“What man said what to you yesterday?” asked the judge, in a somewhat stern voice.
“It was all perfectly friendly, my Lord. I hope I haven’t said anything I shouldn’t.”
‘What man said what to you yesterday?’ repeated the judge.
“I was in the garden having a nap, my Lord, as a matter of fact,’ said the colonel.
“I dare say you were, but who came to you and said what?’
“I’d had rather a heavy day,” said the colonel.
The judge tapped his desk impatiently with a pencil. ‘Colonel Brain, ‘ he said, ‘will you kindly answer the question?’
‘Certainly my Lord,’ said the colonel and waited.
‘Well?’ said the judge, after a moment’s pause.
Col.Brain smiled cheerfully towards him.
‘Will u kindly answer the ques, Colonel. You can hear, can’t you?’
‘Very well, my Lord. As a matter of fact, I had a test the other day and…’
‘Be quiet, sir,’ said the judge loudly.
‘I’m sorry, my Lord,’ said the Colonel, and relapsed into a crestfallen silence. The silence continued. for a time. It was broken by the judge.
‘Colonel Brain, I don’t know if you’re being intentionally perverse, but, in case you are, I should warn you that I shall have no hesitation in sending you to prison.’
‘Prison, my Lord?’ said the colonel unhappily. ‘I can’t think what I do, my Lord. That’s what the Lord Chief Justice said to me when I gave evidence. I find it terribly difficult. I’ m only trying to help, my Lord. First your Lordship asks me if I’m deaf and when I start to explain, your Lordship tells me to be quiet. Then, when I keep quiet, you say I must go to prison…..Perhaps I’d better go, I don’t seem to be doing much good here.’
‘You will kindly stay in the witness box until I say you may leave and you will answer the ques which are put to you sensibly and properly. Is that understood?’
‘Yes, my lord.’
‘Very well, then.’
Again there was a silence.
‘Colonel Brain,’ said the judge, controlling himself as well as he could, but obviously with some difficulty, ‘You are being asked a perfectly simple question. Will you kindly answer it?’
‘Of course, my Lord,’ said the colonel. ‘I understand that’s what I am here for.’
‘I’m glad you realize that at last,’ said the judge.
‘Oh, my Lord,’ said the colonel. ‘I’ve realized it all the time.’
‘Very well then. Answer the question.’
‘Yes, my Lord – when I know what it is.’
The judge said nothing for several seconds, while he looked keenly at the others.
‘Are you telling me,’ he said eventually, ‘that you don’t know what the question is?’
‘Not in advance, my Lord. Do you mean you want me to guess what it, my Lord?’
‘I mean nothing of the kind. Do you mean to tell me you were a colonel in the Army.’
‘A lieutenant colonel, my Lord. If I’d known that was the question, I’d have answered a long time ago.’
‘It was not the question.’
‘I’m sorry, my Lord. Shouldn’t I have answered then?’
‘Well,’ said the judge,’I suppose it is quite a long time ago now since you were asked the question.’
‘About the army, my Lord?’
‘No, not about the Army,’ the judge almost shouted. He paused for a moment and went on: ‘Now, let’s be quite calm and collected about this…’
‘Of course, my Lord.’
‘Be quiet, sir,’ said the judge.
‘I’m sorry, my Lord, I thought you were going to ask me a question.’
‘I am about to do so.’
‘Will I go to prison if I answer it, my Lord.’
‘Colonel Brain, will you kindly say nothing until I have asked you the question and then answer the question and nothing else. Do you understand that?’
The colonel remained silent.
‘Colonel Brain, did you hear me?’
The Colonel nodded violently and said nothing.
‘Colonel Brain!’ thundered the judge.
‘Your Lordship told me only to answer the question and nothing else – or was that the question, my Lord? I really am finding this most terribly difficult.’
‘Not more than I am,’ said the judge, suddenly relaxing…..
P.G. Wodehouse? No, this is an author who, in fact, enthralled Wodehouse himself. Henry Cecil Leon (1902-1976) was a judge who wrote fiction under the pen-names Henry Cecil and Clifford Maxwell. Recently I read two of his books and was completely entertained. His 1953 novel Natural Causes is about a megalomaniac newspaper editor who starts a smear campaign against a judge and eventually this leads to blackmail and death.
The other novel, According to the Evidence appeared a year later and it is from there that you have the long extract at the beginning of the post. The witness is Colonel Brain, a character who appears in both the books and is most lovable. According to the Evidence deals with murder, the working of the law, and how the concepts of guilt and innocence can be most problematic.
If you like to read, crime novels with a strong dose of hilarity, do read these books. I’ll definitely be reading more of the author.
First Line: Some three years before the attempt was made to blackmail a High Court judge a young solicitor, Gilbert Swanley, walked into the offices of London Clarion.
Title: Natural Causes
Author: Henry Cecil
Publication Details: Middlesex: Penguin, 1964
First Published: 1953
Source: H.M. Library [F.C.A 51E]
First Line: The prisoner had been to a public school, the charge was murder, the victim an attractive girl, and there had been several similar unresolved murders not long before.
Title: According to the Evidence
Author: Henry Cecil
Publication Details: Middlesex: Penguin,1965
First Published: 1954
Source: H.M. Library [FCA 51C]
Entry for FFB @ Pattinase.