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 Platterbaffs 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 Governments point of view, that the necessity for such an exercise of clemency should not arise. A headlong pardon, on the eve of a by-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 weeks 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.
The verdict and sentence were made known to the public at twenty minutes past five in the afternoon; at half-past five a dense crowd was massed outside the Prime Ministers residence lustily singing, to the air of Trelawney:
For een a single day,
Theres Fifteen Hundred Voting Men
Will vote the other way.
Fifteen hundred, said the Prime Minister, with a shudder; its too horrible to think of. Our majority last time was only a thousand and seven.
The poll opens at eight tomorrow morning, said the Chief Organiser; we must have him out by 7 A.M.
Seven-thirty, amended the Prime Minister; we must avoid any appearance of precipitancy.
Not later than seven-thirty, then, said the Chief Organiser; I have promised the agent down there that he shall be able to display posters announcing Platterbaff is Out, before the poll opens. He said it was our only chance of getting a telegram Radprop is In tonight.
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