WRITING FROM ISRAEL
MRS. BAUER (the mother of Little Red Riding Hood)
THE DEFENCE ATTORNEY
THE SCENE: A small provincial medieval court.
A desk for the judge, and perhaps a bench behind a table for the accused, with the prosecutor and defence attorney on either side of her. The desk and the bench could be facing the audience at a slight angle. If this is set up on a low platform, without a curtain, the audience could imagine themselves spectators at the trial.
THE ACCUSED (Mrs.Bauer), the DEFENSE ATTORNEY, and THE PROSECUTOR enter and take their seats.
A VOICE behind the scenes: "The Court!"
THE JUDGE enters and takes his seat. They sit down.
The case of the Crown versus Mrs. Bauer is hereby opened. Will the defendant please rise.
(MRS BAUER stands up.)
Mrs. Bauer; you are accused of criminal negligence which has resulted in the deaths of your young daughter Brunhilda Bauer and of your aged mother Mathilda Schmidt. Do you plead guilty or not guilty?
MOTHER: (after a look at the Defence Attorney who shakes his head):
Not guilty, your honour.
A plea of not guilty is entered. The prosecution, please.
Your honour. The facts of the case seem to be as follows. Two weeks ago, the accused, who lives on the outskirts of this town, sent her seven-year-old daughter to take a basket containing a cake and a bottle of wine to the accused's mother who lived alone in a little hut in the forest a couple of miles away from here, who was ill in bed at the time. A few hours later, the local gamekeeper who was passing the hut saw that the door was open. There was nobody inside, and the interior of the hut was in disorder, with signs of struggle, bloodstains, and articles of clothing all over the place. One piece of clothing was a little red riding hood often seen worn by the girl Brunhilda; it even gained her the nickname of Little Red Riding Hood. Knowing that a large old lone wolf has lately been seen in the vicinity, the gamekeeper found and followed a trail, and succeeded in tracking and killing the wolf before nightfall. An autopsy revealed large quantities of still undigested human flesh in the wolf's stomach; and a number of bones, some belonging to a young girl and some to an old woman, were also found in bushes near the hut.
(The MOTHER is sobbing, with the DEFENCE ATTORNEY comforting her. THE PROSECUTOR pauses to let her calm down, then continues.)
The fact that there were wolves and other dangerous animals in the forest was well known to the local population, including the accused. In view of this, sending a young child unarmed and alone into the forest was a clear case of criminal negligence which resulted in the death not only of the child but of her grandmother, and the prosecution sees no choice but to demand the heaviest penalty under the law for such a a crime. The prosecution rests.
Mrs Bauer, do you admit that you did send your daughter into the forest?
MOTHER (weeping quietly):
Yes, your honour; I did.
Did you or did you not know that there were wolves in the forest?
Er...I did not think there would be any that close to town. The forest is not so dense around here. And then, I have loved her so much and prayed for her so often that I was sure nothing could happen to her. (Weeping again.) Oh, God, why did you create wolves?
Mrs. Bauer, have you never noticed that being loved and prayed for does not always protect people from danger?
The ways of God are strange, Sir.
That is a well-known fact, Mrs. Bauer. Another well-known fact is that God protects those who protect themselves.
Your honour, it is clear that the accused is a pious and God-fearing woman who...
Your honour, we are not here to discuss the piety of the accused but a case of criminal negligence which has resulted in the death of two victims...
One at most.
One. The grandmother lived in the forest permanently, and if she was eaten by a wolf...
That is also a point I would like to clarify. Mrs. Bauer, how old was your mother when the tragedy occured?
You lived with her until your marriage to Mr. Bauer, about ten years ago, didn't you?
Yes, and after that she also lived with us for a while.
But afterwards, for the past six or seven years, she lived alone in that hut in the forest.
Did she choose to spend her old age alone in a little hut in the forest entirely of her own free will?
She, er, well, she agreed to it finally, and she used to come and visit us often until her arthritis got the worst of her and she started taking to her bed.
