Play #80: Cow in the Road

The play is set in a courtroom.   There is a closed hearing in progress.  The venerable judge, one Milton Pepperleigh, sits up at his lofty seat of judgement.  Before the bench stand two vigorous lawyers: Timothy Millstone, who represents the plaintive, a farmer named Abner Apple, and Harry Wanderlust, who represents the defendant, a used car salesman named Shark Sturgeon.

The case, in a nutshell, is this: Abner Apple, the farmer, was driving his cow, Evelina, along a short length of highway, making sure that the cow—which was untethered —was all the while keeping to the gulley along the side of the road, where both cow and farmer were walking (with the cow in front).  Salesman Shark Sturgeon was driving south on the highway at the same time as Abner was escorting his cow (presumably to a nearby pasture).
For reasons we shall now never discover, Evelina—who knew this terrain well—suddenly decided to cross the highway to the field on the other side.  Abner was unable to restrain her.  In the midst of crossing the road, the cow was struck by Stark Sturgeon’s car and killed. 

Abner Apple is suing Stark Sturgeon for damages.  He says Evelina was worth $400, and he wants $400.00 to compensate him for his loss.  Stark Sturgeon’s counter- argument accuses farmer Apple of negligence in allowing Evelina to walk along untethered and to be, therefore, out of his control.  He insists that the cow strode so suddenly into the middle of the road there was no way he could bring his speeding car to a stop before running into the animal.  He adds, moreover, that the damage to his car was even more than the $400 demanded by Farmer Apple.

Timothy Millstone (acting for Abner Apple):  …and we say that Mr. Sturgeon was driving his car far too fast and was therefore unable to stop for….uh…

Abner:  Evelina.

Millstone:  Yes, Evelina.  

Harry Wanderlust (acting for Shark Sturgeon):  It has been already established that my client, Mr. Sturgeon, was driving at exactly the proscribed speed limit.  The trouble arose because Evelina’s owner, Abner Apple, had allowed the cow to walk beside the highway untethered.

Abner (chuckling):  Evelina was a free-range cow!

Judge Pepperleigh (sternly): Let me remind you, Mr. Apple, that I am the only one allowed to make jokes here.

Abner (contrite):  Sorry, your honour.

Millstone:  It was Mr. Sturgeon’s responsibility to bring his vehicle to a safe stop.

Wanderlust:  Nonsense!  The cow bolted out in front of him—l like a deer!

Abner (sadly): Evelina couldn’t bolt.  She was too old to bolt! 

Millstone:  The cow was walking so slowly that Mr. Sturgeon had plenty of time to see her and avoid her!  IF he was watching the road at all!!  Which we doubt.

Wanderlust (with finality):  He was indeed watching the road.

Judge Pepperleigh (judiciously):  At the basis of this case is a curious situation in which mechanism—in this instance, Mr. Sturgeon’s car—has come into curious, abrupt confrontation with the pastoral mode—in this instance, Evelina, Mr. Apple’s cow.  It is clear to me, that what lies at the heart of the matter is our reading of the concept of Responsibility.   Who—or what—is responsible for Evelina’s demise?  I’m now calling a short recession until I give some further thought to this troubling matter of “responsibility.”

[He goes to his chambers.  Four hours pass, in agonizing slowness.  Then Judge Pepperleigh returns.  He assumes the bench, cleans and adjusts his spectacles, puts them on peers down at Millstone and Wanderlust]

Judge Pepperleigh (weighing every word): Gentlemen, there are hierarchies of irresponsibility in this case.  Yes, Mr.  Sturgeon ought to have been paying closer attention to the road ahead.  Yes, Mr. Apple ought not to have allowed Evelina to trot along untethered.  And yes, Evelina—who should have known better—ought not to have bolted across the highway, making for the other side.  Clearly, of all the three parties, Evelina herself acted the most irresponsibly,  and if she were here, I would unhesitatingly tag her as the Guilty Party.  But she is not.  All I have to say to all of you gentlemen, therefore, is this:  There is no worse place to be than the Middle of the Road! 
This hearing is now dismissed.