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The Nightlife Of The Gods
THE GODS ON TRIAL
'BRING 'em in,' commanded examining magistrate Plenty. 'All of'em.'
From a carefully selected seat in the courtroom Mr Hawk, Meg, and Betts watched the Olympians, a fine, full-bodied, disorderly-looking lot, file into the room. The trio also noticed that Griggs, game but sadly crippled, was very much in evidence in this hour of his triumph.
'Line 'em up,' grunted Magistrate Plenty, as he thumbed through a file of papers.
Before the seat of mortal justice the stalwart Olympians were lined. Hawk contemplated them all with a kindly eye, feeling somewhat the pride of a father in a nobly erring son.
'Your name?' snapped Plenty, pointing suddenly at the goddess of love.
'Venus,' came the reply in a cooing voice, as the goddess smiled on the magistrate.
'De Milo,' Venus startlingly answered.
'Hah!' almost gloated the magistrate. 'That explains a lot. Foreign, eh? Italian. And yours?'
Plenty suddenly pointed to Bacchus.
'My name is Bacchus,' said the god.
'Come, come, man! Your real name. This is neither the time nor place for levity.'
'Bacchus has been my name for thousands and thousands of years. Bacchus it is to-day,' the wine god spoke with dignity.
Magistrate Plenty looked heavily at the stout fellow and pondered. He decided to bide his time. He passed more hopefully to the next offender.
'Your name?' he snapped.
'Mercury,' said that god.
'See here. See here,' cried the magistrate. 'What are you all trying to do, hang yourselves, or rattle me?' He pointed a trembling finger at the handsome god of music. 'I suppose you'll be telling me you're Apollo next?'
'I am, sir,' said Apollo simply. 'I always have been and I always shall be, except on certain occasions of a nature well-known even to yourself.'
'Stop! Stop!' cried the magistrate. 'Am I mad? Am I an ass? Am I clean gone?'
'Yes to all,' smiled Apollo, who was at his best in public.
'Stop! Stop!' shrilled the magistrate. 'Take 'em away. No, bring 'em back. What am I saying? Is this a court of law or a madhouse?'
As no one saw fit to enlighten the jaded magistrate, he settled back in his chair and spent some time getting himself together. Finally he looked up and asked in almost a whisper, 'Which one is Hawk?'
'There he stands, your honour,' said Griggs, indicating Neptune.
'Why is he allowed to wear that loathsome looking false beard in court? This is no masquerade.'
'He won't take it off.'
'But he must take it off.'
'We asked him to take it off.'
'And he wouldn't take it off?'
'No, your honour,' said Griggs indignantly. 'He refuses to take it off.'
'Then,' gritted the magistrate through his clenched teeth, half rising from his chair, 'drag the thing off.'
The scene that followed hardly befitted the dignity of the court. It goes without saying that Neptune defended his beard with all the spirit of a man who knows he is in the right. It further goes without saying that the court attendants under the eyes of the magistrate did their best to deprive Neptune of that which was rightfully his. The result was a decidedly awkward scuffle, during which Magistrate Plenty could be heard muttering from time to time:
'My God! to think of this. My God! Oh, that I must witness this!'
The decision must be called a draw. In fairness to all it should be called that. It is barely possible that if given enough time and opportunity the attendants might have succeeded in literally dragging off Neptune's beard, lock, stock, and barrel. It is also barely possible that Neptune might have killed them all and thus retained his beard. Magistrate Plenty could stand it no longer.
'Stop! Stop!' he shouted. 'Come away from that beard.'
'It won't come off,' said one of the attendants, who had actually succeeded in laying hands on the beard. 'I gave it a yank, a good one, and it wouldn't budge.'
'Will you please shut up?' said the magistrate wearily. 'If the beard won't come off, then I guess it won't come off. And that's all there is to it.'
He sank deep down in his chair and brooded. Presently he raised his head and very calmly, very earnestly, addressed Neptune.
'Mr Hawk,' he said, 'let's forget the last few minutes. I think I know how you feel about it. But I ask as man to man and in all good faith, won't you please take off that beard? It does not become you.'
Neptune by this time was so exasperated, he was on the verge of tears. He in turn addressed the magistrate in a calm, earnest voice, almost as one trying to reason with a child or an inebriate.
