An early December evening. So dark now, that all the lamps had been lit in the Advocates Library. Edward Kane was sitting at his desk, perusing the latest volume of Session Cases, when the Head Faculty Servant, Mr Manville leaned over him.
“Mr Kane?” Manville whispered.
Kane looked up. “Yes, Manville?” (Manville preferred the more martial appellation ‘Manville’ to the more genteel ‘Mr Manville’).
“The Dean of Faculty wishes to see you, sir.”
Kane thought for a few seconds. A request to be seen by the Dean of Faculty? Was Kane in trouble? The Dean of Faculty, Rab Lennox, brilliant lawyer that he was, was not known to be a welcoming or forgiving individual on a personal level...
Manville cut through Kane’s thoughts: “I think that now would be an opportune time, sir. Here, let me assist you...”
And with that, Manville took Kane by the elbow and ‘assisted’ him from his seat, pointing him towards the Dean’s Room.
Once Manville had further assisted Kane into the Dean’s Room, Kane looked around. Sitting behind the main desk, in the light of a two-branched candlestick, was the Dean of Faculty himself, looking for all the world like a great, malevolent owl. And then Kane realised that he was not the only one who had been summoned. Also seated in the Dean’s room were Norval Norris and Charles Cod. The Dean looked up: “Come in, young man, come in. Sit down.”
The room had the atmosphere of a headmaster’s study, where the cane was about to administered to three naughty schoolboys.
The Dean addressed them: “Now, I have called you all in here because, this morning, I was approached by the Lord Advocate himself...”
The Lord Advocate? Head of Scotland’s prosecution? Why would he...
“...and he is very concerned about all of this nonsense with that old fool, Lord Albert Arthur...”
Norval Norris interjected: “Dean of Faculty, you will forgive me for interrupting, but it is hardly a ‘nonsense’ when a man stands accused of Attempted Murder...”
“Oh, Pish posh!” The Dean was not happy at being interrupted. He dismissed Norris with a wave of his hand: “Come now, Norval. The old booby Arthur is notorious for challenging all and sundry to duels as the whim takes him. I’ve heard that if you as much as sneeze in the vicinity of his soup, then you find yourself issued with a challenge. This really has to stop. The Lord Advocate wishes to send a shot across Lord Albert’s bows. Now, I’m aware of the evidence here...”. The Dean stared at Norris now “...and I presume that Lord Albert will be pleading guilty...”
Norris puffed on his pipe for a moment, then: “No. Not to Attempted Murder.”
The Dean turned to Charles Cod, the prosecutor: “Now, Charles, as the Lord Advocate’s Depute, you have the authority to reduce the charge, do you not?”
The ample Advocate considered this for a moment, then replied: “In a matter such as this, I will need to consult the Lord Advocate himself...”
Again, the Dean held up his hand to silence the issue: “No need, Charles, no need. As I say, the Lord Advocate consulted with me this morning. He is willing to allow you, as the prosecutor in this case, to accept a reduced charge of ‘the culpable and reckless discharge of a firearm in a public place.’”
Again, Charles Cod considered this for a moment, then nodded: “Well, if that is the will of the Lord Advocate...”
The Dean then resumed his intense gaze on NP Norris: “And would that be acceptable to the old lord, Norval?”
Norris puffed on his pipe again, then: “I will take instructions, Dean of Faculty.”
The Dean rose from his chair. The meeting was at an end. “Thank you, gentlemen. I expect an expeditious resolution to this issue. Keep me apprised of developments. Good evening.”
Kane looked around. Manville was standing at the Dean’s door, ready to assist all parties to leave. Kane and NP Norris headed towards the great Parliament Hall to take a walk - and to speak in private.
They walked up and down, side-by-side for a minute or so. Kane said nothing, since Norris appeared to be deep in thought, tugging on his side-whiskers and puffing on his pipe. And then, Norris came to a sudden stop, removed his pipe from his lips, looked directly at Kane - and then let out a hearty laugh.
Given the preceding and intense silence, this sudden jocular outburst took Kane somewhat by surprise: “Norval - are you feeling quite well?”
Norval looked straight at the young Advocate: “Of course, of course, Edward - don’t you see it?”
Kane shook his head. Norris continued: “That meeting with the Dean...”
“That meeting with the Dean was nothing but a charade, Edward. A pure charade.”
Kane knotted his eyebrows: “But in what sense, Norval?”
Norris puffed on his pipe: “In the sense, my young friend, that where the prosecution has such a strong case, then why on earth offer to reduce the charge to something so paltry?”
Kane stood perplexed. Norris laughed: “Oh, no Edward. I can feel it in my bones, my friend. Something has gone wrong with the prosecution case. That is why we now have such a generous offer here.”
Kane stopped in his tracks. “Then, what do we do now?”
Norris smiled: “Well, Edward, first we put the latest offer of the Crown to Lord Albert. He will refuse it, of course...”
Kane nodded. “And then?”
“And then Edward, we wait. We wait until we see that great big hidden hole in the other side’s case.”
Norris took out a match and struck it to re-light his pipe. Puff, puff, puff - three puffy clouds emerged from the pipe: “Now, young fellow - care for a spot of lunch?”
“Christmas, Mr K - bloomin’ Christmas.”
Edward Kane’s manservant, Mr Horse, paused his polishing of Kane’s boots for a moment to bewail the coming of the festive season.
“I mean, sir? What’s it all about?”
Kane smiled to himself. His father had been a Minister of the Church of Scotland. Many was the time that Kane, as a small child, would sit on the floor of the study, listening to his father read aloud, try out phrases and tinker with the draft sermon for the next Sunday.
Kane looked up from his book: “Matthew 1:18, Mr Horse, Matthew 1:18...”
“What’s that, Mr K?”
Kane put down his book. As a child, he had heard the chapter and verse so many times, that he could repeat the verse by rote: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost...”
Horse shook his head. Kane asked: “Is something troubling you, Mr Horse?”
Horse thought for a moment, then resumed the polishing of the boots: “Don’t know about you, Mr K, but if Mary had been my missus, I would have kept a better eye on her...”
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.