judge.
“Well,” said Darcey, “the hounds went into the meadow and we followed ’em. The first thing that caught my eye was an extremely vulgar-lookin’ trap, painted in bright colours such as a gipsy might have used. Then suddenly, from behind the trees, there appeared to my astonishment an elephant. Not unnaturally, the hounds panicked, as did the horses, to such an extent in fact that even experienced riders like myself, caught unawares, were thrown. I unfortunately landed on my head and was only saved by my top hat. Before I could rid my eyes of this encumbrance, I was seized by the elephant, carried across the meadow and dashed to the ground at the feet of the accused who, to my horror, I saw was wearin’ nothin’ but a pair of very damp underpants.”
“Why was he only in underpants?” asked the judge, obviously fascinated.
“He told me that he had been swimmin’ in the river with the elephant, mi lud—frightenin’ the salmon.”
“Did you sustain any injury from this encounter?” enquired the judge.
“Fortunately, mi lud, just some slight bruising.”
“I bring this matter up, m’lord,” said Sir Augustus, “merely in order to prove my point that the defendant did in fact know his elephant to be a dangerous creature, as this type of assault upon people had happened prior to the affair at the Alhambra Theatre.”
“I see,” said the judge doubtfully.
Sir Augustus sat down and the judge, peering at the apparently unconscious Sir Magnus, said, “Would you care to join us for a brief moment, and cross-examine the witness?”
“Yes, m’lord,” said Sir Magnus, rising slowly to his feet. He fixed Darcey with a penetrating eye. “You say that the only damage you suffered was slight bruising?”
“Was your horse a good one?” Sir Magnus enquired unexpectedly. Darcey’s face grew purple.
“I breed the finest horses in the country,” he barked.
“But it obviously could not have been very well trained?” enquired Sir Magnus.
“It’s a perfect mount,” snapped Darcey. “But horses outside circuses are not trained to cope with elephants.”
“So you would say it was quite normal for your horse to panic and throw you?” said Sir Magnus.
“Of course,” said Darcey.
“So your bruises were in fact sustained by falling off the horse?” enquired Sir Magnus. Darcey glared at him.
“Come, come,” said Sir Magnus silkily, “surely that is what you have been telling us?”
“I don’t really see where this line of questioning is getting us,” said the judge plaintively.
“M’Iord,” said Sir Magnus, “I am merely trying to point out to your lordship and to the jury” (here he cast a fierce eye which seemed to electrify the entire jury) “that the slight bruising, and I use the witness’s own words, that he sustained, was due to the fact that be was thrown off his horse and that the bruising had nothing whatsoever to do with the elephant in question.”
Sir Augustus got to his feet.
“My lord,” he said, “the fact that the witness sustained the bruising through falling off his horse is not the point. He would not have fallen off his horse if it had not been threatened by the elephant.”
“Did the elephant do anything to your horse?” enquired Sir Magnus of Darcey.
“No,” said Darcey reluctantly. “It just trumpeted.”
“Trumpeted, eh,” said the judge. “Interesting. I don’t think I have ever heard an elephant trumpet. What’s it sound like?”
“A sort of squeaking noise, your lordship,” explained Sir Magnus.
“However,” he continued, glancing at the jury, “I think we have made the point that in fact the elephant in question was not responsible for any damage the witness sustained. Do you not agree, your lordship?”
“Yes, yes. That’s very clear,” said the judge and made a note.
Sir Augustus cast a baleful stare in the direction of Sir Magnus. The point, as far as he was concerned, had not been made very clear at all, but if the judge said it had, he could not very well argue the point.
“I have no more questions,” said Sir Magnus, sitting down with an air of satisfaction. With the air indeed of one who has won the case. The jury were visibly impressed.
“I would perhaps like to recall this witness,” said Sir Augustus, “a little later in the proceedings.”
“Certainly, Sir Augustus,” said the judge. He bent over his notes for a moment or so and then looked up at Sir Magnus. “A squeaking noise, you said?” he enquired.