Wouldn't she have been safer and better off staying with you?
Well, er, you see, sir, she never did see eye to eye with my husband, and, although one shouldn't say such things about one's own mother, she did interfere quite a lot. There were all sorts of quarrels, and my husband started quoting the Bible about man leaving his parents and cleaving to his wife and asking why a woman couldn't do the same. When the little hut in the forest began to get mentioned, my mother would say all sorts of things about children's ingratitude for all the things their parents had done for them, and my husband would say that that was a debt one repaid down the line, to one's own children, and so on.
And this brings us to Little Red Riding Hood.
A victim of criminal negligence, my lord.
Of circumstances beyond anyone's control, my lord.
I would like to go into this in more detail. Call the gamekeeper.
A VOICE: The gamekeeper!
(Enter THE GAMEKEEPER, with a gun over his shoulder)
Your honour, I would like to be excused from testifying today.
For what reason?
You see, your honour, there's a lot of game in the forest, and a lot of poachers among the local population. One of the main tricks of the gamekeeper's trade is never to let them know in advance where you are going to be on a certain day at a certain hour. They have known about this trial and about me testifying ever since the date has been set, and they've bought up all the snares, traps, nets, gunpowder, shot, and bullets on the local market. Most of them must be in the forest by now, and the rest on their way.
I can see your point, but this is a serious case, and the loss of a few partridges and hares is not going to prevent us from hearing it.
Your honour, it's not just a few partridges and hares, it's tons and tons of deer and wild boar. The forest is going to run red with blood today. Of course they are not going to dump it on the market tomorrow, but mark my words, your honour, salted and smoked venison is going to be cheaper and more plentiful in the months to come than it has ever been before.
In that case, why didn't the Count find a replacement for you for today?
Your honour, gamekeeping is a profession that has to be learned like any other, and then it takes a few more years to learn the forest you're in charge of really well, and, last but not least, the tricks of the local poachers. Replacing a gamekeeper for a day is no easier than, begging your honour's pardon, replacing a judge in the middle of a trial.
And why are you carrying a gun in the courtroom?
Well, I was hoping to be excused from testifying, but even if not, I want to go straight from here to the forest, to save what still might be saved. In any case, it's not loaded, see?
(Points the gun at the ceiling and pulls the trigger. The gun goes off.)
Your honour, I am terribly sorry. I could have sworn it wasn't loaded.
You're fined one silver piece for criminal negligence plus the cost of repairs to the ceiling, and you can thank God nobody was hurt. Now let's hear your story.
Your honour; that afternoon, I was passing the hut of the old woman and saw that the door was open. I called a couple of times, got no answer, and then went inside. There was nobody in the hut, and the place was in a mess: a chair turned over, bedclothes pulled off the bed, some torn clothing, and, in a corner, a small red riding hood; worst of all, your honour, bloodstains all over the place. Outside, on the ground, it looked as if something heavy had been dragged into the bush, and I also found footprints of the Old Lame Paw.
Footprints of whom?
Oh. The Old Lame Paw is a big old wolf, your honour, a loner who's been living in this forest for years. He got his paw caught in a trap I'd set once but managed to pull it out and has been limping ever since; that's how you can recognize him from his footprints. Now that he's both lame and old, he's taken to going after easy stuff like ducks, geese, lambs, piglets, and so on. Of course, if we knew he was going to start on children and old people we would have got rid of him right away instead of keeping him for the Prince in the autumn.
Who is "we"?
