Judge Not Lest...
New - 22 September 2008
We the Jury, a novel:
Judge Not Lest...
The Lord Mayor of London, the right honorable Samuel Starling, sat in the dining room of his well-appointed residence in the heart of London. As was his custom on Thursdays, he was having dinner with his mistress, Teresa, while Starling’s wife had already been dispatched to a sister's home, again as a matter of tradition. The wife was therefore out of sight, out of mind… so to speak. It was just one more example of the old adage: Rank has its privileges (RHIP).
A maidservant – who the discerning reader might have recognized as a younger and notably spryer Lola Tinsle -- was standing nearby, her head lowered. Of this latter activity she was notably accomplished. Providing more involved services would have been more challenging, and on more than one occasion, she had failed miserably at the latter. But she could indeed stand nearby, her head lowered… and for the most part, not fall asleep. Lola in those ancient days had an ability to listen and remember.
All of which explained a lot about her place in the semi-royal household. Why, for example, would the Lord Mayor of London, with all of his connections and power, tolerate such shortcomings in a maidservant? The old adage that it’s hard to get good help these days didn’t really apply to the Lord Mayor. That was not the problem.
On the other hand, the classic statement that “we will always be friends; you know too much”, does fit the situation somewhat more admirably. Lola, were the truth to be told, had once been the young Lord Mayor’s mistress. Of course, that in and of itself was not the proverbial ace in the hole. It was entirely too common (in all of the latter’s many possible interpretations). However, Lola in her previous romantic interludes had been privy to several of the young Lord Mayor’s conversations that Lola had in a rare moment of insight, recorded in detail for posterity. There had also been for a long time the possibility… heaven forbid… that such recordings might become available to others, including certain enemies of Starling!
Over the years since, Lola’s ability to lay low her former lover had very likely reached the point of minimal probability. Still… Lola had always had the instinct for never showing her hand. And thus Starling, while highly suspicious of Lola’s continuing ability to wreck havoc, had never been willing to risk it all merely in order to test his theory of mental incompetence on the part of Lola. The theory of Mutually Assured Destruction was accordingly in one of its earliest incarnations.
Speaking of which, there was also Starling’s current mistress – with emphasis on the “current” status level. Her name was Teresa and she would eventually raise her status to wife level by marrying Jack Bailey. For the moment she was content to manipulate the far more challenging Lord Mayor.
As Starling spooned some soup with an oversized silver spoon -- he had literally been born with it in his mouth -- Teresa, aka Terri, sat without touching her soup, her posture fully erect and a sweet smile encased on her face. Her demeanor was one of a black panther being primed to pounce, even as she watched and studied her Lord and Master... slop the hogs, so to speak.
“I know, my love,” she continued, “that you would always want me to look my best. How else can others respect what you have, what you own, lock, stock and barrel. But my dear Samuel… with only two personal servants to attend me…”
“Teresa, my lovely,” Starling countered with the tenor of utter boredom, exercising the principle of first strike, “My wife has only three herself. And yet she can entertain the illusion that she is mistress of this house.”
“She also looks as if she has no maidservants.”
Starling frowned and slopped another spoonful of soup in the direction of his mouth… with roughly forty percent finding its intended destination, and the rest onto any one of several other nearby surfaces.
“What about this poor thing here? She has almost nothing to do,” Terri casually said.
Starling glanced at Lola… whose ears had... possibly... picked up on the current subject of conversation. With Lola, you could never really tell. “That may very well be,” Starling agreed, admitting in the same breath that he had no clue how to read Lola. “But I suspect there is precious little she can do… at least in her twilight years. Meanwhile, we wish to honor her service to this family over the years.”
For the first time, it occurred to Teresa that Lola’s history of service might have been a bit more extensive than… oh say, that ancient relic pretending to be the head butler. In fact, it just might be that Teresa’ acquiring the slow, but well situated Lola might rate an even higher priority. What manner of stories might the old woman be able to confide to her new and very caring mistress?
Teresa accordingly took the high road. “But I can train her. She seems to be very pliable. And observant.”
The last phrase forced a momentary lull in Starling’s lapping up the soup – and resulting in even more soup drippings on the dining room table. There is, perhaps, no greater threat to the sovereignty of man than two former female lovers confiding in one another. Pittances such as wars, famines, financial ruin, and alien invasions pale in comparison to such horrors. Starling took a deep breath as he envisioned the portals of hell that seemed to be opening and beckoning him to enter.
