Kane sat in his small set of furnished rooms. Papers were splayed over the table that served as a both a dining table and a desk. He scrutinised his hurried scribbles from the day’s consultation and tried to make sense of them. He would present them to his Leader, NP Norris tomorrow morning. So far, he had transcribed:
“I am Lord Albert Arthur. Quite frankly, I fail to see why there is such a to-do about all of this. I quite regularly issue challenges where I feel that my honour has been impugned. I have fought a great number of duels in the past. Simply put, on this occasion, I was attending a social engagement with my wife at The Assembly Rooms. My wife is considerably younger than I am. It is no secret that she did - for a very brief period - have a flirtation with acting in the theatre. As I say, we were engaging in conversation with friends at the social event. This was in the large ballroom area. It was crowded. The parties were separated into groups of five or six, each group standing in a kind of circle. The punch was being served liberally. I became aware that certain individuals in the group beside us were looking over and sniggering. I recognised young Jack Smith. He served under me in the army. Despite his breeding, young Smith is a ‘low’ sort of person. I saw him look over and mouth the words ‘alleged actress’. This was unacceptable. I handed my drink to the waiter. I approached Smith and demanded an apology. He laughed. I took my glove and slapped his face. I demanded satisfaction...”
Kane’s reading of the statement was broken by sound a familiar Cockney voice: “That you burning the midnight oil again, Mr K?”
It was Kane’s manservant, Mr Horse. In the cramped (but cheap) set of furnished rooms, Mr Horse occupied a small room of his own and served as Kane’s general factotum. Horse pointed to the marble clock on the mantelpiece: “It’s just that I know you, sir. If you burn the candle tonight, then you’ll be the devil to rouse in the morning.”
Kane put down the papers and rubbed his eyes. “I fear that you are right, Mr Horse. However, we appear to have a paying client and I am anxious that I have captured his account accurately and coherently.”
Horse nodded down at the papers: “Could I have a butcher’s, sir? If I can make it out, then...”
Kane handed the papers to his manservant. Horse stood and read them. He looked up: “Well, Mr K – the whole thing is clear as day, ennit?”
“Your meaning, Mr Horse?”
“Well, sir, if I get his drift proper, then a bunch of blokes are there at some hoity-toity do. And one bloke calls the other bloke’s wife a bit of a trollop and the other bloke isn’t too happy, so he offers to get him sorted.”
Kane laughed: “I think, Mr Horse, that the offending gentleman, in fact, called the lady an ‘alleged actress’, and not a ‘trollop’ as you would have it.”
Horse rubbed his chin, considering this, then: “Yes, Mr K - but it’s the word ‘alleged’, ennit? If she was just an actress, then that’s fair enough. But an ‘alleged’ actress - we all know what that means, sir.”
Kane nodded. Horse handed back the papers. Kane looked up from the table: “And what would you have done Mr Horse? If you had been the husband, I mean.”
Horse thought for a moment, then: “I find that a swift kick to the whirlygigs usually does the trick here sir...”
“But why have we been instructed so late in the day?”
Edward Kane and his Leader, “Not Proven” Norris, dressed in their horsehair wigs and inky-black gowns were walking up and down the great Parliament Hall the following morning.
Norris gave a little chuckle and puffed on his pipe: “Do you think, my young friend, that we were the first to be instructed here?”
That fact had not occurred to Kane. NP Norris was frequently first choice in matters criminal. “Then, who has preceded us, Norval?”
“The larger question might be: ‘Who has not?’ First port of call was the Dean of Faculty. He soon cried off, pleading conflict of interest...”
This was not surprising. The Dean of Faculty, Robert (“Rab”) Lennox - a powerful court practitioner, criminal or civil - was known to be well-connected in the higher echelons of Edinburgh society and it was entirely likely that, given the dramatis personae here, Lennox might know some or all of the parties involved.
Norris continued: “...and then there was Freddy Carr...”
Again, a name well-known in the Edinburgh criminal courts. Freddy Carr was a brilliant, if mercurial presence in the courtroom. Passionate and articulate on Day One of a trial, but often muted and (on the face of it) hung-over on Day Two. Norris laughed: “...clash of diary commitments, apparently...”
Kane mused - with Freddy, it was never easy to tell whether the reason given was the real reason, or whether there were other reasons related to the after-effects of late-night gaming, alcohol, or the company of a certain class of woman.
But before Norris could list the entire litany of late lawyers, they became conscious of another Advocate - Charles Cod - an extremely large, cheerful figure standing at the fireplace and motioning over to them to join him. NP Norris nodded back and Norris and Kane walked over to speak to him.
Cod stood there, a sheaf of papers in his hands, the bundle perched on his ample stomach, warming his sizeable posterior by the fire. He greeted Norris cheerfully: “Norval, Norval - is the rumour true, my friend? Has the errant old nobleman found safe harbour?”
Norris laughed: “If you mean, do I hold instructions in the case against of Her Majesty’s Advocate against Lord Albert Arthur, Charles, then the answer is yes.”
“You do know that you are not the first?”
“Given that the trial is due to commence in fewer than seven days, my friend, I sincerely hope - for Lord Albert’s sake - that I will be the last.” Norris indicated Kane: “Of course, you know my Junior, Edward Kane...”
There existed (and exists) a fiction in the Faculty of Advocates that once an individual had achieved the rank of Counsel, then he was known - and greeted by his first name - by the other Members of Faculty. Even if they had never met before.
Cod looked over: “Of course, of course. How are you, young fella?”
Kane nodded: “Very well, thank you...Charles.”
Cod resumed his chat with Norris: “And you know why old Albert has discarded so many lawyers, Norval?”
Norris smiled: “If I didn’t, then I am sure that you are about to tell me, Charles.”
“Because he’s plainly guilty. No defence whatsoever. He’s been told to plead again and again, but he refuses. After the duel - when he had blown the other chap’s hat off - your man, old Lord Albert, went straight to a police office and told them what he had done. His Second even gave the police a calling card, so that they could come and arrest the old fellow later if required.”
How does he know all this thought Kane.
Norris looked over to the young Advocate and, noting his puzzlement, settled the question: “Edward, I perhaps ought to have mentioned that our friend Charles here is prosecuting the case for the Lord Advocate...”
Kane nodded. It all made sense now.
Charles Cod puffed out his chest, becoming that bit larger (if that were, indeed, possible): “Safe pair of hands, that’s what’s needed here. That’s what the Lord Advocate told me, so I agreed do it. Of course, it was an easy decision to take on the task here, given that you have no possible defence...”
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.