Objet d’art – a John Dunn story

John-DunnThe matter under enquiry was grievous: a priceless ‘objet d’art’ had gone missing from the doctor’s house. A few elderly people, those known in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer’s Rite for the Administration of Baptism for Adults as “those of riper years”, remembered the article used to sit in the middle of the floor in the doctor’s outside office.

“Right behind the swivel-back chair, near the instrument case,” remarked  one of the ancients.

Judge Siney Kure’s enquiry came right to the heart of the matter of how this article had gone missing.

When the prosecutor announced there was a witness who had confessed to destroying the article in question, the judge sat up straight with grim anticipation.

The testimony follows:

Prosecutor: This witness, milord, has confessed that he personally destroyed the article, this ‘objet d’art’, which, if it were here now to speak, could reveal accounts of the history of Almonte from its very founding years.

Judge: You admit this, witness?

Witness: I do, your worship.

Judge: No, no, no. this will not do. This bench is not the seat of the Almighty, and heaven will not be brought into disrepute in this court. Witness will not address ‘worship’ here: ‘honour’ sufficeth.

Witness: Yes, your honour.

Judge: One more thing: what defence, if any, can witness offer for the outrageous destruction of an ‘objet d’art’ so intimately connected with Almonte’s earliest years?

Witness: The same defence used by Nazi generals at Nuremburg, milord, obeying orders from higher command.

Prosecutor: Now, witness, kindly state what age you were when you destroyed the article.

Witness: Ten past.

Prosecutor: Ten past. Almost seventy-one years ago. At that age were you aware that you were demolishing a priceless article of Almonte’s heritage?

Witness: No, your honour. I was aware of nought concerning heritage, nor of many other things at that age; I was, however, rapidly becoming knowledgeable about horses and blacksmith shops.

Prosecutor: Still, witness, you must have realized that you could easily have spirited the article away to safekeeping, somewhere out of sight, for the article, I understand, had no defect. It was entirely serviceable before you destroyed it. Is that correct?

Witness: That is correct. Nothing was wrong with it. It sat ready should the occasion require.

Prosecutor: And users in those days were common, even among a doctor’s patients, were they not?

Witness: Indeed yes, sir.

Prosecutor: And the product associated with the ‘objet d’art’ was readily available to users?

Witness: Decidedly yes, in every grocery store.

Prosecutor: And was advertised freely in Almonte?

Witness: Passionately and prominently on billboards. Again, decidedly yes.

Judge: One moment, witness. Was this product advertised under brand names, and, if so, can you recall those names?

Witness: The product had a Scottish bias, your honour. ‘Black Watch’, was the most common brand name, but royalty made a splash too with the name ‘Prince Albert’. And the Scottish influence even came forth in the manufacturer’s name, ‘Macdonald’s’.

Judge: One more thing, witness. If your father, the doctor, were actually aware of the plan to demolish this alleged important article in the heritage of Almonte, could he have been, to your knowledge, fully aware of the plan for demolishing it, and if so, did he approve of it?

Witness: Approve of it? Certainly not, my lord. Destruction never entered his mind. Looking back on the circumstances over a period of seventy years, I’d say he was simply overruled.

Judge: A doctor? Overruled? In his own household? Witness, this is most extraordinary. This enquiry could benefit from an explanation of your judgement. Counsellor, we’d better get to the root of this matter with witness giving his recollection of the incident.

Prosecutor: A sound suggestion, your honour. In that way we might also establish the true value of the article in the heritage of Almonte. Witness, would you commence please?

Witness: It was Saturday morning, y’r honour, in the kitchen at the house. I had earlier seen Axehandle stop at the office door, and later, in the kitchen, heard the hum of conversation from the office. Then it ceased. Nothing unusual in that: Axehandle also had come to Almonte from Leeds County, and stopped frequently at the office to chat.

Judge: This name ‘Axehandle’, witness. Is this a pseudonym of some sort for a real character?

Witness: A real character? Indeed yes, milord. A neighbour too, christened, it was supposed, somewhere in Leeds county. As a fellow native with my father of Leeds County, he carried a countryman’s privilege of stopping to chat any time at the office. Axehandle was a user, milord. His choice was “Black Watch”, advertised in Almonte’s town core as “A man’s chew”.

Judge: I see. Well, continue.

Witness: Though Black Watch was supposed to be a man’s chew, your honour, I’m obliged to mention that Axehandle’s efforts at personal tidiness were often jeopardized by prairie teeth.

Judge: Prairie teeth? What in the world am I to grasp in the meaning of that?

Witness: Wide open spaces, milord.

Judge: Oh, now we have poetic license to chew on as well. Well, continue.

Witness: Gumming it, milord, was a notorious hazard with ‘a man’s chew’; it caused a brown dribble from the corners of the mouth. This handicap in Axehandle went even further than mere appearance — it meant that he expectorated well, but with a savage loss of accuracy.