Then with a wry smile the Lord Mayor deflected and avoided the issue by noting that, “In your hand, my lovely, most anyone is pliable.”
Teresa might have done more than return a coy smile, but the “ancient relic pretending to be head butler” entered the room with news.
“My Lord Mayor,” he said in his most dramatic tone (a tone equivalent to the announcement of the arrival of the Daily News), “Lord Howell and a Mister Devon Sophing have arrived, inquired of your health, and begged leave to visit you.”
Starling growled in the traditional manner, “Dismal timing!”
Of course, Starling might well have decided that the interruption was akin to being saved by the ‘Lord’ (pardon the pun). Howell’s arrival could serve to delay the current topic of conversation, and allow the Lord Mayor time to fall back, regroup, and arrive at a new and better defense against ever letting Lola and Teresa be alone in the same room together. Starling tossed his spoon aside. “Show them in," he quickly ordered. "We can’t keep the King’s Representative waiting.”
“As you say, my Lord.”
With the ancient relic exiting, Starling smiled at Teresa – the latter who just happened to be internally biting down on square nails. “As for you, my lovely, I indulge you far too much. Still… I must ask you to take your leave. Matters of state, you know. Too dismal for your delicate ears, I’m afraid.” The Lord Mayor did not add that it had been “delicate ears” that had compromised his otherwise total authority in his own household.
Still, Teresa knew when to retreat gracefully. “Of course, my darling. I do understand. But I will be counting the moments. Perhaps later this evening, I might be afforded the opportunity to show you just how much.”
Starling smiled in return… suspecting the delights of the evening might well be laced with covert attempts to manipulate. 'Quite possibly,' Starling began to think, 'Teresa might be becoming a bit too bold for her continued tenure.'
Teresa, with Lola pulling back her chair… and rug out from under her, so to speak, rose and proceeded to give Starling a long lingering kiss.
It was one of those calculated kisses, lasting just long enough to allow Lord Howell a preview of coming attractions. Howell was forced in fact to stop at the door just abruptly enough for Sophing to walk into him from behind. Howell made it clear with gestures and a facial expression that Sophing had… erred.
After the customary throat clearing, Teresa straightened up, gave Howell a quick, knowing glance, turned and left. Lola followed her, the latter’s head still lowered. Starling took the time to notice that Lola had taken a different route from Teresa the moment they had exited. Starling smiled. One more bullet aimed for his head dodged.
Lord Howell, with Sophing in tow, approached.
“My most profound apologies, my Lord Mayor. I would never wished to have disturbed you, but these are matters of the gravest importance.”
“No matter,” Starling replied. “I fully understand. I exist only to do the King’s business.”
Oh what a load of... Never mind.
“A fact well known throughout the realm,” Howell bullshitted. Turning to his token supplicant, he added, “May I introduce Mr. Devon Sophing, our Member of Parliament and that august body's designated representative in this… unfortunate matter. Mr. Sophing has the full authority to act on behalf of Parliament.”
“Mr. Sophing,” Starling replied graciously. “Welcome.”
“It is my distinct and notable honor,” Sophing replied.
“Naturally,” Starling noted in passing.
“The matter, Sire,” Howell began, “is about the trouble…”
“Yes, yes,” Starling replied with apparent disgust. “This damnable trouble with that misguided scoundrel and his following.”
“They call themselves… ‘Quakers’.”
“Troublemakers,” Sophing added, “if you ask me.” But of course, no one in this august body ever would ask anything of anyone as lowly as Sophing.
Starling was on his own tangent. “It is inconceivable that the son of someone as distinguished and honored as Sir William Penn, an Admiral in His Majesty’s Royal Navy, could have fathered such a disgrace to his heritage.”
“It’s the old problem of religious convictions outweighing common sense, your honor. Meanwhile, I am distressed to say that Sir William is, as you can imagine, quite ill. I am nonetheless assured he will not defend his misguided son in any manner. Nor, I am assured, will Sir William question our judgment in the slightest.”
“That may well be,” Starling snorted. “But he might better have shown restraint in his bedchamber twenty five years ago when he fathered that insult to gentry. Then we would not have this felon on the streets of London, preaching his heretical and damnable religions, and thereby challenging my authority.”
“But Sir William is exercising discretion now, my Lord,” Sophing noted.
