The Scotsman Christmas Story: Edward Kane and The Matter of Honour (Chapter Eight)

Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane
Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane
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The Trial: Day Two

Trial day. NP Norris was already waiting for Edward Kane, smoking his pipe before the statue of Walter Scott in Parliament Hall: “It’s a bad sign, Edward. It’s a bad sign.”

“I’m sorry, Norval, I don’t quite…”

“Not a wink, Edward. I could not sleep a wink last night. Always a bad sign.”

Kane shook his head: “But yesterday seemed to go so well…”

“That’s the problem, my friend – it appears that we now have something to lose...”

*****

Police Sergeant Wilson pointed to Lord Albert in the dock: “Yes, sir. That’s Lord Albert there.”

Charles Cod was taking the evidence of the police Desk Sergeant who had spoken to the old nobleman directly after the event, when the confession was tendered at the police office.

The sergeant continued: “So he came in with his man, Harry Street, and he said he wanted to report a crime. And I say: ‘What is it then, Lord Albert?’ And he says: ‘I’ve just fought a duel with Jack Smith.’”

Cod smiled, looked at the jury and repeated: “Lord Albert said: ‘I have just fought a duel with Jack Smith’. And what happened then?”

“Then, he gave me his card. But we knew where to find him, because...”

At this point, Charles Cod put up his hand to silence the witness. This was to stop the policeman giving evidence of all the other reports to police of the many duels involving the old nobleman.

The witness realised why he had been silenced and continued: “...because, sir, we knew where he lived anyway.”

Cod smiled. Problem averted: “So what happened then?”

“Well then Lord Albert’s man, his Second Harry Street came and he wrote his own details on the back of the card.”

The prosecutor lifted a calling card from the table and handed it to the Bar Officer, who handed it to the witness: “Is this the card?”

The officer examined the calling card: “That’s the one, sir.” Sergeant Wilson was an experienced witness for the prosecution. He lifted the card up for the jury to see: “See - it’s got Harry Street’s writing on the back.”

Cod smiled. - “Thank you Sergeant Wilson. I have no more questions for you.” - and sat down.

Lord Wallis looked down at Norris: “Mr Norris?”

Norval Norris rose from the Defence side of the table. He was holding two sheets of paper in his hands. He addressed the police officer cordially: “Good morning, Sergeant Wilson.”

“Good morning, Mr Norris.”

NP continued: “Now, I should begin by saying that this is not the first time that you and I have had the pleasure of facing each other in court, is it?”

The sergeant replied: “I’ve given evidence in these courts a number of times, Mr Norris...” The witness broke into a broad grin: “...and I always seem to get questioned by you at some point, sir.”

The jury members laughed.

Norris continued: “Then you will be aware that many of the people that I choose to represent are found to be innocent, Sergeant Wilson.”

The policeman smiled, thought for a moment, then nodded: “Certainly - they have not been proven to be guilty. But I’m not sure if that is the same thing, sir.”

Jury laughed again. NP Norris was notorious for securing a “Not Proven” verdict in the unlikeliest of cases.

Norris smiled: “Thank you, Sergeant. Now, I would like to ask you about the statement that you gave in this case. I am aware from our previous meetings that you do not like others to prepare your statement, but that you tend to prepare the statement yourself. Is that still the case? ”

“Yes, sir.”

“Again, I, of course, recall the reason for that, but you can perhaps tell the gentlemen of the jury the reason yourself.”

Sergeant Wilson turned to the jury; “Well, I found that when you let someone else prepare the statement, then they can miss things out. So I always do it myself. In this case, I wrote out my statement the same night that Lord Albert came into the station.”

“The very same night?”

The witness turned back to face Norris: “Yes, sir.”

“So you are confident that the statement contains the full and accurate account of your dealings with Sir Albert that day - word for word - when he came into your police office.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Nothing added and nothing left out.”

“Precisely, sir.”

