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An Upright Judge by James Owen Hannay

An Extract from - Our Casualty And Other Stories

No one knows how the quarrel between Peter Joyce and Patrick Joseph Flanagan began. It had been smouldering for years, a steady-going feud, before it reached its crisis last June.

The Joyces and Flanagans were neighbours, occupying farms of very poor land on the side of Letterbrack, a damp and lonely hill some miles from the nearest market town. This fact explains the persistence of the feud. It is not easy to keep up a quarrel with a man whom you only see once a month or so. Nor is it possible to concentrate the mind on one particular enemy if you live in a crowded place. Joyce and Flanagan saw each other every day. They could not help seeing each other, for their farms were small. They scarcely ever saw anyone else, because there were no other farms on the side of the hill. And the feud was a family affair. Mrs. Joyce and Mrs. Flanagan disliked each other heartily and never met without using language calculated to embitter the feeling between them. The young Joyces and the young Flanagans fought fiercely on their way to and from school.

The war, which has turned Europe upside down and dragged most things from their familiar moorings, had its effect on the lives of the two farmers on the side of Letterbrack. They became better off than they had ever been before. It must not be supposed that they grew rich. According to the standard of English working men they had always been wretchedly poor. All that the war did for them was to put a little, a very little, more money into their pockets. They themselves did not connect their new prosperity with the war. They did not, indeed, think about the war at all, bring fully occupied with their work and their private quarrel. They noticed, without inquiring into causes, that the prices of the things they sold went up steadily. A lean bullock fetched an amazing sum at a fair. Young pigs proved unexpectedly profitable. The eggs which the women carried into town on market days could be exchanged for unusual quantities of tea. And the rise in prices was almost pure gain to these farmers. They lived for the most part on the produce of their own land and bought very little in shops. There came a time when Peter Joyce had a comfortable sum, about £20 in all, laid by after making provision for his rent and taxes. He felt entitled to some little indulgence.

An Englishman, when he finds himself in possession of spare cash spends it on material luxuries for himself and, if he is a good man, for his family. He buys better food, better clothes, and furniture of a kind not absolutely necessary, like pianos. An Irishman, in a similar agreeable position, prefers pleasures of a more spiritual kind. Peter Joyce was perfectly content to wear a “bawneen” of homemade flannel and a pair of ragged trousers. He did not want anything better for dinner than boiled potatoes and fried slices of bacon. He had not the smallest desire to possess a piano or even an armchair. But he intended, in his own way, to get solid enjoyment out of his £20.

It was after the children had gone to bed one evening that he discussed the matter with his wife.

“I'm not sure,” he said, “but it might be as well to settle things up one way or another with that old reprobate Patrick Joseph Flanagan. It's what I'll have to do sooner or later.”

“Them Flanagans,” said Mrs. Joyce, “is the devil. There isn't a day passes but one or other of them has me tormented. If it isn't her it's one of the children, and if, by the grace of God, it isn't the children it's herself.”

“What I'm thinking of,” said Joyce, “is taking the law of him.”

“It'll cost you something to do that,” said Mrs. Joyce cautiously.

“And if it does, what matter? Haven't I the money to pay for it?”

“You have,” said Mrs. Joyce. “You have surely. And Flanagan deserves it, so he does. It's not once nor twice, but it's every day I do be saying there's something should be done to them Flanagans.”

“There's more will be done to him than he cares for,” said Joyce grimly. “Wait till the County Court Judge gets at him. Believe me he'll be sorry for himself then.”

Peter Joyce started early next morning. He had an eight-mile walk before him and he wished to reach the town in good time, being anxious to put his case into the hands of Mr. Madden, the solicitor, before Mr. Madden became absorbed in the business of the day. Mr. Madden had the reputation of being the smartest lawyer in Connaught, and his time was very fully occupied.

It took Joyce nearly three hours to reach the town and he had ample time to prepare his case against Flanagan as he went There was no lack of material for the lawsuit A feud of years' standing provides many grievances which can fairly be brought into court. Joyce's difficulty was to make a choice. He pondered deeply as he walked along the bare road across the bog. When he reached the door of Mr. Madden's office he had a tale of injuries suffered at the hands of the Flanagans which would, he felt sure, move the judge to vindictive fury.

