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Chapter 32

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« on: January 30, 2023, 10:00:27 am »

THE public interest in the Holymead trial on the second day was even greater than on the first. It was realised that Kemp's evidence had given an unexpected turn to the proceedings, and that if it could be substantiated the jury's verdict would be "not guilty." There were confident persons who insisted that Kemp's evidence was sufficient to acquit the prisoner. But every one grasped the fact that the Counsel for the prosecution, by his action in applying for an adjournment of the cross-examination of Kemp, clearly realised that his case was in danger if the evidence of the first witness for the defence could not be broken down.

The public appetite for sensation having been whetted by sensational newspaper reports of the latest phase of the Riversbrook mystery, there was a great rush of people to the Old Bailey early on the morning of the second day to witness the final stages of the trial. The queue in Newgate Street commenced to assemble at daybreak, and grew longer and longer as the day wore on, but it was composed of persons who did not know that there was not the slightest possibility of their gaining admittance to Number One Court. The policeman who was invested with the duty of keeping the queue close to the wall of the building forbore to break this sad news to them. Being faithful to the limitations of the official mind, he believed that the right thing to do was to let the people in the queue receive this important information from the sergeant inside. How was he to know without authority from his superior officer that any of these people wanted to be admitted to Number One Court? So the policeman pared his nails, gallantly "minding" the places of pretty girls in the queue who, worn out by hours of waiting in the cold, desired to slip away to a neighbouring tea-shop to get a cup of tea before the court opened, and sternly rebuking enterprising youths who endeavoured to wedge themselves in ahead of their proper place.

The body of the court was packed before the proceedings commenced. The number of ladies present was even greater than on the first day, and the resources of the ushers were severely taxed to find accommodation for them all. In the back row Crewe noticed Mrs. Holymead, accompanied by Mademoiselle Chiron. They had not been in court on the previous day. Mrs. Holymead seemed anxious to escape notice, but Crewe could see that although she looked anxious and distressed, she was buoyed up by a new hope, which doubtless had come to her since Kemp had given his evidence.

There was an expectant silence in the court when Mr. Justice Hodson took his seat and the names of the jurymen were called over. Kemp entered the witness-box with a more confident air than he had worn the previous day. Mr. Walters rose to begin his cross-examination, and the witness faced the barrister with the air of an old hand who knew the game, and was not to be caught by any legal tricks or traps.

"You said yesterday, witness," commenced Mr. Walters, adjusting his glasses and glancing from his brief to the witness and from the witness back to the brief again, "that you saw the prisoner enter the gate at Riversbrook about 9.30 on the night of the 18th of August?"

"Yes." The monosyllable was flung out as insolently as possible. The speaker watched his interrogator with the lowering eyes of a man at war with society, and who realised that he was facing one of his natural enemies.

"Did he see you?"

"No."

"You are quite sure of that?"

"Haven't I just said so?"

"Do not be insolent, witness"—it was the judge's warning voice that broke into the cross-examination—"answer the questions."

"How long was it after the prisoner entered the carriage drive that you went to the edge of the plantation and heard voices upstairs?" continued Mr. Walters.

"I went as soon as Mr. Holymead passed me."

"How far were you from the house?"

"About sixty yards."

"And from that distance you could hear the voices?"

"Yes."

"Plainly?"

"Not very. I could hear the voices, but I couldn't hear what they were saying."

"Were they angry voices?"

"They seemed to me to be talking loudly."

"Yet you couldn't hear what they were saying?"

"No; I was sixty yards away."

"You said in your evidence in chief that the talking continued half an hour. Did you time it?"

"No."

"Then what made you swear that?"

"I said about half an hour. I smoked out a pipeful of tobacco while I was standing there, and that would be about half an hour." Kemp disclosed his broken teeth in a faint grin.

"What happened next?"

"I heard the front door slam, and I saw somebody walking across the garden, and go into the carriage drive towards the gate."

"Did you recognise who it was?"

"Yes; Mr. Holymead." Kemp looked at the prisoner as he gave the answer.

"You swear it was the prisoner?"

"I do."

"Let me recall your evidence in chief, witness. You swore that you identified Mr. Holymead as he went in because he struck a match to look at the time as he passed you, and you saw his face. Did he strike matches as he went out?"

"No."

"Then how are you able to swear so positively as to his identity in the dark?"

Kemp considered a moment before replying.

"Because I know him well and I was close to him," he said at length. "I was close enough to him almost to touch him. I knew him by his walk, and by the look of him. It was him right enough, I'll swear to that."

"I put it to you, witness," persisted Counsel, "that you could not positively identify a man in a plantation at that time of night. Do you still swear it was Mr. Holymead?"

"I do," replied Kemp doggedly.

"What did you do then?"

"I stayed where I was."

"What for?"

"I don't know. I didn't have any particular reason. I just stayed there watching."

