After Henry Cecil
“George Elephant!” called the Clerk in Court Number One, and a small man with glasses was brought.
“Are you George Elephant?” asked the Clerk.
“You are charged with murder; that you at Golders Green on the 19th day of January 1948 murdered Jane Elephant. How say you, George Elephant, are you guilty or not guilty?”
“Very well,” said the Judge. “You may sit down.”
Except for a few remarks on the curious name of the prisoner, few people were interested in the case. The facts as stated were very simple. On the 20th January the prisoner had walked into a police station. “I have cut my wife’s throat,” he said. “She’s quite dead.”
It seemed true enough. Her throat seemed to have been cut with a razor which was near her body.
No defence was put forward at the police
court. It seemed a clear case. The prisoner was, however, later defended by Sir Gordon Macintosh, who seldom accepted facts as they seemed. He never accepted more than one case at a time and he went into that case very thoroughly indeed. These are the facts that he discovered about George Elephant.
George was born of ordinary middle-class parents at the end of the nineteenth century. There was no sign of madness in the family. On leaving school George had gone into his father’s business, and after that he had married and settled down to an ordinary life. Jane was not a particularly attractive wife. Although she was pretty, she grew fat as she grew older. She took a good deal of pleasure in laughing at George, and one of the subjects of which she never seemed to get tired was his last name. George was a little ashamed of his name, but he had never had the courage to change it.
I have known a man called Sidebottom very reasonably change his name to Edgedale when he had grown impatient of the telephone calls of jokers.
Usually, however, the owners of unfortunate names just bear them. George had certainly suffered a great deal. When he first went to school and was asked his name in front of the other boys, he replied, “George Elephant.”
“Olliphant?” said the master.
“No, sir, Elephant.”
“What, Elephant? Like the animals?”
“Yes, sir, like the animals.”
After that at school he was called by the names of all known, and some unknown, animals. George was modest, and boys at school are merciless. He was not happy there and was thankful when he left. But his troubles did not end when he left school. Like Mr. Sidebottom, he received many calls from the people who have nothing better to do than to use the telephone as a means of annoyance.
You Smiths and Robinsons, who have never suffered in this way, may smile. These unwelcome attentions from impolite strangers may seem to you unimportant. But change your name to a foolish one – even for two weeks – and see what happens to you. Some of the Elephant family did, in fact, change their name to Olliphant; but George’s father said that what was good enough for his father was also good enough for him. He kept the name Elephant.
George, indeed, had no pride in his name but, for no exact reason, was unwilling to change it. So he suffered the smiles of shopgirls when he gave his name, and the continual jokes of the people on the telephone. He even thought of giving up the telephone, but he needed it and so he kept it.
When he married Jane he had hoped she would make his difficulties lighter.