The narrow, winding mountain road clung desperately to the edge of a steep and narrow valley, as it wound its tortuous course downwards to a curved, defiant stone bridge across a river in the village on the valley floor. On the other side of the bridge, from high upstream, the river ceaselessly continued its life-work: cascading over rocks and catching its breath in the deceptive stillness of pools between the rapids, before launching itself onto more rocks below, so that it might subdue the hills and one day make the valley much longer and wider.
After crossing the bridge, the road was flanked by the river and a village green that lay in shade for most of each day, firstly by the hills on its east until late morning, when the spreading branches of oaks and cedars that defined its perimeters took their turn, before handing on the baton of shade duties to the hills on the western flank.
The village was a half-circle of about fifty cottages that lined the narrow lanes which radiated away from a cluster of small shops, an inn and stone church with a yard that led a double-life as the local cemetery. Everyone knew everyone else, so if at any time you did not know what you were doing, everyone else did. And there was never any luxury of a secret arrival or a secret departure in this idyllic setting, for the road out of town clambered its way up the other side of the valley, so travellers were clearly visible long before they arrived and long after they departed.
The valley was also narrow enough to enable travellers on each road to actually converse with each other on their separate journeys.
The strength of this community was the trust that villagers had in each other.
Most of the time.
But now the baker was feeling more than slightly suspicious about the ethics of the butcher, whose shop was right next door. Could this man be cheating him and, quite likely, the whole town? He did not want to complain before he could be sure, but yes, those one-pound cuts of meat were now regularly proving to be a few ounces short.
On the other hand, the butcher had become one of his most regular customers. In fact, he was buying bread each day, even before he displayed any meat for sale. And in small towns reputations cannot be slandered lightly.
The baker’s suspicions increased as he began quietly asking his friends to check the meat they had bought against his scales. Suspicion became hard evidence, so it quickly became time to take a stand. Now, publicly accused the butcher of dishonest trading, he arranged for him to face trial the next week, when the visiting magistrate was due.
The big day came and angry villagers crowded the square as the baker’s damning evidence unfolded before their august visitor, evidence that was corroborated by many other sworn testimonies, which further fuelled the noise and the tension.
The magistrate held up his hand for silence, which reluctantly arrived on the scene. “Before I can give any verdict, I must hear what the butcher has to say.”
Every eye was on the butcher as he stood before the whole town and opened his mouth to speak. “Your honour, I thank you for this opportunity to defend myself, as honestly as I can.
“Each day, for the last three weeks, while waiting to have my broken scales fixed, I have been buying a one-pound loaf of bread as a reliable measure!”
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