Saturday, June 14, 2014

Ashley Sterne Presented at Court

From Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.) April 14, 1921.  By a strange coincidence this is my second blog entry today that mentions a steamroller.

[Note:  this humorous piece is sprinkled with British slang from the early twentieth century.  "Bimble" means to amble in aimlessly.  A "josser" is an old man.  "Pot-hooks and hangers" are the elementary characters formed by children learning to write.  A "beauty chorus" is an ensemble of chorus girls.]

Presented at Court

"Tell me," I said to the official who was propping up the door-post, ''tell me, where is fancy bred — I mean, is this a picture palace, a steam laundry, a free lunch, Dempsey versus Carpentier at last, or a public auction, into which this motley throng so motleyly throngeth?"

"This, sir," replied the official, whom I rightly deduced was a plainclothes policeman disguised in uniform, "is a police court, Mr. Mugford Wumply in the chair, assisted by a full beauty chorus of local J's.P.  One long scream from start to finish — no amusement tax — no orchestra — no hawkers — no circulars — no waiting — just about to begin."

"Well," I remarked, "so long as I get a hearty laugh, what boots it?  Any star turn to-day?"

"Monster programme," said the minion of the law, "including two drunk and disorderlies, one case of bigamy, another of trigamy, an attempted homicide, a successful barmecide. and a case of pushing a Bath chair in excess of the speed limit."

So I bimbled in, too.  I'd never been in a police-court before — not even in the dock — and everything was new to me.  At the further end of the room there was a Coronation Chair on a platform, containing a benevolent-looking gentleman who was apparently busy lining the minutes of the last meeting with a quill-pen that badly needed oiling.

"Who," I asked the gentleman in the seat beside me, "is the venerable josser doing 'pothooks and hangers' in the Domesday Book thing?"

"That's the magistrate, Mr. Mugford Wumply, J.P.," he replied.

"Oh," I said. "And what might J.P. stand for?"

"It might stand for jam pudding, but it doesn't," retorted my frivolous neighbor.  "It just means that he's the Justice Purveyor."

"I see.  And the old boy just beneath him?"

"That's the magistrate's clerk. He keeps old Wumply right on points of law, and sees that he don't exercise any common sense."

While we were waiting for the proceedings to proceed I took a look at the audience. We were neither numerous nor costly.

Besides me and my informant there was a coal-heaver who was taking a hard-earned holiday; two dear old ladies who had mistaken the show for a Revival meeting and were worried because there weren't any hymn-books; a newspaper reporter who had come along to fill up seven of the eight pages of the local rag; and a young fellow who looked like a dyspeptic, but who subsequently turned out to be a detective.

"Call the first case," said Mr. Wumply, and a constable disappeared through the side door and fetched up a perfectly splendid criminal.

"Benjamin Buggins," began the magistrate's clerk, "you are charged with obstructing a steamroller in the execution of its duty, in that, to wit, you didn't push, shove, thrust, hurl, and propel into the gutter the said steam roller. Are you guilty or not guilty, s'welp me bob?"


"Very well, then," said the magistrate.  "Seven days' C.B.  Next man in."

A gentleman with villainously criminal features — I could tell he was a murderer at first sight — climbed into the dock.

"Please, your Worship," he began, "I wish to apply for a poet's licence."

"Any poet's licences left, Mr. Clamface?" inquired the magistrate of his clerk.

The cleric whispered frantically in the old boy's ear.

"Oh, ah, of course!" said Mr. Wumply.  "No, we don't stock 'em.  You've come to the wrong shop.  Try the Stores.  Constable, throw the applicant into the street, and box his ears for contempt of court.  Next case!"

And the constabulary went out and laid hold of one Jeremiah Juggins, a wholesale pawnbroker, charged with smacking his wife.

"Guilty or not guilty?"

"Not guilty, with a strong recommendation to mercy," pleaded Mr. Juggins.

"At about 8.15," began P.C. 5467, "I saw the accused — "

"That's enough," snapped the clerk.  "Push off. Call Mrs. Juggins."

Mrs. Juggins stepped into the witness box.

"Your name is Judy Juggins?" began the clerk.

"Yes," said the woman.

"I said it was," said the clerk, angrily.  "Don't waste the time of the Court."

"Do you want to ask any questions?" said the magistrate, addressing the prisoner.

"Please, sir, I want to ask where flies go to in the winter-time."

"Guilty," said Mr. Wumply.  "Forty shillings and costs. Threepence in the shilling off for prompt cash.  Bring in a nice fresh prisoner."

The constabulary again went out to see what they could find, and meanwhile a little old lady with elastic-sided boots and a strong smell of gin hopped into the box and applied for an injunction.

"What sort of an injunction would you like?" asked the magistrate, kindly.  "Just an ordinary plain one, or one with knobs?"

The little old lady explained that she would like one under the Public Health Act, to restrain her neighbor's hens from laying eggs with dull sickening thuds in the middle of the night.

"Certainly, madam," said the magistrate.  "Anything to oblige a lady.  Just get an injunction out of the injunction box, Mr. Clamface, and give the applicantess one.  In fact, do the thing well and give her two — one in each hand."

The little old lady thanked his J.P.-ship and withdrew.  In the interim the police had fortunately been able to find another criminal.  They pushed him into the dock, and as soon as he came up to breathe he was charged with being in possession of a dog-licence without a dog.  Prisoner admitted the charge in two different positions.

"This is a very serious offence," began Mr. Wumply, "and one which I can not possibly overlook.  Some people seem to think that licences can be played last and foose — that is to say loost and fasse—hang it! you know what I mean — can be trifled with any old how.  It is time that an example was made of someone.  It is a heinous crime to take out a dog-licence without taking out a dog, too, besides being a sinful waste of paper.  I see you have been convicted twice previously, firstly for poaching preserved eggs, and secondly for shooting rubbish without a licence, and I feel I should not be doing my duty to society if I sentenced you to anything less than what I am now going to sentence you to.  You will receive a fine not exceeding forty shillings in the Second Division, and you will further receive your costs when our Mr. Clamface there has found out what they amount to — both sentences to run consecutively and concurrently.  Your licence will be endorsed back and front, and I sincerely hope this will be a lesson to you.

"The Court will now rise for a bottle of lunch.  I will sit again at three pip emma, when I hope the constables will have been able to rope in a fresh supply of criminals."

The business of the morning being apparently at an end, I rose to propose a hearty vote of thanks to the chairman; but, finding that someone had pinched my watch, my purse, my umbrella, and one of my boots while I had been absorbing justice, I turned it into a vote of censure.  I was carried out unanimously.

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