"Did you think the prisoner might return?"

"No," replied the witness quickly. "Why should I think that?"

"How long did you stay watching the house?"

"It might be a matter of ten minutes more."

"And the prisoner didn't return during that time?"

"No," replied the witness emphatically.

"What did you do after that?"

"I went to the Tube station."

"Prisoner might have returned after you left?"

"I suppose he might," replied the witness reluctantly.

"Well, now, witness, you say you stayed ten minutes after Holymead left, and during that time Sir Horace opened the window and leaned out of it?"

"Yes."

"You saw him distinctly?"

"Yes."

"You are sure it was Sir Horace Fewbanks?"

"Yes."

"Now, witness," said Mr. Walters, suddenly changing his tone to one of more severity than he had previously used, "you have told us that you heard Sir Horace Fewbanks and the prisoner in the library while you stood in the wood by the garage, and that subsequently you saw Sir Horace leaning out of the window after the prisoner had gone. You are quite sure you were able to see and hear all this from where you stood?"

"Yes."

"Are you aware, witness, that there is a large chestnut-tree at the side of the library, in front of the window?"

Kemp considered for a moment.

"Yes," he said.

"And did not that tree obstruct your view of the library window?"

"No."

"Witness," said Mr. Walters solemnly, "listen to me. This tree did not obstruct your view when you went to Riversbrook a week or so ago to decide on the nature of the evidence you would give in this court. It is bare of leaves now, and you could see the library window and even see into the library from where you stood. But I put it to you that on the 18th of August, when this tree was covered with its summer foliage, you could no more have seen the library window behind its branches than you could have seen the inhabitants of Mars. What answer have you got to that, witness?"

There was a slight stir in court—an expression of the feeling of tension among the spectators. Kemp drew the back of his hand across his lips, then moistened his lips with his tongue.

"Come, witness, give me an answer," thundered prosecuting Counsel.

"I tell you I saw him after Mr. Holymead had left," declared Kemp defiantly. His voice had suddenly become hoarse.

To the surprise of the members of the legal profession who were in court, Mr. Walters, instead of pressing home his advantage, switched off to something else.

"I believe you have a feeling of gratitude towards the prisoner?" he asked, in a milder tone.

"I have," said Kemp. His defiant, insolent attitude had suddenly vanished, and he gave the impression of a man who feared that every question contained a trap.

"He did something for a relative of yours which at that time greatly relieved your mind?"

"He did, and I'll never forget it."

"Well, we won't go further into that at present. But it is a fact that you would like to do him a good turn?"

"Yes."

"You came here with the intention of doing him a good turn?"

Kemp considered for a moment before answering:

"Yes."

"You came here with the intention of giving evidence that would get him off?"

"Yes."

"You came here with the intention of committing perjury in order to get him off?" Mr. Walters waited, but there was no reply to the question, and he added, "You see what your perjured evidence has done for him?"

"What has it done?" asked Kemp sullenly.

"It has established the prisoner's guilt beyond all reasonable doubt in the minds of men of common sense. You did not see Sir Horace Fewbanks that night after the prisoner left him. You could not have seen him even if he had leaned out of the window. But your whole story is a lie, because Sir Horace was dead when the prisoner left him."

"He was not," shouted Kemp. "I saw him alive. I saw him as plain as I see you now."

The man in court who was most fascinated by the witness was Crewe. He had watched every movement of Kemp's face, every change in the tone of his voice.

"I wonder what the fool will say next," whispered Inspector Chippenfield to Crewe.

"He will tell us how Sir Horace Fewbanks was shot," was Crewe's reply.

Mr. Walters approached a step nearer to the witness-box. "You saw him as plainly as you see me now?" he repeated.

"Yes," declared Kemp, who, it was evident, was labouring under great excitement. "You say I came here to commit perjury if it would get him off." He pointed with a dramatic finger to the man in the dock. "I did. And I came here to get him off by telling the truth if perjury didn't do it. You say I've helped to put the rope round his neck. But I'm man enough to tell the truth. I'll get him off even if I have to swing for it myself."

This outburst from the witness-box created a sensation in court. Many of the spectators stood up in order to get a better view of the witness, and some of the ladies even jumped on their seats. Mr. Justice Hodson was momentarily taken aback. His first instinct was to check the witness and to ask him to be calm, but the witness took no notice of him. He displayed his judicial authority by an impressive descent of an uplifted hand which compelled the unruly spectators to resume their seats.

It was on Mr. Walters that Kemp concentrated his attention. It was Mr. Walters whom he set himself to convince as if he were the man who could set the prisoner free. Of the rest of the people in court Kemp in his excitement had become oblivious.

