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Chapter 30

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« on: January 30, 2023, 09:41:14 am »

THE impending trial of Holymead produced almost as much excitement in staid legal circles as it did among the general public. It was rumoured that there was a difficulty in obtaining a judge to preside at the trial, as they all objected to being placed in the position of trying a man who was well-known to them and with whom most of them had been on friendly terms. There was a great deal of sympathy for the prisoner among the judges. Of course, they could not admit that any man had the right to take the law into his own hands, but they realised that if any wrong done to an individual could justify this course it was the wrong Sir Horace Fewbanks had done to an old friend.

When it became known that Mr. Justice Hodson was to preside at the Old Bailey during the trial of Holymead, legal rumour concerned itself with statements to the effect that there was now a difficulty in obtaining a K.C. to undertake the prosecution. When it was discovered that Mr. Walters, K.C., was to conduct the prosecution, it was whispered that he had asked to be relieved of the work and had even waited on the Attorney-General in the matter, but that the latter had told him that he must put his personal feelings aside and act in accordance with that high sense of duty he had always shown in his professional career.

In Newgate Street a long queue of people waited for admission to Old Bailey on the day the trial was to begin. They were inspected by two fat policemen to decide whether they appeared respectable enough to be entitled to a free seat at the entertainment in Number One Court. When the doors opened at 10.15 a.m. the first batch of them were admitted, but on reaching the top of the stairs, where they were inspected by a sergeant, they were informed that all the seats in the gallery of Number One Court had been filled, but that he would graciously permit them to go to Numbers Two, Three, Four, or Five Courts. Those who were not satisfied with this generosity could get out the way they had come in and be quick about it. What the sergeant did not explain was that so many people with social influence had applied to the presiding judge for permission to be present at the trial that it had been found necessary to reserve the gallery for them as well as most of the seats in the body of the court. Fashionably-dressed ladies and well-groomed men drove up to the main entrance of the Old Bailey in motors and taxi-cabs. The scene was as busy as the scene outside a West End theatre on a first night. The services of several policemen were necessary to regulate the arrival and departure of taxi-cabs and motor-cars and to keep back the staring mob of disappointed people who had been refused admission to the court by the fat sergeant, but were determined to see as much as they could before they went away. Elderly ladies and young ladies were assisted from smart motor-cars by their escorts, and greeted their friends with feminine fervour. Some of the younger ones exchanged whispered regrets, as they swept into the court, that such a fine-looking man as Holymead should have got himself into such a terrible predicament.

The legal profession was numerously represented among the spectators in the body of the court. So many distinguished members of the profession had applied for tickets of admission that there was little room for members of the junior bar. It was many years since a trial had created so much interest in legal circles. When Mr. Justice Hodson entered the court, followed by no fewer than eight of the Sheriffs of London, those present in the court rose. The members of the profession bowed slowly in the direction of His Honour. The prisoner was brought into the dock from below, and took the seat that was given to him beside one of the two warders who remained in the dock with him. He looked a little careworn, as though with sleepless nights, but his strong, clean-shaven face was as resolute as ever, and betrayed nothing of the mental agony which he endured. His keen dark eyes glanced quietly through the court, and though many members of the bar smiled at him when they thought they had caught his eye, he gave no smile in return. As he looked at Mr. Justice Hodson, the distinguished judge inclined his head to what was almost a nod of recognition, but the prisoner looked calmly at the judge as though he had never seen him before and had never been inside a court in his life till then.

Among those persons standing in the body of the court were Crewe and Inspector Chippenfield and Detective Rolfe. Inspector Chippenfield displayed so much friendliness to Crewe as he drew his attention to the number of celebrities in court that it was evident he had buried for the time being his professional enmity. This was because Crewe had allowed him to appropriate some of the credit of unravelling Holymead's connection with the crime. As the jury were being sworn in Crewe and Chippenfield made their way out of court into the corridor. As they were to be called as witnesses they would not be allowed in court until after they had given their evidence.