“Yes, my lord,” said Sir Magnus. “Rather like the noise of a slate pencil magnified.”
The judge carefully wrote this piece of natural history down in his notes.
“I would like to call Lady Berengaria Fenneltree.” Lady Fenneltree, clad in a deep purple velvet dress and with a black veil on her straw hat, sailed into court like a successful galleon. She took the oath, threw back her veil and nodded to the judge as much as to say “you may proceed now”. In answer to Sir Augustus’s questions she identified herself in her clear penetrating voice and so impressive was her demeanour that even the more absent-minded of the jurymen sat up and took interest.
“Lady Fenneltree,” said Sir Augustus, “do you remember the evening of the 28th April?”
“It is an evening,” said Lady Fenneltree, in a voice as brittle as the sound of icicles falling off the roof, “that is indelibly engraved upon my memory.”
“Would you like to tell his lordship and the jury why?” She half turned to the judge, pinned him to his chair with a hypnotic blue gaze, clasped her hands in front of her and began.
“On the 28th April it was my daughter’s eighteenth birthday,” she said.
“Does this have any bearing on the matter?” enquired the judge.
“I was asked,” Lady Fenneltree said quellingly, “to tell the story in my own words.”
“By all means, by all mean” said the judge, and made a hasty and irrelevant note.
“It was my daughter’s eighteenth birthday,” recommenced Lady Fenneltree, “and we bad arranged a ball in her honour. We had naturally invited a number of people. In fact,”—she allowed herself a small grim smile—“I can say that everybody who is anybody was there. I had asked my husband to think up some original entertainment, possibly of a humorous nature, for the edification of the guests. He assured me he had this matter well in hand, but wished to keep it a secret, I had been up in town shopping with my daughter, and on my return I found that” (she said gesturing disdainfully at Adrian) “installed in the house.”
“With his elephant?” enquired the judge.
“Unfortunately, yes,” said Lady Fenneltree.
“But how,” enquired the judge giving her his full attention, and obviously deeply interested, “how did he manage to get it up and down stairs?”
“Er, my lord,” said Sir Augustus getting to his feet hurriedly. “I think it should be explained that the defendant kept his elephant in the stable yard, unbeknownst to Lady Fenneltree.”
“Oh,” said the judge, “that’s different”
He looked at Sir Magnus, convinced by now that he was an authority on elephants.
“Can elephants walk up stairs?” he asked.
“Indubitably,” said Sir Magnus.
“Anyway,” said Lady Fenneltree, irritated by the judge’s interruption, “my husband had secreted the elephant in the stables, as Sir Augustus said, unbeknownst to me. He had worked out a ridiculous scheme which, if it had been brought to my attention, I would have put an immediate stop to. He and that Rookwhistle creature were going to dress themselves up as Indians and bring the elephant into the ballroom, sitting in a howdah.”
The judge leant forward and stared at her, puzzled. “But I always though,” he said, “that a howdah was a thing that elephants wore on their backs.”
“They do,” said Lady Fenneltree.
“But then, how,” asked the judge plaintively, “did they manage to get the elephant into the howdah?”
Sir Augustus leapt to his feet once more, aware that Lady Fenneltree was on the verge of giving the judge a short but pungent correction.
“My lord,” he said, “Lord Fenneltree and the defendant dressed themselves in Indian costume, put a howdah on the back of the elephant and rode into the ballroom in the howdah.”
The judge started to make small squeaking, snuffling noises to himself, shaking all over as though with ague. It was some seconds before the court realised that he was laughing. Presently, still trembling with mirth, he wiped his eyes and leant forward.
“What you could almost call, Sir Augustus, a pretty how da do, eh?” he said and lapsed once more into helpless laughter.
“Ha, ha,” said Sir Augustus dutifully. “Extremely witty, my lord.”
A ghastly silence settled over the court while the judge grappled with his sense of humour. Presently, wiping his eyes on his handkerchief and blowing his nose, he waved a hand at Lady Fenneltree. “Do please go on, madam,” he said.