"Listen to me," said Kemp, "and I'll tell you who shot this scoundrel. He was a scoundrel, I say, and he ought to have been in gaol himself instead of sending other people there. I went up to the house that night to see if everything was clear, or whether that cur Hill had laid a trap—that part of my evidence is true. And from behind a tree in the plantation I saw Mr. Holymead pass me—he struck a match to look at the time, and I saw his face distinctly. A few minutes afterwards I heard loud, angry voices coming from somewhere upstairs in the house. I thought the best thing I could do was to find out what it was about. I said to myself that Mr. Holymead might want help. I walked across the garden and found that the hall door was wide open. I went inside and crept upstairs to the library. The light in the hall was turned on, as well as a little lamp on the turn of the staircase behind a marble figure holding some curtains, which led the way to the library. The library door was open an inch or two, and I listened.

"I could hear them quite plainly. Mr. Holymead was telling him what he thought of him. And no wonder. It made my blood boil to think of such a scoundrel sitting on the bench and sentencing better men than himself. I thought of the way in which he had killed my girl by giving her five years. It was the shock that killed her. Five years for stealing nothing, for she didn't handle the jewels. And here he had been stealing a man's wife and nothing said except what Mr. Holymead called him. I stood there listening in case they started to fight, and I might be wanted. But they didn't.

"I heard Mr. Holymead step towards the door, and I slipped away from where I had been standing. I saw the door of another room near me, and I opened it and went in quickly. I closed the door behind me, but I did not shut it. I looked through the crack and saw Mr. Holymead making his way downstairs. He walked as if he didn't see anything, and I watched him till he went through the curtains on the stairs at the bend of the staircase and I could see him no more.

"Then I heard a step, and looking through the crack I saw the judge coming out of the library. He walked to the head of the stairs and began to walk slowly down them. But when he reached the bend where the curtains and the marble figure were, he turned round and walked up the stairs again. He walked along as though he was thinking, with his hands behind his back, and nodding his head a little, and a little cruel, crafty smile on his face. He passed so close to me that I could have touched him by putting out my hand, and he went into the library again, leaving the door open behind him.

"Then suddenly, as I stood there, the thought came over me to go in to him and tell him what I thought about him. I opened the door softly so as not to frighten him, and walked out into the passage and into the library, and as I did so I took my revolver out of my pocket and carried it in my hand. I wasn't going to shoot him, but I meant to hold him up while I told him the truth.

"He was standing at the opposite side of the room with his back towards me and a book in his hand, but a board creaked as I stepped on it, and he swung round quickly. He was surprised to see me, and no mistake. 'What do you want here?' he said, in a sharp voice, and I could see by the way he eyed the revolver that he was frightened. Then I opened out on him and told him off for the damned scoundrel he was. And he didn't like that either. He edged away to a corner, but I kept following him round the room telling him what I thought of him. And seeing him so frightened, I put the revolver back in my pocket and walked close to him while I told him all the things I could think of.

"As I thought of my poor girl that he'd killed I grew savage, and I told him that I had a good mind to break every bone in his body. He threatened to have me arrested for breaking into the place, but I only laughed and hit him across the face. He backed away from me with a wicked look in his eyes, and I followed him. He backed quickly towards the door, and before I knew what game he was up to be made a dart out of the room. But I was too quick for him. I got him at the head of the stairs and dragged him back into the room and shut the door and stood with my back against it. I told him I hadn't finished with him. I had mastered him so quickly, and was able to handle him so easily, that I didn't watch him as closely as I ought to have done. He had backed away to his desk with his hand behind him, and suddenly he brought it up with a revolver in his hand.

"'Now it's my turn,' he said to me with his cunning smile. Throw up your hands.'

"I saw then it was man for man. If I let him take me I was in for a good seven years. I'd sooner be dead than do seven years for him. 'Shoot and be damned,' I said. I ducked as I spoke, and as I ducked I made a dive with my hand for my hip pocket where I had put my revolver. He fired and missed. He fired again, but his toy revolver missed fire, for I heard the hammer click. But that was his last chance. I fired at his heart and he dropped beside the desk, I didn't wait for anything more—I bolted. I got tangled in the staircase curtains and fell down the stairs. As I was falling I thought what a nice trap I would be in if I broke my leg and had to lie there until the police came. But I wasn't much hurt and I got up and dashed out of the house and over the fence into the wood, the way I came."

He stopped, and his gaze wandered round the hushed court till it rested on the prisoner, who with his hands grasping the rail of the dock had leaned forward in order to catch every word. Kemp turned his gaze from the man in the dock to the man in the scarlet robe on the bench, and it was to the judge that he addressed his concluding words.

"You can call it murder, you can call it manslaughter, you can call it justifiable homicide, you can call it what you like, but what I say is that the man you have in the dock had nothing to do with it. It was me that killed him. Let him go, and put me in his place."

He held his hands outstretched with the wrists together as though waiting for the handcuffs to be placed on them.

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