Mr. Walters in his opening address paid tribute to the exceptional circumstances of the case by some slight show of nervousness. Several times he insisted that the case was what he termed unique. The prisoner in the dock was a man who by his distinguished abilities had won for himself a leading position at the bar, and had been honoured and respected by all who knew him. It was not the first occasion that a member of the legal profession had been placed on trial on a capital charge, though he was glad to say, for the honour of the profession, that cases of the kind were extremely rare. But what made the case unique was that it was not the first trial in connection with the murder of Sir Horace Fewbanks, and that at the first trial when a man named Frederick Birchill had been placed in the dock, the prisoner now before the court had appeared as defending Counsel, and by his brilliant conduct of the defence had materially contributed to the verdict of acquittal which had been brought in by the jury. Some evidence would be placed before the jury about the first trial and the conduct of the defence. He ventured to assert that the jury would find in this evidence some damaging facts against the prisoner—that they would find a clear indication that the prisoner had defended Birchill because he knew himself to be guilty of this murder, and felt an obligation on him to place his legal knowledge and forensic powers at the disposal of a man whom he knew to be innocent. At the former trial the prisoner, as Counsel for the defence, had attempted to throw suspicion on a man named Hill, who had been butler to the late Sir Horace Fewbanks, but evidence would be placed before the jury to show that in doing so the prisoner had been smitten by some pangs of conscience at casting suspicion on a man who he knew was not guilty.

It was not incumbent on the prosecution to prove a motive for the murder, continued Mr. Walters, though where the motive was plainly proved the case against the prisoner was naturally strengthened. In this case there was no doubt about the motive, but the extent of the evidence to be placed before the jury under that head would depend upon the defence. The prosecution would submit some evidence on the point, but the full story could only be told if the defence placed the wife of the prisoner in the witness-box. It was impossible for the prosecution to call her as a witness, as English law prevented a wife giving evidence against her husband. She could, however, give evidence in favour of her husband, and doubtless the defence would take full advantage of the privilege of calling her.

The evidence which he intended to call would show that for years past very friendly relations had existed between the prisoner and the murdered man. They had been at Cambridge together and had studied law together in chambers. Their friendship continued after their marriages. The prisoner had married a second time, and at that time Sir Horace Fewbanks was a widower. Sir Horace Fewbanks was what was known as a ladies' man, and at the previous trial prisoner, as defending Counsel, had tried to bring out that Sir Horace was a man of immoral reputation among women. There was no doubt that the prisoner, during Sir Horace's absence in Scotland, became convinced that Sir Horace had been paying attention to his wife. There was no doubt that, being a man of a jealous disposition, his suspicions went beyond that. At any rate he wrote a letter to Sir Horace at Craigleith Hall, where the latter was shooting, asking him to come to London at once. In order to induce Sir Horace to return, and in order not to arouse suspicion as to his real object, he concocted a story about a vacancy in the Court of Appeal Bench to which, it appeared, Sir Horace Fewbanks desired to be appointed. In this letter, which would be produced in evidence, the prisoner pretended to be working in Sir Horace's interests, and offered to meet him on the night of his return at Riversbrook and let him know fully how matters stood. Sir Horace apparently wrote to the prisoner making an appointment with him for the night of the 18th of August. The prisoner kept that appointment, charged Sir Horace with carrying on an intrigue with his wife, and then shot him.

"That is the case for the prosecution which I will endeavour to establish to the satisfaction of the jury," said Mr. Walters, in concluding his speech, "Of course it is impossible to produce direct evidence of the actual shooting. But I will produce a silent but indisputable witness in the form of a glove which belonged to the prisoner, that he was present in the room in which the murder took place. I will produce evidence to show that the prisoner left his stick behind in the hat-stand in the hall on the night of the murder. These things prove conclusively that he left Riversbrook in a state of considerable excitement. The fact that after the murder was discovered he kept hidden in his own breast the knowledge that he had been there on that night, instead of going to the police and, in the endeavour to assist them to detect the murderer of his lifelong friend, informing them that he had called on Sir Horace, shows conclusively that he went there on a mission on which he dared not throw the light of day."