Starling glanced at Sophing, thinking that the man was really quite dense. But in the interests of diplomacy, he deflected the conversation. “I am reminded of that ancient Greek Solon who compared the law to a spider’s web in which less weighty defendants light upon and find themselves stuck in the stickiness, while heavier, more substantial defendants fall straightaway through to freedom. It is small comfort we need not concern ourselves with Sir William’s weight.”
Howell, as the consummate weaver of webs, traps, entanglements, and other legal bindings, smiled knowingly. Prior understanding among the principles in a court case was always the preferred route. However, in such instances, it was also essential to have a full understanding of the matter; it was not nice to fool Lord Mayors with less than adequate disclosure. “The younger Penn, my Lord, has a co-defendant, a linen draper named William Mead. May I respectfully suggest we style these two men as co-conspirators who have taken it upon themselves to challenge the very laws of England.”
Starling easily assented, “An accurate if not obvious appraisal.”
“My concern, my Lord Mayor,” Lord Thomas Howell continued, “is that we can no longer tolerate this thorn in the Crown’s side. His majesty is desirous of uniting with Parliament and the Central Criminal Court in silencing this dissident and his followers on a long-term basis. It is his royal desire to put an end to these despised Quakers and any others who would defy the Crown and Church.”
Starling found nothing objectionable in Howell's statement, but a lifetime learning to proceed cautiously (whenever possible), made him turn to Sophing. “And Parliament’s position on this matter?
Ah, yes… Sophing’s moment to shine, his reason for existing in this rarefied atmosphere of the Lord Mayor’s home and castle! This was it! His big chance at stardom! With the full gravity of his charge, he said in his best ponderous style, “The Parliament, my Lord Mayor, is in full accordance with Lord Hallow’s willingness… nay his eager enthusiasm to enforce the Conventicle Act with all of the power of the law.”
“As you should be,” Starling answered with equal gravity, neglecting for the moment that the Lord Mayor thought the designated Member of Parliament was an ass. But such things are better left unsaid. What was not left to the imagination was, “I’d say it’s a case of clear and manifest guilt. You present your case and I’ll instruct the jury to find a guilty verdict. A very straightforward plan, I should think.”
Howell smiled. “I was certain we could count on my dear Lord Mayor.”
“I am but a loyal subject of His Majesty.”
“As am I,” Sophing quickly added. It was to the credit of both Starling and Howell’s upbringings that they did not openly scoff at the supplicant’s agreement to anything they might have pontificated. Instead the Lords smiled a knowing smile between them, while Sophing smiled at both, glancing back and forth between the other two men for an indication of their response to his smile. He never received any. In many respects, he never would… at least, not a genuine comrade-in-arms bonding acknowledgement.
The Old Bailey of London has a long history. Located along the western wall of the City of London, along a road known itself as Old Bailey, the original medieval court was destroyed by the 1666 Fire of London. One might have thought that the timing of such an event might have suggested something, but apparently for the local aristocracy it did not incur any lasting effect. Without further ado, the court of law had been rebuilt in 1674. At this time, however, what with the rampant disease that followed the Fire, the newly rebuilt Old Bailey had its court open to the weather… ostensibly to prevent the spread of such diseases. Any possible contagion from the law, however, was never intentionally contained.
Nevertheless, for reasons best known to Fate and Irony, the Old Bailey was enclosed in 1734 in order to reduce the influence of spectators. As it turned out, spectators had been subsequently deemed to be somewhat more threatening than mere disease. Which is when Fate and Irony conspired for a bit of fun. The newly enclosed court resulted in numerous outbreaks of typhus, including sixty people dying in 1750, numbering among themselves the Lord Mayor and two judges. I say, old chap, now there’s a bit of justice!
At the turn of the 19th Century into the 20th, Frederick Pomeroy sculpted the traditionally English version of the Lady of Justice to stand atop the dome above the court. Lady Justice (also the title of judges on the Court of Appeal of England and Wales) was depicted with a two-edged sword in her right hand (you just never know which party’s going to get sliced and diced), and a pair of weighing scales in her left. Most versions of the Lady of Justice also show the personification of Justitia (aka Fortuna, Tyche, and or Themis) wearing a blindfold – supposedly in order to demonstrate blind justice. However, in the Old Bailey version, there is in fact no blindfold. Seems altogether fitting.
The Old Bailey was rebuilt again in 1774, with a second courtroom added in 1824. It was renamed the Central Criminal Court in 1834 and its jurisdiction extended. This nomenclature was changed into law by the Central Criminal Court Act of 1856, when at the onset of public revulsion at the accusations made against a Doctor William Palmer that he was a murderer (poisoner), the court determined that the doctor would “not enjoy a fair trial in his native Stafforshire.” That is to say, he might not be strung up on the spot! Accordingly, the Old Bailey hosted the doctor’s trial under its more closely guarded restrictors.