Oh, I mean the Count, who owns this forest, your honour, and myself; not as equal partners, of course, because it's his forest and I am only the gamekeeper; but the Count does respect my knowledge and experience, and relies on me in everything concerning the forest. A few weeks ago he told me that he managed to invite the Prince for the opening of the hunting season, and ever since we've been working hard on making it a real success. I've been keeping my eyes skinned for the best and biggest deer and wild boar and wolves, and where they can be found at various times of day, so that we could place the Prince in a good spot where he could get a good shot at them. Old Lame Paw was on the list. We were even thinking of getting him used to finding a fat goose tied to a certain bush on the edge of a small clearing every day, upwind from where we could place the Prince on the other side of the clearing, a distance of some twenty yards, so he could get a clear shot at the wolf; difficult to miss at that distance. We have already poisoned a couple of foxes who lived nearby and might have competed with Old Lame Paw for the goose.
Please get back to what happened that day at the hut.
Yes, of course, your honour. So, I followed the footprints. It was a hot afternoon, and I knew that after a heavy meal the wolf would go to the stream to drink, and afterwards settle down for a snooze in a favourite spot of his I happened to know about. So I sneaked up on him, quietly and downwind, from a direction he wouldn't expect anyone to come - when you hunt wolves you have to think a little like a wolf, your honour - and sure enough there he was, already half asleep, lifting his head to see what was going on. I got him right between the eyes - an easier end than he deserved. Then I cut him open and found his stomach full of human flesh; quite easy to recognise because Old Lame Paw didn't bother to chew everything properly.
(The Mother is weeping, with the Defence Attorney trying to comfort her.)
THE DEFENCE ATTORNEY:
There is a question I would like to put to the witness, your honour. Didn't it occur to you that an old wolf like that, who had taken to what you describe as easy stuff, might start on children and old people any time now?
Well...er...we were hoping he wouldn't start before the big hunt.
THE DEFENCE ATTORNEY:
Thank you. (To the Judge): Your honour, I would like to point out that if there was a case of criminal negligence, the guilty party is not the accused but the gamekeeper and his noble employer. The accused did not know about a particularly dangerous wolf in the forest, but they did, and took no steps to eliminate him in time. And for what reason, may I ask? So as not to spoil things for the Prince. The cost: two innocent lives.
When it suited you, you insisted on one.
Your honour, I was only doing my job. Anyone will tell you that I am a decent God-fearing and law-respecting citizen. Even more than just law-respecting in fact, because a gamekeeper works hard and sometimes risks his life to maintain law and order, so he's also a sort of policeman. I was terribly shocked when I saw the mess in the hut, and immediately went after the wolf.
I beg your pardon?
Little Red Riding Hood had brought with her a basket containing a cake and a bottle of wine. The bottle was found on the table in the hut, empty, and of the cake there were only crumbs left. Did you by any chance drink the wine and eat the cake before setting out after the wolf?
Oh, that...er...well, you see, sir, as I said, I was suffering from shock, and there's nothing that steadies your nerves and aim better than a little wine. I've learned that as a soldier in the big war, and I didn't want to miss the wolf when I finally caught up with him.
And does cake have the same effect?
Sir, if that cake stayed on the table with the door and window open, the birds, squirrels, and field mice would have made short shrift of it before anyone could claim it. And, if I may respectfully ask, do you happen to know what a gamekeeper's pay amounts to, and how often does a piece of cake come his way? It was that war, sir, when we were risking our lives for the homeland, that's taught us to grab whatever came to hand because we never knew what the next day would bring. And with all due respect it was that war that made this long period of peace and prosperity possible, with princes and counts hunting, and judges judging, and fine gentlemen like yourself having cake with their tea, without your mothers having to live alone in the forest and only seeing a little cake and wine as medicine when they get ill. (To the Judge, more humbly): Your honour, I am not criticising anything, God forbid. The Prince is a good ruler, the courts are just, and nobody who is prepared to work goes hungry. My own little son, who has shown some talent, goes to school at the state's expense and can already read and write, and even count a little. And of course, on top of that, I also teach him about the forest. And, of course, one of the first things I taught him was never to go into the forest alone unless he carries a gun and knows how to use it.
Very good. Thank you. Now, will the accused please rise.