Those witnesses who had given evidence at the police court were called and repeated their statements. Inspector Seldon was closely cross-examined by Mr. Lethbridge as to the way in which the dead body was dressed when he discovered it. He declared that Sir Horace had been wearing a light lounge suit of grey colour, a silk shirt, wing collar and black bow tie. Dr. Slingsby's cross-examination was directed to ascertaining as near as possible the time when the murder was committed, but this was a point on which the witness allowed himself to be irritatingly indefinite. The murder might have taken place three or four hours before midnight on the 18th of August, and on the other hand it might have taken place any time up to three or four hours after midnight.

Hill, who had not been available as a witness at the police court—being then on the way back from America in response to a cablegram from Crewe—reappeared as a witness. He looked much more at ease in the witness-box than on the occasion when he gave evidence against Birchill. He had fully recovered from his terror of being arrested for the murder, and obviously had much satisfaction in giving evidence against the man who, according to his impression, had tried to bring the crime home to him.

He gave evidence as to the unexpected return of his master from Scotland on the 18th of August, and also in regard to the relations between his master and Mrs. Holymead. On several occasions he had seen his master kiss Mrs. Holymead, and once he had heard the door of the room in which they were together being locked.

Two new witnesses were called to testify to the suggestion of the prosecution that illicit relations had existed between Sir Horace Fewbanks and Mrs. Holymead. These were Philip Williams, who had been the dead man's chauffeur, and Dorothy Mason, who had been housemaid at Riversbrook. The chauffeur gave evidence as to meeting Mrs. Holymead's car at various places in the country. He formed the opinion from the first that these meetings between Sir Horace and the lady were not accidental.

The last of the prosecution's witnesses was the legal shorthand writer who had taken the official report of the trial of Birchill. In response to the request of Mr. Walters, he read from his notebook the final passage in the opening address delivered by the prisoner at that trial as defending Counsel: "'It is my duty to convince you that my client is not guilty, or, in other words, to convince you that the murder was committed before he reached the house. It is only with the greatest reluctance that I take upon myself the responsibility of pointing an accusing finger at another man. In crimes of this kind you cannot expect to get anything but circumstantial evidence. But there are degrees of circumstantial evidence, and my duty to my client lays upon me the obligation of pointing out to you that there is one person against whom the existing circumstantial evidence is stronger than it is against my client.'"

Mr. Lethbridge was unexpectedly brief in his opening address. He ridiculed the idea that a man like the prisoner, trained in the atmosphere of the law, would take the law into his own hands in seeking revenge for a wrong that had been done to him. According to the prosecution the prisoner had calmly and deliberately carried out this murder. He had sent a letter to Sir Horace Fewbanks with the object of inducing him to return to London, and had subsequently gone to Riversbrook and shot the man who had been his lifelong friend. Could anything be more improbable than to suppose that a man of the accused's training, intellect, and force of character, would be swayed by a gust of passion into committing such a dreadful crime like an immature ignorant youth of unbalanced temperament? The discovery that his wife and his friend were carrying on an intrigue would be more likely to fill him with disgust than inspire him with murderous rage. He would not deny that accused had gone up to Riversbrook a few hours after Sir Horace Fewbanks returned from Scotland; he would admit that when the accused sought this interview he knew that his quondam friend had done him the greatest wrong one man could do another; but he emphatically denied that the prisoner killed Sir Horace Fewbanks or threatened to take his life.

