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The Toys of Peace and Other Stories

Canossa
Demosthenes Platterbaff, the eminent Unrest Inducer, stood on his trial for a serious
offence, and the eyes of the political world were focussed on the jury. The offence, it
should be stated, was serious for the Government rather than for the prisoner. He had
blown up the Albert Hall on the eve of the great Liberal Federation Tango Tea, the
occasion on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was expected to propound his new
theory: "Do partridges spread infectious diseases?" Platterbaff had chosen his time well;
the Tango Tea had been hurriedly postponed, but there were other political fixtures which
could not be put off under any circumstances. The day after the trial there was to be a by-
election at Nemesis-on-Hand, and it had been openly announced in the division that if
Platterbaff were languishing in gaol on polling day the Government candidate would be
"outed" to a certainty. Unfortunately, there could be no doubt or misconception as to
Platterbaff's guilt. He had not only pleaded guilty, but had expressed his intention of
repeating his escapade in other directions as soon as circumstances permitted; throughout
the trial he was busy examining a small model of the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. The
jury could not possibly find that the prisoner had not deliberately and intentionally blown
up the Albert Hall; the question was: Could they find any extenuating circumstances
which would permit of an acquittal? Of course any sentence which the law might feel
compelled to inflict would be followed by an immediate pardon, but it was highly
desirable, from the Government's point of view, that the necessity for such an exercise of
clemency should not arise. A headlong pardon, on the eve of a bye-election, with threats
of a heavy voting defection if it were withheld or even delayed, would not necessarily be
a surrender, but it would look like one. Opponents would be only too ready to attribute
ungenerous motives. Hence the anxiety in the crowded Court, and in the little groups
gathered round the tape-machines in Whitehall and Downing Street and other affected
centres.
The jury returned from considering their verdict; there was a flutter, an excited murmur, a
death-like hush. The foreman delivered his message:
"The jury find the prisoner guilty of blowing up the Albert Hall. The jury wish to add a
rider drawing attention to the fact that a by-election is pending in the Parliamentary
division of Nemesis-on- Hand."
"That, of course," said the Government Prosecutor, springing to his feet, "is equivalent to
an acquittal?"
"I hardly think so," said the Judge, coldly; "I feel obliged to sentence the prisoner to a
week's imprisonment."
"And may the Lord have mercy on the poll," a Junior Counsel exclaimed irreverently.
It was a scandalous sentence, but then the Judge was not on the Ministerial side in
politics.
 
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