MOTHER (standing up and speaking cheerfully):
Yes, your honour. As a matter of fact, I was going to ask your honour a favour. You see, it's getting rather late in the day, and I was wondering, perhaps the rest of this trial could be postponed until tomorrow morning? You see, I still have to make supper for my husband and my little girl, you know, Little Red Riding Hood, and, if possible, bake another cake for my mother who, as you know, hasn't been too well these days.
THE JUDGE (softly):
Mrs. Bauer, I am sorry to remind you that your little girl and your mother have been dead for the past fortnight.
MOTHER (laughing, lightly at first, more shrilly and hysterically towards the end):
Oh no, ha-ha, your honour is mistaken. I mean, it's true that the big wolf has swallowed them for a while, but afterwards (pointing at the gamekeeper) this good man killed the wolf and cut his stomach open and they both came out alive and well, ha-ha, and none the worst for it except that they had to take a good bath, ha-ha, after all they've been through. (Laughs again.) Because, you see, the best proof that my little girl is alive and well is that it took me a long time to get pregnant with her, and afterwards I couldn't have any more children, so nothing could have happened to her, could it? (Laughing again, but with less assurance, and looking around.) I mean, it's just a joke, isn't it?
DEFENCE ATTORNEY and THE PROSECUTOR get up and take her by the arms, uncertain what to do.)
The trial is adjourned until a medical board examines the accused and offers an opinion on the state of her mind.
(The two lawyers begin to lead her out. She stops and turns to the Judge again.)
Do come and have supper with us one evening, your honour, and see for yourself what a sweet little girl Little Red Riding Hood is. I will have one of those cakes I am so good at baking ready for you, your honour, and I promise you you will not leave a crumb.
(The two lawyers start leading her out again. She stops again and turns towards the Judge.)
And then, as the years go by and we get older, she will grow into a beautiful young girl, and marry - maybe she'll even be so beautiful that the Princes son will marry her - and have a lot of children - my grandchildren, ha-ha, - and I shall live with them in their house or castle and bake them cakes for their birthdays, ha-ha, and they'll keep me with them and look after me when I am old and ill in bed, and...
(They start leading her out again.)
Where are they taking me? I want to go home to my little girl! Let me go!
(Struggling) Let me go-o-o-o-o-o!!!
(Is led out of the courtroom, with the Gamekeeper following.)
THE JUDGE (Alone on the stage behind his desk. Looks in the direction of the exit. Gets up. Arranges some papers on the desk. Scratches his head and sighs. Slowly comes to the front of the stage and addresses the audience, with a wave of his hand in the direction of the exit):
You see, this is what I have to go through; not every day, thanks God, but often enough for any real peace of mind. Most of you lead quiet undisturbed lives, and it's only us judges, together with the police and the doctors, who have our hands full of human misery and crime.
Those two lawyers, the prosecution and the defence, also think they have a difficult job, but all they actually have to do is to round up half the truth each and dump it on my table. And justice is not mathematics, and two half-truths don't always make a whole one. A half-truth can be more dangerous than an outright lie, and much more difficult to spot and to disarm. You have to be so careful with truth; so very careful.
Once, many years ago, I sent to the gallows a man who may have been innocent although it was very unlikely. It bothered me so much that some years later I set free a man who almost certainly was a murderer, and he went and murdered another man, so now I may have two innocent lives on my conscience. You must be so careful, you know. You have to be careful if you are a little girl in a forest, and you have to be careful when you're a judge, and you have to be careful with a loaded gun, or sharp tools, or with politics, or driving on the road.
But then, if everyone was that careful all the time, there would be no crime and no need for judges, would there? And no road accidents, but also no traffic on the roads. And no work accidents, but also no work being done. And the world would finally come to a stop, and where would that leave us?
I must think about it carefully some more, because I am a judge, but not right now because I am very tired. Perhaps later tonight, at home, before I go to bed, with a glass of good wine in front of the fire. I don't sleep much nowadays; and sometimes, late at night, I think I hear wolves howling outside.
Good night to you all; thank you for coming; good night.
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