'But I can't take off the beard,' he said. 'It's there. It's on me. I'll do anything else to please you—take off anything else—my coat or my trousers or my boots, but not my beard. That I can't take off.'
'You can't take it off?' said the Magistrate.
'No, sir. I can't take it off. Anything else, yes.'
'Then,' said the magistrate with a remarkable show of self-control, 'let us say no more about the beard.' Here his fine command of himself broke down. He rose from his chair and in a cold, white, passionate voice hurled at Neptune the last word, 'Keep your damned beard!' he shouted, and collapsed in his chair. Only the top of his head could be seen above his desk.
'What the hell has he got against my beard?' Neptune whispered to Mercury.
'It's supposed to be false, you damn fool,' the light-fingered god replied.
'Oh,' said Neptune, and again, 'oh. I see it all now. Well, it isn't a false beard. It's one of the realest beards alive.'
'For the love of your brother Zeus,' pleaded Mercury, 'let us hear no more about that beard.'
But more was heard about the beard, for unfortunately Neptune had a bright idea.
'Your honour,' he called suddenly, 'would you like to step down here yourself and handle this beard?'
'What!' the magistrate's head popped up as if blown from his body. 'Me handle that beard? Oh—oh—oh—how revolting!'
For a moment the stricken man looked helplessly about the court-room, then once more sank below the horizon of his desk top. No more was heard of the beard for the moment, but Magistrate Plenty steadfastly kept his eyes averted from Neptune's face. Whenever, as if fascinated, they strayed beardward, the gears of his brain seemed to begin to slip a little, his thoughts wavered, and his words dragged.
The examination that had opened so inauspiciously failed to improve with time. The magistrate hated everybody. Nothing seemed to go right for anyone concerned.
When Officer Kelly came to the witness chair, another crisis was precipitated.
'I want to tell your honour about the conduct of these here prisoners,' announced Officer Kelly.
For some reason Magistrate Plenty seemed to buck up a trifle at this suggestion. Perhaps he craved relief, or was fond of bedtime stories.
'Tell us, Kelly,' he said pleasantly.
'Well, your honour,' began Kelly, 'we had a terrible night of it,'
'Too bad, too bad,' murmured the magistrate.
'We did that,' continued the encouraged Kelly. 'This slick-looking party'—Kelly indicated Mercury—'kept unlocking all of his confederates' cells. Out they'd barge into the hall and go tramping about the place, laughing and scuffling like.'
'Didn't they try to escape?' inquired the magistrate.
'No, your honour,' replied Kelly. 'They were thoroughly at home. Seemed to like it here.'
'Good of them,' beamed the magistrate, but the beam was laden with venom. 'Go on, Kelly.'
'Then they got the women over,' Said Kelly, 'and had one high old time.'
'Of course, it didn't occur to any of you to drive them back?' The magistrate's voice was soft and low. 'Hated to spoil their fun, perhaps?'
'We did, your honour, repeatedly, but every time we did, out they'd bounce just as if they didn't know the meaning of a lock.' Kelly paused for a moment to moisten his lips, then rushed right into trouble. 'Then, your honour,' he said, 'they stole the stone dog.'
The magistrate sat up He was all attention.
'The stone dog, Kelly?' he said 'What stone dog? I have heard of no stone dog.'
'Yes, your honour There's a stone dog.'
'What sort of a stone dog, Kelly?'
'Just an ordinary stone dog, your honour.'
'There is no ordinary stone dog, Kelly. The very fact that the dog is of stone makes it extraordinary, gives it a place of its own, makes it peculiar, unique, and arresting. But, tell me, Kelly. Is it a little stone dog or a medium-sized stone dog or, let us say, a huge stone dog?'
'Oh, no, sir,' replied Kelly, somewhat confused. 'It's a very lifelike stone dog, it is. Large and heavy.'
The magistrate pondered a moment. This stone dog intrigued him. He had never seen a lifelike stone dog, a large and heavy one.
'Bring me this stone dog,' he said at last.
It was unfortunate that the court attendant despatched to fetch Blotto was nervously as well as physically fairly well wrecked. Merely to lift the stone dog was for him no small achievement. Nevertheless, he did lift the dog, and not only that, he carried the dog to the courtroom, but here his strength failed. The dog was about to slip from his numbed arms and would have crashed to the floor had not the quick wit of Hunter Hawk saved his old friend. As the magistrate was peering at the stone dog clutched in the arms of the failing court attendant, he was both startled and dismayed to see it wriggle impatiently and then bound to the floor.