Norris paused for a moment, and held up one of the sheets of paper: “Then let us have a look at that statement now, shall we?”

He handed the sheet to the Bar Officer, who handed it to Sergeant Wilson. Wilson read through it and looked puzzled. He held the paper down for a moment, lifted it up, then read through it again. He began to frown. Norris saw his chance. He turned to face the jury, but spoke to the witness: “Sergeant Wilson, you will forgive me for saying so, but it will be apparent to all - especially the gentlemen of the jury - that you seem vexed, sir.”

The witness looked at the piece of paper, then he held it in front of himself, reading it again: “This is not how I remember it, Mr Norris.”

“This is a record of your conversation with Sir Albert at the police office on the day in question, is it not?”

Wilson studied the paper: “Yes.”

“Prepared by your own hand.”

“Yes.”

“On the very day it took place.”

The witness nodded. Norris smiled: “Word for word - nothing added and nothing left out?”

The witness was frowning now and saying nothing. Norris pointed to the great clock on the wall of the courtroom: “That was your sworn evidence to me at three minutes past eleven, sergeant. Is your sworn evidence now different - at four minutes past?”

The witness was silent again. Obviously not happy.

Kane, watching this, noted that the men in the jury were sitting, paying close attention now. This witness was clearly in trouble and had all the appearance of a child’s balloon - in the process of deflating.

“You see” Norris pressed on, “when one looks at your statement, and the verbatim conversation with Lord Albert - the word ‘duel’ does not appear, does it?”

The witness considered the paper again. “No, sir.”

“Nor is there a mention of a ‘Jack Smith’...”

Sergeant Wilson tried to retrieve his position: “There was talk of an individual named ‘Smith’, Mr Norris...”

“But not ‘Jack Smith’...”

“No.”

“And certainly not John Sanders Barrington Smith.”

“No.”

Kane was forming the impression that the witness would now say anything to get off of the witness stand.

“Because - and to be fair to you, Sergeant Wilson - you have no idea how many ‘Smiths’ there are in Scotland, do you.”

“No, sir.”

Norris pointed to the fifteen men in the jury: “For example, how many of these men are named ‘Smith’?”

The Sergeant replied, weary now: “I have no idea, sir.”

Norris turned to the jury to make the point. The jurymen mistook this as a question as to how many ‘Smiths’ there were in the jury. Four of them raised their hands.

Norris smiled and turned back to the witness, pointing at the jurors: “In fact, the ‘Smith’ referred to could have been any of these gentlemen, could it not?”

The slow leak continued: “Hypothetically, that must be correct, sir.”

“Or one of their wives, perhaps?”

“You don’t fight a duel with a woman, sir...”

Norris sprang on this answer: “But there was no mention of a duel, was there?”

Sergeant Wilson studied the paper again: “No, sir...”

“Nor, in fact, whether the ‘individual’ in question - and that is the word that you have recorded here - is a man or a woman?”

The witness nodded.

“So we do not know if the ‘Smith’ in question is a porter in Portobello or a milkmaid in Musselburgh, do we?”

The jurors laughed. The witness was now entirely deflated: “No, sir.”

Norris folded in half the piece of paper in his hand and gave a small bow to the witness: “Until we meet again, Sergeant Wilson...”

The witness bowed: “Until then, Mr Norris...”

Norris smiled and sat down. Job done. For now…

Ross Macfarlane QC has written The Scotsman Christmas story every year for the last ten years. His Scotsman story “Mr Charles Dickens and the Tale of Ebenezer...Scroggie” was chosen as the featured fiction by the international organisation, the Dickens Fellowship in 2017. His novella “Edward Kane and The Matter of Honour” is set in Edinburgh in the same period, the mid-19th Century and has been specially commissioned by The Scotsman. Illustrations by Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane.

READ MORE: The Scotsman Christmas Story: Edward Kane and The Matter of Honour (Chapter One)