The Notorious Case Of The Infamous Blue Wagon
An Allegory on the Mortality of Truth
Once Upon a time, in a land called Alficanori, there lived a farmer named Alfred Green. Now, Farmer Green was a hard-working man, and over the years he had built up a very good reputation for himself. His corn was always the sweetest, his tomatoes the juiciest, and his beets and carrots were the tenderest for miles around. Every week on market day he loaded up his wagon with produce and drove it to the city where people came from all over to buy. Even before he could unhitch the horses and set up his stand in Market Square, he was surrounded by eager shoppers vying for his goods.
"I'll take five pounds of your tomatoes and a dozen ears of corn," Mrs. Brown would always say.
"Can I have a bushel of those wonderful potatoes?" Mrs.Grey would ask. "My boys just can't get enough of them. Some of those new peas would be nice, too, maybe five or six pounds."
Farmer Green weighed each order carefully and accurately, and was always courteous and cheerful, whether he was carrying a heavy load to a lady's cart or helping her decide whether to have beets or broccoli with her Sunday roast. His customers never argued with his prices because they knew his vegetables were the best in the county, but he was ever fair and honest, and he never ever cheated anyone.
Such was not the case with Farmer Black, Farmer Green's chief competitor. Miserly and miserable, he both envied and hated his neighbor's success. His poor and stunted produce,the inevitable result of overplanting and neglected soil, always brought the lowest prices as long as his rival was in town. As a matter of fact, it wasn't at all unusual for him to go all morning without making a single sale. But by early afternoon, when Farmer Green had sold out and was on his way home, things changed dramatically.
As the only produce vendor in the square, he had complete control of the market. His prices doubled, tripled, quadrupled. Wilted lettuce sold for two dollars a head. Green tomatoes and bruised cabbages went for a dollar a pound. To those customers who complained his answer was, "If you don't like it. go somewhere else." But there was nowhere else, and he knew it.
Now Farmer Green's wagon had been a strong and sturdy one, but after many years of carrying his crops to market it was getting a bit old and creaky. The springs were sagging and the wheels were missing more than a few spokes. The bed was splitting and the sides were beginning to give way. All in all it was a very old, very tired wagon.
Farmer Green had saved his money very carefully for along, long time, so when the time came to replace the old conveyance he decided to go with the best. He sent for catalogues and he sent for brochures. He talked to wagonmakers and he talked to freight haulers. This was a once-in-a-lifetime purchase, and he didn't want to make a mistake.
Finally he found exactly what he wanted. Half again as large as his old wagon, this one had heavy-duty springs for heavy-duty hauling and extra-high sides that folded down for easy loading and unloading. It had a soft, cushiony seat for extra riding comfort, and a roomy storage box his tools and his lunch. It even had an adjustable canopy to keep off the rain and the sun.
But this new wagon wasn't just big and strong, it was beautiful! Bright green it was, with red wheels and tongue, and the red-and-green striped canopy sported a six-inch gold fringe. Gold lettering on the sides proclaimed "Farmer Green's Top Quality Produce", and on the back, simply "Farmer Green". And the finishing touch: gold-painted hubcaps and a gold-painted holder for his whip. (Not that he EVER used one, mind you, but it did look so elegant in its fancy new holster.)
The first time Farmer Green drove his new wagon into town, he was the proudest man in the county. All decked out in a new suit and hat, he sat ramrod-straight on his cushiony soft seat, basking in the astonished gazes of the townspeople. Even his two durable old draught horses fairly pranced in their new harness and rigging. As he pulled into Market Square that morning, all eyes turned in his direction. Ooh's and ah's greeted him from all sides.
"What a lovely new wagon!" gushed Mrs. Brown.
"Beautiful! Just beautiful!" Exclaimed Mrs. Grey.
"Splendid! An exquisite piece of workmanship," agreed Mr. Sales, the stockbroker. But there was one person in the square that morning who was not so pleased. In fact, he was furious.