'What!' ejaculated the good man, starting from his chair and leaning far over his desk. 'There's something funny about all this.'
He removed his glasses and hastily rubbed them. The attendant took one look at Blotto; then, with a cry of sheer horror, fled from the room. Mr Hawk swept the floor in Blotto's vicinity with the petrifying ray, thus turning the bottoms of the dog's feet to stone. For a short time the dog stood still, as if trying to get his bearings, then, spying his friends, the Olympians, set out to join them. It was a noisy progress. The placing of each paw occasioned a distinct little bang. The magistrate watched the dog with fascinated eyes. At last he turned to Officer Kelly.
'Kelly,' he said, 'that's the loudest-walking dog I ever heard. What's wrong with the beast? I thought you said that dog was made of stone. That's not a stone dog at all. That's a real dog with funny feet—very funny feet, if you'd ask me.'
'It was a stone dog, your honour,' declared Kelly. 'All of the boys who saw it said it was a stone dog.'
'Well, it isn't a stone dog now,' said the magistrate. 'It's some sort of tap-dancing dog. I really do believe that all this has slightly deranged my mind.'
Blotto clattered across the floor and sat down by Neptune, leaned, in fact, a little against the sea god's leg.
'There are other things,' offered Kelly timidly.
'Thank God for that,' said the magistrate. 'What sort of other things?'
'There's a head,' gasped Kelly.
Once more the magistrate started.
'What sort of a head, man?' he gritted. 'A calf's head, a horse's head, a fish's head—what sort of a head? Try to be specific.'
'A human head,' Kelly managed to get out.
'Your honour,' broke in Perseus, unable to restrain himself, 'it's my head.'
A long, low, animal-like howl broke from the lips of his honour. He rested his forehead on the edge of his desk, and his hands fluttered helplessly above it.
'What is this?' he muttered. 'Where am I? His head. His head. What does it all mean?'
'Your honour,' came the voice of Hebe, 'may we sit down somewhere? We're getting awfully tired.'
'So am I,' snapped the magistrate, looking dimly at the fair goddess. 'Mortally tired. Yes, my child. Sit down. I'm going to charge you all with something in a few minutes. I don't know what, but now it looks like murder.'
Suddenly he turned fiercely on Officer Kelly.
'Make yourself clear,' he flung at the man.
'It's a stone head,' said Kelly.
'I know. I know,' replied the magistrate. 'So was that dog. Is the head like that?'
'Oh, your honour,' said Kelly, turning white. 'I hope not. I do indeed. Not this head of all heads.'
'Then bring it in, man, together with all of your other exhibits. Hurry.'
Kelly brought Medusa and placed her on the magisterial desk. The honourable Plenty gave one look at the head, then twisted his own away, twisting it nearly off.
'O-o-o-o-o, what a head,' he moaned. 'I never saw a more unpleasant head. Thank God, it isn't alive!'
Kelly then placed Mercury's caduceus on the other side of the desk and leaned Neptune's trident against it.
'That's all, your honour,' he said.
'And quite enough, to be sure. You've done very well, Kelly! Too well, I might say. I'd like you all to know that this has been a terrible morning for me—a terrible trial. Come up here, Griggs. I want to ask you some questions.'
Painfully but proudly Griggs mounted to the witness chair. It was plain to see he fully intended to do his worst for everybody but himself.
Magistrate Plenty looked long and with great distaste upon the red, raw face of Griggs.
'Griggs,' he began heavily. 'You got me into all this, and I'm not grateful. I depend upon you to get me out and Mr Hawk and his followers in. Now, listen to me and answer my questions.'
'Yes, your honour,' from Griggs.
'Yes, what?' clipped Magistrate Plenty. 'I have asked no question yet.'
'I meant,' said Griggs, 'yes, I will.'
'Yes, you will,' repeated the magistrate. 'Yes, you will what? Are you deliberately trying to puzzle me, madden me, infuriate me?'
'What I meant to say was, yes, I will get you out of it,' stammered Griggs.
'Thanks,' said the magistrate dangerously. 'Answer this one. Does or did the prisoner Hawk wear a false beard?'