Mr. Madden was already busy when Joyce was shown unto his room.

“Well,” he said, “who are you and what do you want?”

“My name's Peter Joyce of Letterbrack, your honour,” said Joyce. “A decent man with a long weak family, and my father was a decent man before me, and it's no fault of mine that I'm here to-day, and going into court, though there isn't another gentleman in all Ireland I'd sooner come to than yourself, Mr. Madden, if so be I had to come to anyone. And it's what I'm druv to, for if I wasn't——”

“What is it?” said Mr. Madden. “Police? Drunk and disorderly?”

“It is not,” said Joyce. “Sure I never was took by the police only twice, and them times they wouldn't have meddled with me only for the spite the sergeant had against me. But he's gone from the place now, thanks be to God, and the one that came after him wouldn't touch me.”

Peter Joyce sank his voice to a whisper.

“It's how I want to take the law of Patrick Joseph Flanagan,” he said.

“Trespass or assault?” said Mr. Madden.

He was a man of immense experience. He succeeded in carrying on a large practice because he wasted no time in listening to preliminary explanations of his clients. Most legal actions in the West of Ireland are reducible to trespass or assault.

“It's both the two of them,” said Joyce.

Mr. Madden made a note on a sheet of paper before him. Joyce waited until he had finished writing. Then he said slowly:

“Trespass and assault and more besides.”

Mr. Madden asked no question. He added to the note he had written the words “And abusive language.” Abusive language generally follows trespass and immediately precedes assault.

“Now,” said Mr. Madden, “get on with your story and make it as short as you can.”

Peter Joyce did his best to make the story short He succeeded in making it immensely complicated. There was a boundary wall in the story and it had been broken down. There was a heifer calf and a number of young pigs. There was a field of oats trampled and destroyed by the heifer, and a potato patch ruined beyond hope by the pigs. There was a sheep torn by a dog, stones thrown at Mrs. Joyce, language that had defiled the ears of Molly Joyce, an innocent child of twelve years old, and there was the shooting of a gun at Peter himself.

Joyce was prepared to swear to every item of the indictment. He did actually swear from time to time, laying his hand solemnly on a large ledger which stood on Mr. Madden's desk. Mr. Madden listened until he had heard enough.

“You haven't a ghost of a case against Flanagan,” he said. “The judge won't listen to a story like that. If you take my advice you'll go straight home and make it up with Flanagan. You'll simply waste your money if you go into court.”

Mr. Madden, it will be seen, was a man of principle. He made his living out of other people's quarrels, but he gave honest advice to his clients. He was also a man of wide knowledge of West of Ireland fanners. He knew perfectly well that his advice would not be taken.

“I've the money to pay for it,” said Joyce, “and I'll have the law of Patrick Joseph Flanagan if it costs me the last penny I own. If your honour doesn't like the case sure I can go to someone else.”

Mr. Madden, though a man of principle, was not quixotic.

“Very well,” he said. “I'll manage your case for you; but I warn you fairly the judge will give it against you.”

“He might not,” said Joyce. “In the latter end he might not.”

“He will,” said Mr. Madden, “unless——”

He was watching Joyce carefully as he spoke. The man's face had an expression of cunning and self-satisfaction.

“Unless,” Mr. Madden went on, “you've something up your sleeve that you haven't told me yet.”

Joyce winked solemnly.

“It's what it would be hardly worth mentioning to your honour,” he said.

“You'd better mention it all the same,” said Mr. Madden.

“What I was thinking,” said Joyce, “is that if I was to send a pair of ducks to the judge a couple of days before the case was to come on—fine ducks we have, as fine as ever was seen.”

“Listen to me,” said Mr. Madden. “You've got the very smallest possible chance of winning your case. But you have a chance. It's a hundred to one against you. Still, odd things do happen in courts. But let me tell you this. I know that judge. I've known him for years, and if you try to bribe him with a pair of ducks he'd give it against you even if you had the best case in the world instead of the worst. That's the kind of man he is.”