“My guests were all enjoying the humble but adequate entertainment that we were offering them,” said Lady Fenneltree, “when suddenly the doors of the ballroom burst open and the elephant rushed in and slid to the end of the room.”
“Slid?” enquired the judge.
“Slid,” said Lady Fenneltree firmly.
The judge peered at Sir Augustus. “I am not altogether sure,” he said, “that I understand the witness.”
“It slid, my lord,” said Sir Augustus, “on the parquet floor.”
“Slid,” said the judge musingly. He looked at Sir Magnus. “Can elephants slide?” he enquired.
“Given a suitable polished surface and sufficient impetus, I believe, my lord, that even an elephant may slide,” said Sir Magnus.
“Was it meant to slide?” enquired the judge, looking at Lady Fenneltree.
“Whether it was meant to slide or not is beside the point, she said crisply. “It slid straight into all the tables containing the food and wine. My husband was in the howdah in his ridiculous outfit and he and the howdah fell off. I approached him and asked him why he had seen fit to introduce an elephant into my ballroom.”
“A good question,” said the judge, struck by Lady Fenneltree’s penetration. “And what did he answer?”
“He said,” said Lady Fenneltree, with a wormwood-like bitterness, “that it was a surprise.”
“Well,” said the judge judicially, “it was an honest answer. It was a surprise, wasn’t it?”
“Since that evening,” said Lady Fenneltree, “I have been searching my mind for a word which would describe the experience adequately, and ‘surprise’ was not one that I dredged up from my not inconsiderable knowledge of the English tongue.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” said the judge with decision. “That is exactly what I think myself.”
“May I continue?” enquired Lady Fenneltree. “Preferably without further interruptions?”
“Of course, of course,” said the judge. “Yes, by all means. What happened next?”
He sat forward and fixed his gaze eagerly upon Lady Fenneltree like a child being told a fairy-tale.
“The food was, of course, ruined,” said Lady Fenneltree. “The elephant was completely out of control, rampaging to and fro and seeking whom it could devour. I was gently remonstrating with my husband for his foolishness in introducing a wild beast into such a place, when it first pulled down a priceless chandelier, and then, rushing up to me, seized me in its trunk.”
“By George!” said the judge. “What did you do, eh?”
“Being a mere woman,” said Lady Fenneltree in a voice like a bugle sounding a cavalry charge, “I fainted.”
“Very proper,” said the judge. “It must have been a harrowing experience.”
Lady Fenneltree bowed her head slightly, endeavouring. somewhat unsuccessfully to look like a cringing and modest virgin.
“When I came to,” she said, “I found myself on a salmon.”
“It seems to me,” said the judge in a puzzled manner, “that there are an awful lot of animals entering into this case. Were you aware, Sir Augustus, that there were so many animals in the case?”
Sir Augustus closed his eyes for a moment.
“Yes, my lord,” he said, “but the salmon was dead.”
“Well, it would be, in a ballroom,” said the judge. “Bound to be. Unless there was a fountain or something.”
“There is no fountain in our ballroom,” said Lady Fenneltree.
“Well, there you are,” said the judge in triumph. “It shows it must have been dead.”
“It was a cold salmon,” said Lady Fenneltree.
“Because it was dead?” enquired the judge.
Sir Augustus rose to his feet once again with a long-suffering air.
“For the edification of the guests, my lord,” he said, “Lady Fenneltree had provided a large, cooked salmon. This had been displaced by the activities of the pachyderm and when it had finished carrying Lady Fenneltree around, it deposited her unconscious figure upon the fish.”
“Fascinating,” said the judge. “I cannot remember when I have enjoyed a case so much. Tell us more, Lady Fenneltree.”
“When I recovered consciousness, I was on the salmon. I was just in time to see Sir Hubert Darcey being picked up by the elephant and dashed to the ground in what was obviously a deliberate attempt to kill him.”
Lady Fenneltree had never been Adrian’s favourite woman, and this deliberate lie he could not stomach. Since Sir Magnus was obviously not going to do anything about it, he felt he must.