"Of all the nerve!" Farmer Black fumed as a crowd gathered around his proud rival. "Imagine that! A common farmer dressed up like the Count of Monte Cristo! And that wagon! Should be illegal and that's a fact. Why a gaudy thing like that could cause all kinds of traffic problems, accidents even. Someone could be killed. It's downright criminal, that's what it is!" And Farmer Black bustled off to find himself a policeman. Down at the corner of Fourth and Main Officer Knight was busy directing traffic.
"Officer Knight, Officer Knight!" Farmer Black tugged at his sleeve. "I want to report a traffic hazard." Officer Knight continued signalling.
"You know I can't leave my corner," he answered. "Go down to the station house and make a report."
"No, no!" cried Farmer Black. "This is urgent! It can't wait! Someone could be killed!"
"Alright, alright." The intrepid officer blew his whistle and all the traffic ground to a halt. He followed Farmer Black to Market Square where Farmer Green was unloading his produce. Everyone was helping. Mrs. Brown was stacking cantaloupes and Mrs. Grey was bundling carrots. Mr.Sales carried bushels of tender new potatoes. Talking, laughing, joking, it was more like a party than a market day.
"See what I mean?" Farmer Black hollered above the ruckus. "That wagon is definitely a distraction to drivers. And look at that crowd! Why, any minute now that could turn into a riot."
"A riot!" sputtered Officer Knight. " A riot you say! Why, Mr. Black, I'm ashamed of you! A riot, indeed. You're just jealous, that's all, purely jealous. For this you made me stop traffic on Main Street? Why, I ought to arrest YOU, you spiteful old swindler." and Officer Knight hurried back to his corner, leaving the old miser to stew in his envy.
Farmer Black, however, was not content merely to stew. He wanted action and action he would have. His next stop was the law offices of Goode, Better & Beste, Joe Beste being an old and valued associate of his, familiar with, and sympathetic to, his many and varied complaints. Lawyer Beste was in.
"Well, well. If it isn't my good friend Tom Black. And how are you this fine summer morning?"
"Fine morning, indeed! Indeed it is not!" The irate tiller of the soil seized the busy attorney's arm and dragged him to the window. "Just look at that riot down there in Market square! That outrageous green wagon has traffic tied up for blocks around. Those gullible peasants are climbing all over each other just to get a look at it! Someone could be injured, killed even. It's criminal, I tell you, criminal!"
"Well, now, it's not as bad as all that. Farmer Green seems to have an overabundance of customers, I'll grant you that, but I'd hardly say he was obstructing traffic. Biggest problem I see is, he's taking away all your business."
"Business be hanged! I say it's a public safety hazard,and I say something has to be done about it! I called Officer Knight, but he wouldn't lift a finger. Now I want to know what you're going to do about it." Farmer Black stamped
his foot so hard he broke the heel of his boot.
"Easy, old friend," Lawyer Beste soothed his frazzled visitor. "I think I see your point. It could certainly become a problem. Tell you what. I'll research the situation and see what I can come up with. Why don't you get back to me next week, and I'll let you know if there's anything that can be done."
"There'd better be, that's all I've got to say. There'd better be." And the irate farmer stormed out of the legal offices of Goode, Better & Beste, slamming the door behind him. Lawyer Beste's framed law school diploma crashed to the floor, breaking the glass into three jagged pieces.
The following week Farmer Black returned to the legal offices of Goode, Better & Beste. Lawyer Beste was in.
"Well, what did you find out?" Farmer Black demanded. "What can we do about that outrageous green wagon?" Lawyer Beste motioned him to a chair and shuffled through the papers on his desk.
"There's not too much in the law regarding freight wagons in general. It's not oversized, and it's not overweight. It's legally parked, and it's not obstructing traffic. As a matter of fact, about the only thing I did find is a three-hundred-year-old statute for bidding a tenant farmer from owning a blue wagon. Seems it was a symbol of nobility or something."