His learned friend had asked why had not the prisoner gone to the police after the murder was discovered and told them that he had seen Sir Horace at Riversbrook that night. The answer to that was clear and emphatic. He did not want to take the police into his confidence with regard to the relations that had existed between his wife and the dead man. He wanted to save his wife's name from scandal. Was not that a natural impulse for a high-minded man? The prisoner had believed that in due course the police would discover the actual murderer, and that in the meantime the scandal which threatened his wife's name would be buried with the man who had wronged her. If the prisoner could have prevented it his wife's name would not have been dragged into this case even for the purpose of saving himself from injustice. But the prosecution, in order to establish a motive for the crime, had dragged this scandal into light. He did not blame the prosecution in the least for that. In fact he was grateful to his learned friend for doing so, for it had released him from a promise extracted from him by the prisoner not to make any use of the matter in his conduct of the case. The defence was that, although the accused man had gone to Riversbrook on the night of the 18th of August to accuse Sir Horace Fewbanks of base treachery, he went there unarmed, and with no intention of committing violence. No threats were used and no shot was fired during the interview. And in proof of the latter contention he intended to call witnesses to prove that Sir Horace Fewbanks was alive after the prisoner had left the house.

The name of Daniel Kemp was loudly called by the ushers, and when Kemp crossed the court on the way to the witness-box, Chippenfield and Crewe, who had returned to the court after giving their evidence, looked at one another.

"He's a dead man," whispered Chippenfield, nodding his head towards the prisoner, "if this is a sample of their witnesses."

Kemp had brushed himself up for his appearance in the witness-box. He wore a new ready-made tweed suit; his thick neck was encased in a white linen collar which he kept fingering with one hand as though trying to loosen it for his greater comfort; and his hair had been plastered flat on his head with plenty of cold water. His red and scratched chin further indicated that he had taken considerable pains with a razor to improve his personal appearance in keeping with his unwonted part of a respectable witness in a place which knew a more sinister side of him. As he stood in the witness-box, awkwardly avoiding the significant glances that the Scotland Yard men and the police cast at him, he appeared to be more nervous and anxious than he usually was when in the dock. But Crewe, who was watching him closely, was struck by the look of dog-like devotion he hurriedly cast at the weary face of the man in the dock before he commenced to give his evidence.

He told the court a remarkable story. He declared that Birchill had told him on the 16th of August that he had a job on at Riversbrook, and had asked him to join him in it. When Birchill explained the details witness declined to have a hand in it. He did not like these put-up jobs.

Mr. Lethbridge interposed to explain to any particularly unsophisticated jurymen that "a put-up job" meant a burglary that had been arranged with the connivance of a servant in the house to be broken into.

Kemp declared that the reason he had declined to have anything to do with the project to burgle Riversbrook was that he felt sure Hill would squeak if the police threatened him when they came to investigate the burglary. He happened to be at Hampstead on the evening of the 18th of August and he took a walk along Tanton Gardens to have another look at the place which Birchill was to break into. It had occurred to him that things might not be square, and that Hill might have laid a trap for Birchill. That was about 9.30 p.m. He was just able to catch a glimpse of the house through the plantation in front of it. The mansion appeared all in darkness, but while he looked he was surprised to see a light appear in the upper portion of the house which was visible from the road. He went through the carriage gates with the intention of getting a closer view of the house. As he walked along he heard a quick footstep on the gravel walk behind him, and he slipped into the plantation. Looking out from behind a tree he could discern the figure of a man walking quickly towards the house. As he drew near him the man paused, struck a match and looked at his watch, and he saw that it was Mr. Holymead. Witness's suspicions in regard to a trap having been laid for Birchill were strengthened, and he decided to ascertain what was in the wind. He crept through the plantation to the edge of the garden in front of the house. From there he could hear voices in a room upstairs. He tried to make out what was being said, but he was too far away for that. In about half an hour the voices stopped, and a minute later a man came out of the house and walked down the path through the garden, and entered the carriage drive close to where witness was concealed in the plantation. As he passed him witness saw that it was Mr. Holymead.