Judge: Ugh! I understand. Continue.

Witness: Well, your honour, at 10:15 that morning I heard the hum of conversation in the office cease. The latch on the door lifted and fell, and my father came out to the kitchen, picked up the key to the post office box, and left to walk downtown to get the mail.

Prosecutor: His usual custom, was it?

Witness: Usual as daybreak, sir. However, at 10:45 the doorbell to the doctor’s office rang, and Mother went to answer its call. I regret to say that in doing so she had to circumnavigate around the “objet d’art” and a mahogany-coloured stain on the newly-laid linoleum carpet beneath it in the doctor’s office. Distress struck her: she went instantly electric. When she returned to the kitchen she was in a state of visible, but scarcely controlled rage. Fully-charged! At that very moment my father returned from the post office, to enter the kitchen by the side door of the verandah.

Judge: You are able, after all these years, witness to recall her words in that cruel state of mind?

Witness: Perfectly, your honour.

Judge: Prosecutor, ensure the clerk has this verbatim. Continue, witness.

Witness: Her opening was this, your honour: “Can any one sensible person in this household offer one single reason why that disgusting receptacle on the floor of the doctor’s office in this house should remain one more day? In fact, why it should remain one hour more to accommodate a disgusting habit in some people?”

Prosecutor: And the response, witness?

Witness: My father’s response was weak, your honour. All he could muster was “The men expect it.”

Prosecutor: And did that response soothe the outrage in the kitchen that morning? Witness?

Witness: It did not, your honour. My father’s response fell like spit on a hot griddle and flew about. “From this day on those men can bally well stop expecting it, for that article will not be there. That’s final. It’s the women in this household who have to clean up any mess around that disgusting article, and there’ll be no more of that from this noon hour on. Absolutely no more of it. Its hour has come.”

Prosecutor: Ominous language, witness. Are we correct in assuming that you were there during this critical moment when the fate of the priceless article of the heritage of Almonte was decided on such a thorny stretch of a beautiful morning?

Witness: Indeed, yes, your honour. Not only present, but drawn into the controversy in the most direct manner, that is, an accomplice, subjected to direct orders to deface the article itself. Shall I continue, my lord?

Judge: Indeed, you must, witness, you must.

Witness: Mother went into the final strophe, my lord, directing her wrath towards me. “Furthermore” she said, “I’m ordering you, John Patrick, right after you have had your lunch today, you’re to get an old potato sack and put that article in it and take it out on your bicycle to the town dump. And there you are not to merely discard it, throwing it away, for as sure as shootin’ one or other of those disgusting users would recognize it and return it here, and I tell you that won’t do. You’re to take it to the dump, and get the biggest stones you can find, and you are to stone that article to death so that not one piece of it will ever darken the door of this household again. Never. Is that clear?”

Judge: And that was the end of it? You had your orders?

Witness: Indeed, yes, milord. Mother’s judgement was swift, prefaced only by a weak allusion to the article and its heritage. “What in the  world is that disgusting article doing in a doctor’s office, anyway?” She threw out.

Judge: And you, in due course, carried out execution on the unoffending article? And all because of your mother’s concern for your upbringing?

Witness: I did, milord. I did. I had been brought up for years under the obligation to obey the fifth commandment. And besides, Mother was determined to keep the children of the household immune from the demons, especially those who were Black Watch users.

Prosecutor: Assuredly so. Now witness, we must find out where the article came from, how long it occupied the place of honour in the doctor’s office, its characteristics which made it an ‘objet d’art’,  priceless in its kind. Begin by telling this enquiry how this article came into the doctor’s household.

Witness: By purchase, sir.

Prosecutor: Purchase? Do you mean to imply that the doctor kept that article in his office because he too was a common user?

Witness: Decidedly not.

Prosecutor: Then explain for us how it came to its place.

Witness: As part of a package deal, sir.

Judge: Aha, a package deal. Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. Open up this package, witness, and give us the content. Take your time, of course, but hurry.

Witness: Well, your honour, my father was born in the year 1871 near the village of Elgin in Leeds County. After some years of teaching he entered McGill’s faculty of medicine and graduated at the turn of the century. The years following he devoted to further medical training, some as a ship’s doctor on the high seas, others in hospitals in New York and London, until in the fateful year 1910 he received a letter from an old friend in the priesthood, Father McNally.

Judge: Where was Fr. McNally at this time?

Witness: He was parish priest at St. Mary’s in Almonte, your honour. Father McNally was also a native of Leeds County; he came from the village of Westport, only a hen’s race from Elgin.

Judge: No, no, no. This won’t do. Witness must be much more circumspect. You will refrain from using language alluding to fleetness of foot in the feminine flock: hens are not racers. Besides such language discriminates against the male. Many of the interested parties in this enquiry would find your allusions distinctly insulting. You must choose other language.

