Hill commenced his evidence in a voice so low that Mr. Walters stopped him at the outset and asked him to speak in a louder tone. It soon became apparent that his evidence was making a deep impression on the court. Sir Henry Hodson listened to him intently, and watched him keenly, as Hill, with impassive countenance and smooth even tones, told his strange story of the night of the murder. When he had drawn to a conclusion he gave another furtive glance at the dock, but Birchill was seated with his head bowed down, as though tired, and with one hand supporting his face.
Mr. Walters methodically folded up his brief and sat down, with a sidelong glance in the direction of Mr. Holymead as he did so. Every eye in court was turned on Holymead as the great K.C. settled his gown on his shoulders and got up to cross-examine the principal Crown witness.
His cross-examination was the admiration of those spectators whose sympathies were on the side of the man in the dock as one of themselves. Hill was cross-examined as to the lapse from honesty which had sent him to gaol, and he was reluctantly forced to admit, that so far from the theft being the result of an impulse to save his wife and child from starvation, as the Counsel for the prosecution had indicated, it was the result of the impulse of cupidity. He had robbed a master who had trusted him and had treated him with kindness. Having extracted this fact, in spite of Hill’s evasions and twistings, Holymead straightened himself to his full height, and, shaking a warning finger at the witness, said:
“I put it to you, witness, that the reason Sir Horace Fewbanks engaged you as butler in his household at Riversbrook was because he knew you to be a man of few scruples, who would be willing to do things that a more upright honest man would have objected to?”
“That is not true,” replied Hill.
“Is it not true that your late master frequently entertained women of doubtful character at Riversbrook?” thundered the K.C.
Hill gasped at the question. When he had first heard that his late master’s old friend, Mr. Holymead, was to appear for Birchill, he had immediately come to the conclusion that Mr. Holymead was taking up the case in order to save Sir Horace’s name from exposure by dealing carefully with his private life at Riversbrook. But here he was ruthlessly tearing aside the veil of secrecy. Hill hesitated. He glanced round the curious crowded court and saw the eager glances of the women as they impatiently awaited his reply. He hesitated so long that Holymead repeated the question.
“Women of doubtful character?” faltered the witness. “I do not understand you.”
“You understand me perfectly well, Hill. I do not mean women off the streets, but women who have no moral reputation to maintain—women who do not mind letting confidential servants see that they have no regard for the conventional standards of life. I mean, witness, that your late master frequently entertained at Riversbrook, women—I will not call them ladies—who were not particular at what hour they went home. Sometimes one or more of them stayed all night, and you were entrusted with the confidential task of smuggling them out of the house without other servants knowing of their presence. Is not that so?”