"But how does that help us?" fussed the farmer. "His wagon isn't blue, it's green."
"You leave that to me," Lawyer Beste reassured him. "I'll do what needs to be done. don't you worry." He shook Farmer Black's hand and showed him to the door. "You'll get my bill in the mail." Two hours later Farmer Green was served with a summons.
"What's this about?" he asked Officer Knight, who delivered it.
"Says here you're supposed to appear in court next month," replied the policeman. "Says you're charged with illegal possession of a blue wagon."
"But I don't understand. My wagon is green, not blue."
"I don't get it either. All I know is that's what it says. I guess the judge'll explain it when you get to court."
"I guess so." Farmer Green stuffed the document into his coat pocket. When he arrived at the courthouse the following month, the first person he encountered was the bailiff.
"Do you have an attorney?" inquired the bailiff.
"I don't need a lawyer," responded Farmer Green. I haven't done anything wrong."
"Oh, but you must have a lawyer. Everybody needs a lawyer. How about Mr. Shields? He's our Public Defender."
"I guess that's alright," Farmer Green agreed. Lawyer Shields bustled over.
"The paper, the paper," he puffed.
"The summons. Where's the summons?" he huffed. Farmer Green fished the paper out of his coat pocket.
"It says here you're charged with illegal possession of a blue wagon. Serious, very serious."
"But my wagon's not blue, it's green," protested the farmer. "Besides, lots of people have blue wagons. How can they say it's illegal?"
"Obscure law. Very obscure. Hasn't been enforced in over a hundred years. Did you bring the wagon?"
"I couldn't. It was impounded last month. But I do have a picture I took when it was delivered. You can see for yourself it's green."
"Very good," Lawyer Shields nodded. "That should be sufficient."
"All rise!" cried the bailiff. "Court is in session, Judge Wright presiding." The judge entered the courtroom, resplendent in his billowing robes. He took his seat behind the bench and smacked it with his gavel.
"Court will come to order." he intoned. "What's the first case?"
"People versus Alfred Green." replied the bailiff.
"Are all the parties present?"
"They are, Your Honor."
"The prosecution may proceed with its case." Judge Wright settled back in his chair and adjusted his robes. Will Cites, prosecuting attorney, took center stage.
"Your Honor, we intend to prove that on or about the fifth of last month, Alfred Green did willfully and knowingly purchase a blue freight wagon in direct violation of National Statute 1246, section 12, paragraph g., to wit: 'Inasmuch as the color blue is the recognized color of the noble and ruling classes, no person who is not of noble lineage or descent shall purchase, possess, use, or display a blue carriage, wagon, cart, cab, or any other similar conveyance. The penalty for such purchase, use, or display shall be forfeiture of said conveyance, and a fine of not less than $500 or more than $5000.'"
"You may call your first witness," intoned Judge Wright.
"The prosecution calls Thomas Black." Farmer Black took his place in the witness box. He raised his right hand. "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"
"I do," said Farmer Black.
"Tell me, Mr. Black, when did you first become aware that Farmer Green had acquired a new freight wagon?"
"Last month. The seventh, I think it was. Yeah, the seventh. He drove it into Market Square, big as life. Tied up traffic for blocks around."
"And what was your reaction to this new wagon?" inquired the prosecutor.
"Shocked. That's what I was, shocked."
"And why was that?"
"It was so gaudy. Bright blue. Outrageously blue. Shocking. That's what it was, shocking."
"And what did you do when you saw this shocking blue freight wagon?'
"What any good citizen would have done," Farmer Black replied. "I went and got a policeman."
"A policeman. That would be Officer Knight, correct?"
"And what was Officer Knight's reaction to this flagrant violation of the law?"
"He told me to mind my own business."
"Mind your own business? A sworn officer of the law?" Lawyer Cites was properly horrified.
"That's right. That's what he said."
"Then what did you do?"
"I went to see my friend Lawyer Beste."