Witness: Yes, my lord, perhaps a rooster’s strut? Would that soothe ruffled feathers?

Judge: Entirely. Clerk, pluck out ‘hen’s race’ from the record and insert ‘rooster’s strut’.

Witness: As I was saying, my lord, my father had met Fr. McNally the year previous at Old Chelsea when he was visiting a family named Smith at that place. A dinner was held for a party of ten which included my father and Father McNally. The dinner was held at Dunn’s Hotel in Old Chelsea.

Prosecutor: Could you be more specific about this Dunn’s Hotel, witness? I’m sure the enquiry would be interested to know if there might be a relationship between your father and the proprietor of the hotel.

Witness: The hotel, Your Honour, was kept by a man named John Dunn, a namesake of my father and myself, of course, and was situated on the Old Chelsea – Meech Lake road.

Judge: Most unusual: a hotel keeper and a dinner guest both having the same Christian name, John, and the same surname, Dunn. Most unusual, would you agree, witness?

Witness: Not entirely, your honour. Merely different aspects of the same ministry: physician and publican share a common concern, how to relieve the suffering from their pain.

Judge: Yes, in the Irish heritage, perhaps yes. Proceed, witness.

Witness: Well, your honour my father told me that over dinner that evening the guests discussed some matters metaphysical and others theological, the state of agriculture and condition of the crops, and one guest even spoke at length on the effect of the curvature of the earth on the blush in ripening tomatoes. In short, your honour, a dinner full of intelligent conversation, sparkling wit, with only some slight embellishment of the truth.

Judge: Truth, aye, that’s the rub: where, in the dinner at Old Chelsea lies the slightest connection with the heritage of Almonte? I’m at a loss to find a single thread. What has the dinner to do with it, if anything at all?

Witness: Everything, your worship.

Judge: No, no, no, witness.

Witness: Excuse the slip, your divine, sorry, your highness. Everything really. Some months later Father McNally wrote to my father to inform him of the sudden and unexpected death in Almonte of Dr. Lynch, and to suggest that the late doctor’s medical practice would undoubtedly be vacant. He suggested my father might be interested in examining the case with a view to taking it over. My father did so, and decided to come to Almonte.

Prosecutor: In the year 1910, is that correct?

Witness: Correct. Yes. A lawyer in Almonte arranged an inventory of the contents of the house, and that inventory remains in my possession to this day.

Prosecutor: Could you briefly describe the inventory?

Witness: Yes. The inventory takes each room of the house and records the contents with an evaluation of each item. Front parlour, dining room, bedrooms, hall furniture, inside office, and outer office, as well as stable, harness room, drive shed, etc.

Judge: Now then, the office, was the article stated in the inventory of furnishings of that room?

Witness: It was, your honour, along with roll-top desk, stove, two side chairs, instrument case and stand and one swivel-back chair.

Prosecutor: Now then, witness, the article. You yourself have seen it when it sat in such a prominent place in the doctor’s office. Could you describe this ‘objet d’art’ for My Lord?

Witness: In size, your Honour, it was almost identical to a chamber pot, an article commonly found amongst the furnishings of bedrooms a hundred years ago.

Judge: Aye, indeed. And this article then was a chamber pot?

Witness: Oh no, my goodness, no, your honour. Similar in size, shape, and made of similar chinaware. But noticeably different. Whereas in the inside office the inventory noted an examining table, chairs, a chamber pot with outward fluted rim etc, in the outer office it indicated an article with a rim that bent inward to a great gaping round hole. Much like a miniature volcano, your honour, for eruptions in chambers, as it were.

Judge: A comforting thought. Was it found elsewhere?

Witness: Yes, your honour, plain brass models sat on the floor in smoking compartments on trains, where men only would gather for conversation, as well as in the lobbies of cheaper hotels, in every saloon, and, I’m told, on good authority, the article was found — though less frequently — in judges’ chambers and in bordellos.

Judge: Now see here, witness, this will not do at all at all. I will not permit derogatory and lascivious terminology from some foreign language to pass unchallenged if it affects the dignity of this court. I direct the clerk to strike out that ‘bordello’ from evidence. Witness must find another expression for his meaning entirely. Witness, continue.

Witness: Would the language of Shakespeare be acceptable, your honour?
Judge: Entirely. Witness may use any language of the master.

Witness: ‘Bawdy house’, then, your honour. That is acceptable?

Judge: Entirely.

Prosecutor: Excuse me, my lord. The clerk is having trouble with that phrase and asks how you spell that ‘bawdy house’?

Judge: Great vanishing saints! You surprise me, prosecutor. How to spell ‘bawdy house’? With an ‘h’, of course.

Prosecutor: Thank you, my lord. That closes testimony from this witness.

Judge: Thank you. Witness, you may step down.