About five minutes afterwards the window upstairs in the room where the voices had come from was opened, and Sir Horace Fewbanks leaned out and looked at the sky as if to ascertain what sort of a night it was. He was quite certain that it was Sir Horace Fewbanks. He was well acquainted with that gentleman's features, having been sentenced by him three years ago. Sir Horace seemed quite calm and collected. Witness was so surprised to see him, after having been told by Birchill that he was in Scotland, that he did not take his eyes off him during the two or three minutes that he remained at the window, breathing the night air. Sir Horace was fully dressed. He had on a light tweed suit, and he was wearing a soft shirt of a light colour, with a stiff collar, and a small black bow tie. When Sir Horace closed the window witness jumped over the fence back into the wood and made his way to the Hampstead Tube station with the intention of warning Birchill that Sir Horace Fewbanks was at home. He waited at the station over an hour, and as he did not see Birchill he then made his way home. During the time he was in the garden at Riversbrook listening to the voices, he heard no sound of a shot. He was certain that no shot had been fired inside the house from the time the prisoner entered the house until he left. Had a shot been fired witness could not have failed to hear it.

There could be no doubt that the effect produced in court by the evidence of the witness was extremely favourable to the prisoner. Kemp had told a plain, straightforward story. The fact that he had shown no reluctance in disclosing in his evidence that he was a criminal and the associate of criminals seemed to add to the credibility of his evidence. It was felt that he would not have come to court to swear falsely on behalf of a man who was so far removed from the class to which he belonged.

While Kemp was giving his evidence, Crewe had despatched a messenger to his chambers in Holborn for Joe. When the boy returned with the messenger Kemp was still in the witness-box, undergoing an examination at the hands of the judge. Sir Henry Hodson seemed to have been impressed by the witness's story, for he asked Kemp a number of questions, and entered his answers in his notebook.

"Joe," whispered Crewe, as the boy stole noiselessly behind him, "look at that man in the witness-box. Have you ever seen him before?"

"Rayther, guv'nor!" whispered the boy in reply. "Why, it's 'im who tried to frighten me in the loft if I didn't promise to give up watching Mr. Holymead."

"You are quite certain, Joe?"

"Certain sure, guv'nor. There ain't no charnst of me mistaking a man like that."

Crewe listened intently to Kemp's evidence, and he watched the man's face as he swore that he had seen Sir Horace Fewbanks leaning out of the window after Holymead had left the house. He hastily took out a notebook, scribbled a few lines on one of the leaves, tore it out, and beckoned to a court usher.

"Take that to Mr. Walters," he whispered.

The man did so. Mr. Walters opened the note, adjusted his glasses and read it. He started with surprise, read the note through again, then turned round as though in search of the writer. When he saw Crewe he raised his eyebrows interrogatively, and the detective nodded emphatically.

Mr. Lethbridge sat down, having finished his examination of Kemp. Mr.
Walters, with another glance at Crewe's note, rose slowly in his place.

"I ask Your Honour that I may be allowed to defer until the morning my cross-examination of this witness," he said. "I am, of course, in Your Honour's hands in this matter, but I can assure Your Honour that it is desirable—highly desirable—in the interests of justice that the cross-examination of the witness should be postponed."

"I protest, Your Honour, against the cross-examination of the witness being deferred," said Mr. Lethbridge. "There is no justification of it."

"I would urge Your Honour to accede to my request," said Mr. Walters. "It is a matter of the utmost importance."

"Is your next witness available, Mr. Lethbridge?" asked the judge.

"Surely, Your Honour, you're not going to allow the cross-examination of this witness to be postponed?" protested Mr. Lethbridge. "My learned friend has given no reason for such a course."

Sir Henry Hodson looked at the court clock.

"It is now within a quarter of an hour of the ordinary time for adjournment," he began. "I think the fairest way out of the difficulty will be to adjourn the court now until to-morrow morning."

There was a loud buzz of conversation when the court adjourned. After asking Chippenfield and Rolfe to wait for him, Crewe made his way to Mr. Walters, and, after a few whispered words with that gentleman, Mr. Mathers, his junior, and Mr. Salter, the instructing solicitor, he returned to Chippenfield and Rolfe and asked them to accompany him in a taxi-cab to Riversbrook.

"What do you want to go out there for?" asked Inspector Chippenfield. "You don't expect to discover anything there this late in the day, do you?"

"I want to find out whether this man Kemp is lying or telling the truth."

"Of course he is lying," replied the positive police official. "When you've had as much experience with criminals as I have had, Mr. Crewe, you won't expect a word of truth from any of them."

