An oldie but goodie. Originally posted at Austen Authors, November 2011.
There are two things Frederick Wentworth should be glad of: that Louisa Musgrove’s fall did not take place in the United States, and it did not take place in the 21st century. I’m sure that before the apothecary arrived, a personal injury lawyer would have been passing out his cards to all the party from Uppercross and the witnesses to the alleged accident. In our justice system, even when there is not criminal intent, a party who fancies themselves injured may take advantage of Small Claims Court. Again, our modern age would bring with it many possibilities: Judge Joe Brown, The People’s Court, Last Shot with Judge Gunn, or, in this case, the ever popular, Judge Judy.
“All rise.” The bailiff read out the complaint of Musgrove vs. Wentworth. Judge Judy fingered her lace collar as she scanned the documents to do with the case. She looked over her glasses at the plaintive and then the defendant.
For no reason on the part of Captain Wentworth, the Judge said, “I hope you aren’t counting on all that brass and gold braid to intimidate me, sir.”
Wentworth was shocked firstly that the judge was a woman, and that she would mention anything about his attire. He had chosen his best dress uniform in honor of the pursuit of justice. To think it was a scheme of any sort was insulting. “No, your Grace.” He gave a quick, shallow bow.
She muttered something to the bailiff and they laughed quietly.
“Alright then, Miss Musgrove, you are claiming that Captain Frederick Wentworth, of the Royal Navy, caused you bodily injury on … “ She looked at the brief. “On or about November 16th is that correct?” All parties nodded. “You are looking for repayment of medical bills, and a sum of … 10,000 pounds for a rather extensive list of things that have caused you pain and suffering.”
“And, I would like to point out that the exchange rate between British Sterling in 1814 and the pound of today is—”
The gavel pounded. “And who are you, sir?”
“I am Captain James Benwick. I am Miss Musgrove’s—” He conferred with Louisa. “Friend.”
“Ha!” Captain Wentworth laughed.
“Captain Wentworth, I didn’t ask you to comment. But now that you’ve butted into things, who is your little friend there in the pretty little get up?”
“This is not my friend, Madam, this is my wife, Anne Elliot Wentworth.”
“Ma’am.” Anne curtseyed.
The judge looked at the bailiff and shook her head. “I’m everyone’s mother today. I’m only concerned with the defendant and the plaintiff at this point so all the friends and wives take a seat.”
Louisa cleared her throat and began. “We had gone to Lyme Regis with Captain Wentworth to visit some friends of his. We arrived—”
“I’m sure your vacation was lovely, Miss Musgrove. But, I merely want to know about the events that led up to your accident.”
She looked at Benwick. “Very well, Ma’am. We were preparing to leave and were taking one last turn about the Cobb. It was very windy and we decided to go to the Lower Cobb—”
“What exactly is the ‘Cobb’?”
After several less-than-successful attempts on Louisa’s part to explain, Captain Benwick stepped in and explained the purpose and composition of the Cobb.
“Sounds to me like it’s a long, rickety pier.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Though it was rebuilt not long after my wife’s accident.” He smiled at Louisa.
“Excuse me, Captain, did you say, ‘your wife?’”
“Ha!” Captain Wentworth again laughed. The judge silenced him without a word but just a look.
“Yes, Ma’am. My wife. We were married early in 1815.”
“And you met how?”
“We met when … Louisa was injured and stayed with the family I was living with at the time.”
“Would you say the two of you met and married because of the accident?”
Benwick paused, but replied, “Yes, Ma’am.”
Judge Judy looked at Benwick as she shuffled some papers. The gallery buzzed quietly.
“Now, it says here, Miss Musgrove,” she paused and looked at Louisa. “I should say, Mrs. Benwick. Your claim is that a significant amount of your pain and suffering stems from the romantic understanding between you and Captain Wentworth at the time of the accident—”
“Yes, Ma’am. And I have affidavits from witnesses testifying to that.” She held out papers. The bailiff retrieved them.
“Madam! I protest. I have never been romantically inclined towards Miss Musgrove. I have loved none but my wife, even when we were estranged those many years.”
A gasp went up from the gallery and the Benwicks began talking to the Judge.
The gavel brought silence to the courtroom. “It is my understanding, from Miss –I mean Mrs. Benwick’s account that you had nothing but an ‘incidental acquaintance’ with the then Miss Elliot.”
Anne blushed and stood, imploring the Captain as to what she should do.
“I am sorry, Ma’am, but I do not see what this has to do with the case.”
The Judge looked at the bailiff, both shook their heads. “It is not your job to know anything, but to answer my questions.” She motioned for Anne to step forward. “Now, Mrs. Wentworth. It is Wentworth and not some other name yet to be mentioned.”
“Yes, Ma’am. There are no other names.”
“Good. I hope you see my problem. I have a plaintiff who has lied to me about her very identity, and the nature of her complaint. Then, I have the two of you having a little secret of your own. Part of Miss—Mrs. Benwick’s complaint is that she was so altered by the accident that her relationship with Captain Wentworth ended. Did the relationship, in your opinion, end because of the accident, Mrs. Wentworth?”
Anne paused and glanced at Frederick and then over to Louisa. “No, Ma’am, I think not.”
“Why are you of this opinion?”
“Because while I saw a little fever of admiration from Miss Musgrove and her sister—”
“There was a sister involved?” She raised an eyebrow to Wentworth. “My, my, sir, but you are the devil in a blue dress uniform.” She clicked her tongue and told Anne to continue.
“Anywise, knowing the captain, and from my memory and experience, I never suspected that he was in love with either girl.”
“That is not true!” Louisa cried. The gallery stirred and buzzed, the judge beat her gavel, and Louisa stamped her foot. Benwick came to her side and whispered something in her ear. She immediately calmed and apologized for her outburst.
“That’s better,” Judge Judy said. “Now, I like to get to the heart of any case and I think the heart of this one is you, Captain Wentworth. Why is it that Miss—Mrs—the lady thinks that you were attracted to her?”
Wentworth straightened and told the judge a little of the summer of ’06 in which he met and courted Anne Elliot. At his telling of their being parted by family, she muttered, “ah yes, the ties to family that bind and gag us.” He went on to tell of his career and return to the area. He also admitted that he was unguarded in his behavior with particularly Miss Musgrove. “I had been grossly wrong, and must abide the consequences.” He stood with hands folded on the table before him, awaiting his fate.
The judge and her bailiff talked for several minutes. All sides were disturbed and nervous about the eruptions of laughter that sounded occasionally. It was the judge’s hand gestures of hanging and her tongue lolling that unsettled the Captain most.
Eventually, the two parted, papers straightened, and the room called to order.
“This case, on its face, seems very serious, but I think it’s a case of people hoping for certain things and reading the situations to their own ends.” To Louisa, she said, “You, Madam, have made accusations that the Captain damaged you more than just physically. But, looking at the guy standing beside you, who is not by the way a pile of chopped liver, proves you undamaged enough to have found a husband. There is not so much desperation as your complaint would lead me to believe.” To Wentworth, she said, “You, sir, are careless and don’t pay very close attention to your surroundings. Remind me never to sail with you.” She winked. “But as to the case at hand, you should pay her medical bills and I so order.” To Anne and Benwick, she said, “As for the two of you, watch these dunderheads. They obviously need minders.” She rose and banged her gavel. “This case is dismissed.”
The case ended and all were content. Until Benwick began to ponder the exchange rate for monies of the Regency period—backed by gold—and those of the present day. He is researching now the possibilities of a sympathetic hearing from The People’s Court.