A country gentleman kept a court leet at his manor. However, because there was so little business, the judge came but once a year. Whenever the yearly court was held, the country gentleman always invited his neighbors to a fine feast.
One year, the judge arrived but found no one at court, so he went straight to the hall, where once again he discovered no one. As he was curious about the upcoming feast, he decided to visit the kitchen. But no one was in the kitchen either. With the cook absent, the judge “had full leisure to reconnoiter every place,” which in so doing, he soon discovered a pot full of water with a number of fine looking carp swimming in it.
The carp were “a spectacle which afforded him infinite pleasure.” Thinking about his dinner the next day, he decided he would pilfer one of the tasty carp “on the firm persuasion that though it should be missed, no one would suspect him; thus resolved, he put it into his breeches, concluding his pocket would be to insecure a place [to hide the carp].”
Having obtained his illicit prize, the judge returned to the hall where the dinner guests had begun to assemble. As it was winter and because it was a cold day, he decided to sit near the fire “in the midst of a large assemblage of beautiful women.” He also decided to ensure that his theft would not be discovered by covering his lap with a fur robe.
As he sat there, it did not take long before “the carp, feeling the warmth of the fire, began to leap about, which one of the ladies perceiving, she laughed most immoderately loud, though not without hiding her face with her muff.” Her laughter did not go unnoticed. The other ladies soon began whispering, snickering, and “peeping, every now and then, at the animated breeches of the Judge, but without guessing at the real cause which put them in motion.”
The judge was surprised at the unusual amount of merriment among the ladies. In fact, there was so much merriment, it got him wondering why, and he began to search for the reason. It did not take long before he discovered the women gave occasional glances towards his animated lap. Thus, he decided it was best to confess his secret.
He said, “I know very well, ladies, … that you laugh at me; I shall therefore immediately let you see the occasion of it!” With such a pronouncement, “his fair audience rose up in the greatest consternation, and half covered their eyes; but he jocosely begged them not to be alarmed.” He then pulled the carp from his pants and held it in mid-air, crying, “Here ladies … is the innocent object of your terror; but, I will lay a wager, that none of you imagined it to be fish!”
The gentlemen in attendance apparently expected nothing less from the male sex. They “laughed heartily at the adventure.” As for the women, you can be assured the last thing they expected was the judge to pull a live carp from his pants, and they spent “the remainder of the day, [rallying and regaining their poise].”
- Walker’s Hibernian Magazine, Or, Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge, 1790