"Well, let us go to Riversbrook and prove that he is lying," said Crewe.

"We'll go with you," said Inspector Chippenfield, speaking for Rolfe and himself. He did not understand how Crewe expected to obtain any evidence at Riversbrook about the truth or falsity of Kemp's story, but he did not intend to admit that. "But you can set your mind at rest. No jury will believe Kemp after we've given them his record in cross-examination."

Rolfe, whose association with Crewe in the case had awakened in him a keen admiration for the private detective's methods and abilities, permitted himself to defy his superior officer to the extent of saying that "the best way to prove Kemp a liar is to prove that his story is false."

During the drive to Hampstead from the Old Bailey the three men discussed Kemp and his past record. It was recalled that less than twelve months ago, while he was serving three years for burglary, his daughter had provided the newspapers with a sensation by dying in the dock while sentence was being passed on her. According to Inspector Chippenfield, who had been in charge of the case against her, she was a stylish, good-looking girl, and when dressed up might easily have been mistaken for a lady.

"She got in touch with a flash gang of railway thieves from America," said Inspector Chippenfield, helping himself to a cigar from Crewe's proffered case. "They used to work the express trains, robbing the passengers in the sleeping berths. She was neatly caught at Victoria Station in calling for a dressing-case that had been left at the cloak room by one of the gang. Inside the dressing-case was Lady Sinclair's jewel case, which had been stolen on the journey up from Brighton. The thief, being afraid that he might be stopped at Victoria Station when the loss of the jewel case was discovered, had placed it inside his dressing-case, and had left the dressing-case at the cloak room. He sent Dora Kemp for it a few days later, as he believed he had outwitted the police. But I'd got on to the track of the jewels, and after removing them from the dressing-case in the cloak room I had the cloak room watched. When Dora Kemp called for the dressing-case and handed in the cloakroom ticket, the attendant gave my men the signal and she was arrested."

"She died of heart disease while on trial, didn't she?" asked Crewe.

"Yes," replied Inspector Chippenfield. "Sir Horace Fewbanks was the judge. He gave her five years. And no sooner were the words out of his mouth than she threw up her hands and fell forward in the dock. She was dead when they picked her up."

"She was as game as they make them," put in Rolfe. "We tried to get her to give the others away, but she wouldn't, though she would have got off with a few months if she had. The gang got frightened and cleared out. They left her in the lurch, but she wouldn't give one of them away."

"It was Holymead who defended her," said Chippenfield. "It was a strange thing for him to do—leading barristers don't like touching criminal cases, because, as a rule, there is little money and less credit to be got out of them. But Holymead did some queer things at times, as you know. He must have taken up the case out of interest in the girl herself, for I'm certain she hadn't the money to brief him. And I did hear afterwards that Holymead undertook to see that she was decently buried."

"Why, that explains it!" exclaims Crewe, in the voice of a man who had solved a difficulty.

"Explains what?" asked Inspector Chippenfield.

"Explains why her father has taken the risk of coming forward in this case to give evidence for Holymead. Gratitude for what Holymead had done for his girl while he was in prison. My experience of criminals is that they frequently show more real gratitude to those who do them a good turn than people in a respectable walk of life. Besides, you know what a sentimental value people of his class attach to seeing their kin buried decently. If Holymead hadn't come forward the girl would have been buried as a pauper, in all probability."

"But I don't see that old Kemp is taking much risk," said Inspector Chippenfield. "He is only perjuring himself, and he is too used to that to regard it as a risk."

"Don't you think he will be in an awkward position if the jury were to acquit Holymead?" asked Crewe. "One jury has already said that Sir Horace Fewbanks was dead when Birchill broke into the house, and if this jury believes Kemp's story and says Sir Horace was alive when Holymead left it, don't you think Kemp will conclude that it will be best for him to disappear? Some one must have killed Sir Horace after Holymead left, and before Birchill arrived."

"Whew! I never thought of that," said Rolfe candidly.

"Kemp is a liar from first to last," said Inspector Chippenfield decisively.

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