"And what was Mr. Beste's advice?"
"He said he'd take care of it." Farmer Black replied.
"Your witness, sir." The prosecutor bowed to Lawyer Shields.
"Tell me, Mr. Black," queried Lawyer Shields, "Is it not a fact that you have a personal grudge against Mr. Green, and is it not true that this is the real reason for this ridiculous charge against him?"
"Certainly not!" Farmer Black was indignant. "I just can't abide a scofflaw, that's all."
"I see. No more questions, Your Honor," Lawyer Shields yielded.
"The witness may step down," announced Judge Wright. "Next witness, please."
"The prosecution calls Joseph Beste." Lawyer Beste took the stand and was sworn in. "Tell me, Mr. Beste," commenced Lawyer Cites, "What action did you take when Mr. Black informed you of Mr. Green's shocking new purchase?"
"I researched the law on the subject of freight wagons. When I was satisfied that a crime had been committed, I referred the case to your office."
"And you have no personal axe to grind against Mr.Green?"
"Absolutely not! I hardly know the man."
"Your witness, sir." Lawyer Shields approached the witness box.
"You are a good friend of Mr. Black, are you not?"
"Objection!" cried the prosecutor. "Irrelevant."
"Sustained," intoned Judge Wright.
"Mr. Beste," Lawyer Shields resumed, "Have you seen any other blue wagons around town?"
"Sure, I guess so."
"But you haven't filed charges against any of them, have you?"
"Objection, Your Honor," cried Lawyer Cites. "A citizen is not legally obligated to report every crime that comes tohis attention."
"Sustained," intoned Judge Wright. Lawyer Shields continued.
"Mr. Beste, if in fact you have seen Farmer Green's wagon, then surely you will have to admit that it is not blue at all, but rather a bright green. Is that not true?"
"Some might call it green. Some might call it blue. That's for the court to decide. I just did my duty as I saw it."
"Thank you, no more questions." Lawyer Beste was excused.
"The prosecution calls Robert Carte." Mr. Carte took the stand. "Mr. Carte," began Lawyer Cites, "What is your occupation?"
"I'm a wagon expert. You name it, I know it. Everything about wagons."
"Including the legal aspects?"
"You bet. Everything."
"So you knew about the law regarding blue wagons."
"Of course I knew. I told you. Everything." Mr. Carte sounded impatient.
"Have you seen Mr. Green's new wagon?"
"Yup. Saw it at the impound yard."
"And what color is it?" inquired the prosecutor.
"Blue. Bright blue."
"Thank you. Your witness."
"Thank you," Lawyer Shields studied the witness. "Now Mr. Carte, you're quite sure it was blue? You couldn't be mistaken?"
"No sirree. I've seen hundreds of blue wagons in my time, but that one is definitely the bluest." Mr. Carte nodded his head for emphasis.
"Mr. Carte, you say you're an expert on wagons, but are you an expert on colors?"
"Don't have to be. Everybody knows colors."
"And do you see that big tree outside the window?" Lawyer Shields indicated a tall pine tree in the center of the courthouse lawn.
"Sure, why?" The witness swiveled in his seat.
"What color is the tree?"
"I see. And the grass. Is that blue, too?"
"Sure. Say, what are you getting at?'
"Mr. Carte, isn't it a fact that all the males in your family are colorblind?'
"Objection!" cried the prosecutor. "Personal information concerning the witness' family has no bearing on the facts of this case."
"Your Honor, I submit that the witness' perception of color has a direct bearing on his testimony in the case." Lawyer Shields asserted.
"Objection sustained," intoned the judge. "Counsel will confine his questioning to the facts of the case."
"No more questions, Your Honor." And the wagon expertwas dismissed.
"The prosecution calls Samuel Hughes." Mr. Hughes took the stand and was sworn in. "Mr. Hughes, what is your occupation, please?"
"I'm a color designer," Mr. Hughes replied proudly. "I help people coordinate their color schemes."