The Old Bailey was transformed in 1907 by a new building built on the site of the infamous Newgate Prison. The prison had also been destroyed by the Fire of 1666, but in terms of the priorities of the age, Negate was rebuilt in 1672, two years before the court that would be used to determine who might spend some time there. Clearly the English of the 17th Century really did have their priorities right, not to mention having a sensitive, romantic bent as part of their legal and jurisprudence system. Above the main entrance of Old Bailey, for example, was inscribed the charge: “Defend the Children of the Poor and Punish the Wrongdoer.” Not a lot about defending anyone else, in particular the children of the rich, and/or freeing the innocent. But you can’t have everything!
On one fateful morning in 1670, five hundred spectators filled the tiered seating still under construction, and which encircled the pit area below. There sat along a bench that would eventually provide for as many as ten judges at a time, the Lord Mayor of London, Samuel Starling, as the presiding justice, and as an associate justice, his most esteemed honor, John Robinson. The latter had entered law in large part because it allowed his briefs and writings to be forced upon others. Sad to say, but the modern John Robinson really missed the old days.
In the jury box sat Thomas Veer, Henry Henley, William Plumstead, Charles Milson, Henry Michel, Gregory Walklet, George Brightman, William Leaver, Thomas Damask, Edward Bushell, John Bailey and John Hammond. Lord Thomas Howell was present as the Recorder of London and prosecutor, while Member of Parliament Devon Sophing sat in the front row of spectators. Just behind him sat Olivia Rud and Lisa Leigh, and more than one other individual who was to find themselves involved in a contorted, expanded version of déjà vu.
Olivia Rud, for example, was already voicing opinions and making her observations known. “Tis not the first time the Young Penn has found himself before the bar.”
“But he has done his time, has he not?” Lisa Leigh’s faith in the law and its allegedly rational conclusions were only now being fostered.
Olivia shrugged her shoulders. “It matters little. He’s in it once again.”
Lisa could only shake her head. “May a merciful God protect him.”
Olivia glanced around the Old Bailey and its makeshift conversion from a construction site to a fully functioning court, and made her own judgment. “Me thinks the Lord God spends little time in a place such as this. Else what would hell be for?”
Lisa might have responded had she had a real clue as to what Olivia was actually saying. Fortunately, she was saved from showing her ignorance by the Clerk making the introductions.
“Here ye, hear ye. Silence in the Court! The Central Criminal Court is now in session.”
The Lord Mayor, trailed by his associate judge, strode into the Court and the two men took their seats. Starling paid no attention – and most certainly avoided eye contact with anyone -- as he surveyed his bench, his own personal fiefdom. With a slight adjustment of his spectacles, he sniffed a couple of times, turned up his nose in each case… thereby making his first legal opinion concerning the general odor of the court room known… and then… after several long agonizing and thoroughly inexplicable seconds, he looked up.
“Bring the prisoners, William Penn and William Mead, to the bar.”
The two men were brought into the pit, flanked by Jock and Frederick Strong, and followed by four blue-uniformed policemen. Penn and Starling make eye contact, both recognizing the other, and yet having no illusions about what the other was about to do. Being adversaries was never sufficient reason not to know the mind of another.
Starling turned back to the business at hand. “The clerk will read the indictment.”
In his moment of glory, the clerk took his place on stage, and with one of the best performances of his life, read aloud. “That William Penn, gentleman, and William Mead, linen draper, with divers others to the jurors unknown, to the number of 300 or more, on the 14th day of August in the 22nd year of the king, in the street called Gracechurch Street, did unlawfully and tumultuously assemble and congregate to the disturbance of the peace of the Lord the King. That the aforesaid William Penn, in conspiracy with and abetted by William Mead, did then and there preach and speak to the persons there assembled, in direct defiance of the land’s Conventicle Act; by reason thereof a great concourse and tumult of people then and there a long time did remain in contempt of the Lord the King, and of his law; to the great terror and disturbance of many of his liege people, his crown and dignity. It is the mandate of the law that wherein every person who neglects to worship in the manner prescribed shall ipso facto be deprived of all his spiritual promotions and that from thenceforth it shall be lawful to present or collate to them as though the person or persons so offending or neglecting were dead. What say you, William Penn and William Mead? Are you guilty as you stand indicted, both in manner and form, or not guilty?”