'Yes, your honour.'
'Is that man there the Hawk in question?'
'He is, your honour.'
'And is his beard false?'
'It is, your honour.'
'If it is not false, Griggs, then it follows the prisoner is not Hawk. Am I right, Griggs?'
'You are, your honour.'
'Did you ever tug at that beard, Griggs?'
'I did, your honour.'
'And did it come off?'
'No, your honour.'
'Would you like to take a tug at it now, Griggs?'
A deep growl from Neptune.
'No, your honour.'
'How do you explain the fact that in spite of all our combined efforts we have been unable to dislodge that beard from the prisoner's chin?'
'I can't, your honour.'
'Still you claim the prisoner to be one Hawk?'
'I do, your honour.'
Magistrate Plenty scratched his head while Hunter Hawk played the petrifying ray across the lower part of Griggs, as that unfortunate individual sat perspiring in the chair. At last the magistrate spoke and said:
'I would like to help you, Griggs, but from all the evidence before us I am forced to conclude that the prisoner cannot be Hawk, and that, furthermore, you have arrested the wrong man. You may step down, Griggs.'
The stricken detective tried in vain to step down. He turned an ashen face to the magistrate.
'I can't step down,' he got out.
'And why can't you step down, may I ask?'
'I don't know, your honour.'
'You can't step down and yet can give no reason. That seems hardly reasonable, Griggs.'
'Something has happened, your honour.'
'What has happened, man? Tell us.'
'I can't say what has happened, your honour.'
'Do you mean you can't say or you won't say?'
'I'd like to say, your honour.'
'Ah, you'd like to say but you won't say.'
A long pause while Magistrate Plenty thought this out. Suddenly his face cleared, and he leaned far over towards the completely wilted Griggs.
'Do you want to whisper it, Griggs?'
The detective recoiled as if stung.
'Certainly not, your honour.'
Control had long since flown from the court-room. Tears were running down the faces of many present. The magistrate no longer seemed to care what happened. His one mad desire was to finish up this terrible business, so that he could go home and drink himself into a state of complete forgetfulness. Looking about him for some source of inspiration, his eyes encountered the baleful stare of Medusa, 'Oh, God,' he thought to himself, 'who could have thought up such a frightful face, such a completely devastating face? What demoniacal mind? I've been mad for at least two hours. Sanity will never return.' With desperate self-control he faced Griggs and asked in a quiet, reasoned voice:
'Then do you want to speak right out here in court, Griggs, and tell us about it like a man?'
'I can't tell about it, your honour,' Griggs was almost sobbing.
'Is it a secret, Griggs?' 'No secret, your honour.'
'Griggs, you're being very stubborn about this matter. Something must be done. You can't expect to be allowed to occupy that chair for ever, you know. Someone else might want to sit in it, Griggs. Won't you leave it quietly now instead of lumping selfishly in it as you are?'
'I can't, your honour.'
'Then, Griggs,' cried the magistrate in a voice that broke from sheer exasperation, 'I'll have you dragged out of it. Understand me? Dragged out of that chair. Dragged bodily and brutally.' He pounded on his desk with both clenched hands. 'Drag him out, I say! Drag him out! Quick.'
While Griggs was being removed from the chair Meg worked her magic on the head of Medusa and the serpent-twined caduceus. The hissing and crackling of the snakes and the wild cries of Medusa caused the magistrate to turn from watching the dragging down of Griggs to see what was happening on his desk. He gave one swift, horror-stricken, incredulous look at the head; then his frenzied shriek rang through the court-room. Still screaming like a soul in torment, he turned and on tottering legs disappeared through a door directly behind him. Nor was he alone in his flight. In a surprisingly short time the room was empty save for the Olympians, Mr Hawk, Meg, and Betts.
Without undue haste they gathered up their possessions and departed. Betts led them to the Emperor. They entered the car in an orderly manner and drove off. That was all there was to it.
'Won't they follow us?' asked Hebe.
'No, dear child,' said Hunter Hawk. 'Settle back and think of cups. No one in that entire building could be induced to come within a mile of us.'
'I say,' said Meg, turning to Neptune, 'you can take that beard off now. It doesn't become you.'
The sea-god's grin was expansive, as he fondly stroked his beard.
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