“It’s a lie!” he shouted, leaping to his feet. “Rosy never harmed anyone in her life. You’re just a vindictive old cow.”
A wave of excitement and admiration ran through the court. Lady Fenneltree cast a look of contemptuous disdain at Adrian and turned to the judge.
“My lord,” she said with biting sweetness, “do you normally allow witnesses to be insulted in your court?”
“Not normally,” said the judge absent-mindedly. “But tell me, what has this cow got to do with it? Seems to me there are far too many animals in this case.”
Sir Augustus, looking like a very unsuccessful Horatio at the bridge, got unsteadily to his feet.
“I think, my lord,” he said, “that the witness has made it quite clear that the elephant was large, malevolent, uncontrolled and, indeed, uncontrollable, and with the wild creature’s natural desire to kill.”
“Rubbish!” shouted Adrian.
“Will you shut up,” said Sir Magnus, waking up for a brief moment. “You’re doing more harm than good, ranting and raving like that. Leave the old cow to me.”
“I think,” said Sir Augustus, ignoring Adrian’s outburst with exquisite courtesy, “I have made it plain to your lordship and to this fine body of men that make up the jury, that on two occasions this wild animal was allowed by the person who was supposed to be in charge of it, to wit Adrian Rookwhistle, to run riot. The extraordinary thing is, and indeed we have to thank a merciful providence for this, that nobody was killed.”
He sat down with a faint air of satisfaction and Sir Magnus rose slowly to his feet.
“Lady Fenneltree,” he said smiling at her archly, his eyebrows semaphoring up and down interrogatively, “you have given us a truthful and honest account of the events that happened on the evening of 28th April.”
Lady Fenneltree bridled.
“Naturally,” she said.
“From what you say,” said Sir Magnus tentatively, “you must have undergone a terrible, one might almost say unhinging experience, but you displayed all the qualities of courage and determination which have made English women the envy of the world.”
A slight outburst of clapping from the back of the court was immediately quelled.
“Whose side are you on?” hissed Adrian.
Sir Magnus smiled a quiet smile, took his snuff box out of his waistcoat and then, catching the judge’s eye, replaced it.
“There are several things that you have not told us,” said Sir Magnus, “and this displays a quality of modesty in your make-up which is, if I might be allowed to say so, utterly feminine and utterly charming.”
Lady Fenneltree inclined her head regally.
“For example,” said Sir Magnus looking at the jury and throwing out a hand, “you have not said anything about your lineage. You were, I believe, a Plumbdragon?”
“I was,” said Lady Fenneltree. “My father was Lord Plumbdragon.”
“The Plumbdragons and Fenneltrees have, I believe, been part of the aristocitatic backbone of this country for something in the neighbourhood of four hundred years. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” said Lady Fenneltree.
“During that time,” said Sir Magnus looking at the jury, “the Plumbdragons and Fenneltrees have ruled over vast acres, cosseting and nurturing the lesser mortals who dwelt therein. They have been shining examples to the communities that lived at their gates, examples of modesty as personified by Lady Fenneltree herself, of honesty, of fair play and, above all, of truthfulness. For people like you and me (people of lesser clay) the Plumbdragons and Fenneltrees are people to be looked up to. In olden days, before the establishment of dignified, fair-minded courts like this, who was it that we, the humble, looked to for compassion and for those qualities which have made this country of ours what it is—fair play and honesty? We looked to the Plumbdragons and Fenneltrees of this world.”
Sir Augustus, scenting a rat without being able to discern its shape, got to his feet.
“My lord,” he interrupted, “I really don’t see—fascinating though it is—what my learned friend’s speech adds to the case.”
“My lord,” said Sir Magnus, “I know that I am appearing for the defence. Nevertheless, I do not want it to appear that I have bullied and frightened a woman in the witness box and a woman, moreover, who has all those qualities of which I have been speaking.”
“But Sir Magnus,” pointed out the judge, “you have hardly as yet questioned the witness. There can be no possible reason for saying that you have bullied her.”
“M’lord,” said Sir Magnus, “I wish the jury to be easy in their minds.”