Joyce sighed heavily. The ways of the law were proving unexpectedly difficult and expensive.

“Maybe,” he said, “I could send him two pair of ducks, or two pair and a half, but that's the most I can do; and there won't be a young duck left about the place if I send him that many.”

“Either you act by my advice,” said Mr. Madden, “or I'll drop your case. This isn't a matter for the local bench of magistrates. If it was them you were dealing with, ducks might be some use to you. But a County Court Judge is a different kind of man altogether. He's a gentleman, and he's honest. If you attempt to get at him with ducks or any other kind of bribe you'll ruin any chance you have, which isn't much.”

“That's a queer thing now, so it is,” said Joyce.

“It's true all the same,” said Mr. Madden.

“Do you mean to tell me,” said Joyce, “that his honour, the judge, would go against a man that had done him a good turn in the way of a pair of ducks or the like?”

“That's exactly what I do mean,” said Mr. Madden. “No judge would stand it And the one who presides over this court would be even angrier than most of them, so don't you do it.”

Joyce left Mr. Madden's office a few minutes later, and tramped home. In spite of the lawyer's discouraging view of the case he seemed fairly well satisfied.

That evening he spoke to his wife.

“How many of them large white dukes have you?” he asked; “how many that's fit to eat?”

“There's no more than six left out of the first clutch,” said Mrs. Joyce. “There was eleven hatched out, but sure the rats got the rest of them.” “I'd be glad,” said Joyce, “if you'd fatten them six, and you needn't spare the yellow meal. It'll be worth your while to have them as good as you can.”

A month later the case of Joyce v. Flanagan came on in the County Court. Mr. Madden had hammered the original story of the wall, the heifer, the pigs and the potatoes, into shape. It sounded almost plausible as Mr. Madden told it in his opening remarks. But he had very little hopes that it would survive the handling of Mr. Ellis, a young and intelligent lawyer, who was acting for Flanagan. Joyce cheerfully confirmed every detail of the story on oath. He was unshaken by Mr. Ellis' cross-examination, chiefly because the judge constantly interfered with Mr. Ellis and would not allow him to ask the questions he wanted to ask. Flanagan and his witnesses did their best, but the judge continued to make things as difficult as he could for their lawyer. The matter, when all the evidence was heard, appeared tangled and confused, a result far beyond Mr. Madden's best expectations. He had feared that the truth might emerge with disconcerting plainness. Then an amazing thing happened The judge took Joyce's view of the circumstances and decided in his favour. Mr. Ellis gasped. Flanagan swore audibly and was silenced by a policeman. Joyce left the court with a satisfied smile.

“Well,” said Mr. Madden, a little later, “you've won, but I'm damned if I know how it happened. I never went into court with a shakier case.”

“I shouldn't wonder,” said Joyce, “but it might have been the ducks that did it. I sent him six, your honour, six, and as fat as any duck ever you seen.”

“Good Lord!” said Mr. Madden. “After all I said to you—and—but, good heavens, man! He can't have got them. If he had——”

“He got them right enough,” said Joyce, “for I left them at the door of the hotel myself, with a bit of a note, saying as how I hoped he'd take a favourable view of the case that would be before him to-day, and I told him what the case was, so as there'd be no mistake—Joyce v. Flanagan was what I wrote, in a matter of trespass and assault, and abusive language.”

“Well,” said Mr. Madden, “all I can say is that if I hadn't seen with my own eyes what happened in that court to-day I wouldn't have believed it To think that the judge, of all men——”

“It was Flanagan's name and not my own,” said Joyce, “that I signed at the bottom of the note. 'With the respectful compliments of Patrick Joseph Flanagan, the defendant,' was what I wrote, like as if it was from him that the ducks came.”

“I'd never have thought of it,” said Mr. Madden. “Joyce, it's you and not me that ought to be a lawyer. Lawyer! That's nothing. You ought to be a Member of Parliament. Your talents are wasted, Joyce. Go into Parliament. You'll be a Cabinet Minister before you die.”