Penn was unlikely to vote for the Clerk as best supporting actor nominee. Instead, he said with a clipped by precise pronunciation, “We cannot know, nor remember the indictment just read, and therefore, desire a copy, as is customary on like occasions.”
Howell interdicted. “You must first plead to the indictment before you can have a copy of it.”
Penn hardly hesitated. “I am not schooled in such matters, and thus I ask two things of this Court: That no advantage be taken of me, nor deprived of any benefit due me, and that I receive a fair hearing, the liberty to make my defense, and the Court to act as my counsel.”
Starling replied, “No advantage shall be taken against you.”
A mummer swept the courtroom like a wave, laced with skepticism and disbelief. When had a court not taken advantage against a defendant?
Starling, however, was not moved by such… emotional and ignorance-of-the-law overtures. With a straight face, he added, “You shall have liberty; you shall be heard.”
Penn returned Starling’s obstinacy. “Then I plead not guilty in manner and form.”
Starling rolled his eyes at Penn, and then turned to Mead, who had taken a figurative step forward.
“I ask for the same liberty as is promised…”
“And you shall have it,” Starling interrupted.
Mead quickly added, “I plead not guilty in manner and form.”
Starling stared at Mead for several counts, noted that Mead was no less intransigent than Penn, and then took a notably disgruntled look. Then he almost smiled as he casually announced. “Bailiffs, stand the prisoners aside. The Court will hear other trials this day.”
Everyone within hearing stirred and looked at each other in wonder – with three exceptions: Starling, Howell and Sophing, the latter two exchanging knowing smiles.
In the juror’s holding cell of the Old Bailey – no kidding, it really was a “cell”, just a bit larger than normal – the jurors, bedraggled and weary, were shuffling about the room, glancing around at the utterly dismal quarters. William Leaver seemed lost, until he made a distinctly unilateral decision and quickly moved to a corner to relieve himself. The others had no option but to ignore the obvious.
Henry Henley was shaking his head about other matters. “I don’t understand. Why sit in that juror’s box while all manner of other business comes before the Court? Then take tomorrow off before the trial even begins?”
Edward Bushell looked at Henry, noted that no one else was eager to answer the questions, and then noted philosophically, “There might be any number of reasons; perhaps to mark the anniversary of the Fire of 1666. It is my understanding that the Lord Mayor and several other notables lost their homes in the conflagration. They do have other irons in the fire, so to speak, and I suspect they will not want this trial to be given any undue or unfortunate notoriety.”
The others took the idea at face value, shrugged, and retreated to their own thoughts: concerns for wives and children, the lack of income for the duration of the trial, what was being expected of them, and in one case, if a prior run in with the law was going to be noticed… and accordingly punished.
Jack, sitting on a rough wooden bench next to Edward and on another wavelength all together, turned to his newly formed companion. “You seem to be particularly knowledgeable about a lot of things.”
“I am not totally without understanding,” Bushell replied, albeit he did not understand what would have prompted such a statement from a stranger.
Jack grimaced. “Then perhaps you can tell me what the hell is going on?”
Bushell was unaccustomed to such point-blank statements laced with questionable language, but being sophisticated and at this particular moment, practical, he answered the gist of Jack’s question. “That is uncertain. This is not what I might have expected. But fate has always provided me with much challenge and… entertainment.”
“Entertainment?” Jack smiled disbelievingly, turning his head to one side. “Have you perhaps noticed that they don’t feed you here?”
“A device, I feel certain, to perhaps make us more amenable to the wishes of the Court. As one Master Dooley once observed, ‘Many an innocent was sent to hang so jurors might dine.’ It appears to be a well observed tradition to starve the jurors, and thereby make justice all more swift and efficient.”
“No, not at all. Jurors are often awarded for their verdicts with a banquet. It’s a practice calculated to instill a certain enthusiasm for doing one’s civic duty.”
Jack could hardly believe what Edward was telling him, but Jack could believe an obvious implication. “And if the verdict is not to the Court’s desire?”
Edward leaned back, crossing his arms in a gesture of recognizing the possibilities. “I rather suspect something less than a banquet.”
“I don’t suppose,” Jack gently asked, “you’re feeling any concern for having encouraged me to join you on this jury.”
Edward considered the suggestion for a brief moment, and then said with commendable simplicity, “Actually… none whatsoever.”
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