Here he cast a glance like a blow-lamp over the jury.
“We are all trying to get at the truth. That is why we are gathered here, and all I am saying to you, my lord, and to the jury, is that from the lips of such a noble, modest and aristocratic woman, we can expect nothing but the truth.”
“Well, she is on oath,” said the judge petulantly. “I would have thought that was sufficient. I feel it would be helpful if instead of lecturing us, Sir Magnus, you questioned the witness, endeavouring wherever possible not to bring any more animals into the case.”
“As your lordship pleases,” said Sir Magnus.
He turned and smiled at Lady Fenneltree caressingly. “Your recollections of the evening of the 28th April seem remarkably clear,” he said.
“They are,” said Lady Fenneltree, “extremely clear.”
“You forgive me for asking that question,” said Sir Magnus. “To a sensitive, well brought up woman, such an experience must have been terrifying in the extreme, and so it would be understandable if your recollections of certain points were slightly blurred.”
“Sir Magnus,” said Lady Fenneltree crisply, “I may or may not be endowed with all the qualities that you suggest, but I have one quality which never deserts me. I am observant in the extreme.”
“So observant,” said Sir Magnus as though to himself, “that you overlooked the fact that an elephant had taken up residence in your stables.”
Lady Fenneltree glared at him malevolently. “I do not normally,” the said cuttingly, “spend my life in the stables, and my husband had concealed the fact that he had an elephant secreted there.”
“Of course,” said Sir Magnus, soothingly, “it is a thing that we could all overlook, isn’t it?”
He glanced at the jury as though hoping that they would sympathise with Lady Fenneltree in her failing.
“However,” he continued, “to return to the night of the 28th April. You say that the elephant skidded into the ballroom, upset the tables containing the food and drink and then proceeded to rampage about, to use your own words, seeking whom it might devour. Your recollection of this part of the story is quite dear, is it?”
“Quite dear,” said Lady Fenneltree suspiciously.
“Later on, you say you recovered consciousness,” said Sir Magnus, “in time to see the elephant deliberately endeavour to kill Sir Hubert?”
“Yes,” said Lady Fenneltree.
“Your impression was that this was an unprovoked attack by a dangerous and uncontrolled wild animal?”
“Yes,” said Lady Fenneltree.
“You had yourself just had an unpleasant experience by being carried by the elephant,” said Sir Magnus, “and you fainted, which is of course very right and proper. When you recovered consciousness you were lying, it appears, upon a salmon?”
“Yes,” said Lady Fenneltree.
“Did you sustain any bruises or contusions from this brief encounter?”
“No,” said Lady Fenneltree, “but I can only attribute this to the fact that, mercifully, the animal put me down in favour of attacking Sir Hubert.”
“Not an insatiable elephant,” said Sir Magnus. “One would have thought that it might have finished off one victim before starting on another.”
“Yet that’s what happened,” said Lady Fenneltree.
Sir Magnus sighed, took out his snuff-box absentmindedly, applied snuff to his nostrils and sneezed.
“Sir Magnus,” said the judge, “I hope I won’t have to remind you again about sneezing in court.”
“I apologise, m’lord,” said Sir Magnus. “I was carried away by emotion. It is with the utmost reluctance I have to make Lady Fenneltree undergo the very unpleasant experience of being in the witness-box. To a truthful, law-abiding citizen, this can be nothing but a degrading experience.”
He snapped his snuff-box shut, returned it to his pocket and turned once more to Lady Fenneltree. Somehow a subtle change seemed to have come over him. He bristled and quivered like a small, alert terrier at a rabbit hole.
“We have established then, Lady Fenneltree, have we not,” he said, “that you are exceptionally perceptive and that your recollection of the evening in question is exceedingly dear, and we have established, of course, your honesty without a shadow of a doubt.”
He glanced at the jury, a shiny, twinkling glance, and they all involuntarily nodded.
“Therefore,” said Sir Magnus, “I need not keep you very much longer. But there is just one small point which I would be glad if you would dear up for the sake of the jury.”