"In other words, you're an expert on colors."
"I like to think so."
"Mr. Hughes, tell the court, if you please, what are the primary colors?"
"That's easy. Red, yellow, and blue."
"Very good. And the secondary colors?"
"Orange, green, and purple." Mr. Hughes was supremely smug.
"And how are those colors formed, Mr. Hughes?"
"By combining the primary colors. Red and yellow make orange, yellow and blue make green, blue and red make purple."
"So then green is not a true color, strictly speaking, is that correct?"
"Strictly speaking, no, it's not a true color."
"Your witness." Lawyer Cites waved his hand. Lawyer Shields stood up.
"Mr. Hughes, you stated that green is formed by mixing blue and yellow together. But doesn't that create an wholly new formula,
like mixing chlorine and sodium to make salt?"
"Not really," responded Mr. Hughes. "You see, the colors in the pigment don't combine chemically. Each particle retains its integrity as either blue or yellow. It's only the eye that perceives it as green."
"But isn't it the perception that matters?" persisted Lawyer Shields.
"Not at all, sir, not at all. Perception isn't fact. Scientific reality is fact. Everyone perceives a given color differently, but the color itself doesn't change. Blue is blue and yellow is yellow. Green is a hybrid."
"No more questions, Your Honor."
"The witness is excused," intoned Judge Wright. "Next witness, please."
"The prosecution rests, Your Honor," announced Lawyer Cites.
"Defense may call its first witness," the judge declared. Lawyer Shields stood up.
"Your Honor, the defense does not intend to call any witnesses. We do, however, have a critical piece of evidence which we would like to submit to the court at this time." He drew the picture from his briefcase. "Your Honor, I have here a photograph of the wagon in question, a photograph which clearly shows it to be green. Not blue, not yellow, but green. Bright, bold green. I would like to introduce this evidence as defense exhibit 'A'."
The bailiff took the picture and handed it to Judge Wright, who scrutinized it carefully and handed it back.
"So designated. Proceed."
"Your Honor," Lawyer Shields spoke earnestly, "I see no need for a parade of witnesses to confirm what should be obvious to everyone. I believe this photograph speaks for itself. Mr. Green does not own a blue wagon. The defense rests."
"I see." Judge Wright sat up straight and adjusted his robes. "In that case, we will adjourn for lunch. The court will reconvene at one o'clock, at which time I will render my verdict. Court dismissed." And he smacked the bench with his gavel.
A short hour later, lunch was over and the court reconvened. Judge Wright shuffled through the papers in front of him. He cleared his throat.
"The defendant will rise and face the court. I have considered the evidence in the case and have arrived at a verdict. I find the defendant guilty as charged." A gasp went through the courtroom as Lawyer Shields sprang to his feet.
"Your Honor, I must protest this gross miscarriage of justice! My evidence clearly shows that the defendant's wagon is green. How can you possibly convict him of having a blue wagon?" Judge Wright thumped his gavel.
"Mr. Shields, you are out of order. I have considered my verdict very carefully, taking into account all the evidence presented here. The prosecution has presented three witnesses who have testified that the vehicle in question is blue. A qualified expert on colors has given evidence that green is in fact blue. In the absence of any argument to the contrary, I must accept that as a valid and credible theory."
"But Your Honor, what about the photograph? You can see with your own eyes..."
"Mr. Shields, I'm surprised at you. You know my personal opinions can have no bearing on my judgements. I have to base my verdict solely on the evidence presented to the court. An undocumented photograph of an unidentified vehicle simply doesn't stack up to the testimony of four sworn witnesses. The conviction stands. The defendant will forfeit the vehicle in question and pay a fine of $500."
And that is how Farmer Green lost his new freight wagon and his $500. And that is why Farmer Green piled his tools, his furniture, and all his belongings onto his old brown wagon and left the land of Alficanori, never to return.The EndCopyright 1998 by Kathleen Mc Pugh, all rights reserved