He paused and glanced down at his notes. It was perfectly obvious to everybody, including Lady Fenneltree, that he was not reading his notes. The pause was for effect, while he waited, open and gleaming like a gin trap. Lady Fenneltree realised she was being manoeuvred into something—her regal nose snuffed danger, but she could not see from which direction the danger threatened. Eventually Sir Magnus looked up and waved snow-white eyebrows at her in a disarmingly friendly fashion.
“You say that the elephant skidded down the ballroom and into the tables containing food?” he enquired.
“I have already told you that,” said Lady Fenneltree. Sir Magnus shuffled his notes.
“After that,” he said, “the elephant rampaged about?”
“Yes,” said Lady Fenneltree.
“During the course of its destructive progress,” said Sir Magnus, “you say that it pulled down the chandelier.”
“Yes,” said Lady Fenneltree.
“The ballroom at Fenneltree Hall, I take it,” said Sir Magnus, “is fairly large?”
“It is a magnificent room,” said Lady Fenneltree.
“It has, I believe, a minstrels’ gallery at one end?” said Sir Magnus.
“That’s where the band was situated,” said Lady Fenneltree.
“One would assume then,” said Sir Magnus silkily, “that since it is obviously a magnificent room, the ceiling is quite high.”
“I believe,” said Lady Fenneltree complacently, “that the ballroom is fifty feet high.”
“Have you,” enquired Sir Magnus, “ever measured an elephant’s trunk?”
There was an electric silence. Everybody in court had suddenly become aware of the line that Sir Magnus was taking with the exception of the judge and the jury.
“I do not spend my spare time measuring elephants’ trunks,” said Lady Fenneltree with dignity.
“Well, during the last ten days, I have had this unique opportunity,” said Sir Magnus, “and I have found, by experiment, that it is impossible for an elephant—however evilly disposed—to reach up and pull down a chandelier that is fifty feet above it.”
He paused and straightened his wig.
“Lady Fenneltree,” he said softly and sympathetically, “you underwent a ghastly experience. It is only to be expected that a woman of your fine qualities, under such circumstances, could make a mistake like this.”
Lulled into a sense of false security by Sir Magnus’s sudden change from harshness to sympathy. Lady Fenneltree inclined her head.
“On this one point,” she said, “I may possibly be mistaken?”
“It is a pity,” said Sir Magnus smoothly, “because, as you say, you are so observant. It is just on this one point (and who is to blame you for it) that you made a mistake. But you tell us that the rest of your description is completely accurate, and who am I to doubt the word of a lady?” He gave a small bow and sat down.
“What the hell was all that about?” asked Adrian. “I don’t see that this has got anything to do with the case at all.”
Sir Magnus gave him a frosty glance from under his eyebrows.
“Look at the jury,” he said.
Adrian looked and saw twelve faces staring at Lady Fenneltree almost avidly. Here was a woman, an aristocrat, a person who should, by all the rules and regulations, be infallible, and Sir Magnus by some alchemy had proved her to be just as fallible as the next person. You could see the thought fermenting in their minds like yeast. Adrian was horrified.
“But look,” he whispered, “Rosy did bring that chandelier down.”
Sir Magnus produced his snuff-box and opened it carefully and then glanced up at Adrian.
“Be careful of your choice of words,” he said quietly. “Lady Fenneltree wasn’t. Rosy brought the chandelier down, she didn’t pull it down.”
“But I don’t see that that makes any difference,” said Adrian.
“Stop quibbling,” said Sir Magnus. “I’m really not interested in the chandelier. I’m merely interested in putting what you very accurately described as a vindictive old cow into an invidious position.”
Lady Fenneltree left the box, casting black looks in the direction of Sir Magnus. Sir Augustus got to his feet.
“My next witness is Lord Fenneltree,” he said, with a faintly despairing air.
Lord Fenneltree ambled amiably into the witness-box as though sauntering into his favourite club, beamed and waved at Adrian, fixed his monocle carefully in his eye and took the oath. Sir Augustus, having identified beyond all shadow of doubt who Lord Fenneltree was, cleared his throat and fixed his soulful gaze upon the witness.
“On the 21st April, Lord Fenneltree,” he said, “I understand that you met the defendant, Adrian Rookwhistle in a lane some distance away from your house.”
“Absolutely correct, my dear chap,” said Lord Fenneltree nodding.
“You then suggested to him that he and his elephant should take up residence at Fenneltree Hall so that elephant might take part in the birthday celebrations your daughter?”
“Yes,” said Lord Fenneltree. “Yes, you have grasped essential facts.”
“I take it,” said Sir Augustus, with the air of one who has primed his witness well, “that the defendant at no time intimated to you that the animal in question might be a danger to life and property?”
“No,” said Lord Fenneltree musingly, “I cannot say that he did, but then he had got no reason to, had he?”
“Lord Fenneltree,” said Sir Augustus hastily, “I would be glad if you would answer just ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to my questions. By elaborating on them you just confuse the jury.”
Sir Magnus at this point opened one eye and gave a tiny snort of derision.
“When you introduced the elephant into the ballroom, what was the result?” asked Sir Augustus.
Lord Fenneltree remained silent.
“Come, sir,” said Sir Augustus with some asperity, “surely you know what the result was when you introduced the elephant to the ball?”
“It is awfully difficult,” said Lord Fenneltree, looking plaintively at the judge, “to answer that sort of question with either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. Could I use some other word?”
“By all means,” said the judge.
“Let me repeat the question,” said Sir Augustus. “What was the result of your introducing the elephant to the ballroom?”
“Chaos,” said his lordship, smiling happily.
“What exactly do you mean by chaos?”
“Practically everything you can think of,” said his lordship. “She wrecked all the tables, she knocked down the chandalier, she did a very pretty waltz with my wife and picked up old Darcey and dumped him on the floor. I can assure you that if it hadn’t been for my wife’s indignation, the whole thing would have been splendidly diverting.
“Now, my lord,” said Sir Augustus, turning to the judge, “I think I have established my point that this elephant is a wild and savage animal and that Adrian Rookwhistle knew it to be. And that without any thought for persons or property, he continually allowed it to rampage throughout the county.”
He cast a faintly worried look at Sir Magnus.
“Perhaps my honourable friend would like to cross-examine?” he enquired.
“No,” said Sir Magnus, waving a lavish hand, “I have no wish to cross-examine at this precise moment, my lord, but I would ask permission to recall this witness later.”
Sir Augustus leapt to his feet.
“I object, my lord,” he said. “This is most unethical.”
“It is rather unusual, Sir Magnus,” said the judge.
“Yes, mi lord, I realise that,” said Sir Magnus, “but I feel once you have heard the evidence of my other witnesses you will find that Lord Fenneltree has something of worth to contribute to my side of the case.”
“Very well,” said the judge. “Just this once. And now I suggest that we all adjourn. I don’t know about you gentlemen, but I am beginning to feel decidedly peckish. We will resume at two o’clock.”
“My lord,” said Sir Magnus, “prison fare, as you know, is not of the sort that makes a gourmet tremble with delight. I would therefore ask your lordship most humbly, if it would be possible for you to release my client so that he may lunch with me?”
“You really do ask for the most unusual things, Sir Magnus,” said the judge severely. “However, I suppose there can’t be any harm in it. But make sure you bring back.”
“Thank you, my lord,” said Sir Magnus.
The judge scrambled out of his chair while the court stood and disappeared through the door into his chambers.
“Well,” said Sir Magnus, taking a teaspoonful of snuff and inserting it up both nostrils, “a most successful morning.”
He sneezed violently.
“Let us go and have some lunch, dear boy,” he said to Adrian.
“I don’t know what you are so pleased about,” said Adrian. “As far as I can make out, everyone has talked a lot of nonsense this morning which hasn’t settled anything one way or the other, and the prosecution is actually telling lies.”
“Dear boy,” said Sir Magnus, “what a charming innocent you are. However, wait until this afternoon, when we start telling lies.”