“That was your original story, I know,” agreed Lethbridge suavely. “But as you were not put into the witness-box to swear it you can alter it without fear of any consequences.”
“You want me to swear that he was alive?” said Birchill, meditatively.
“If you can conscientiously do so,” replied Lethbridge.
“That he was alive when I left Riversbrook?” asked Birchill.
“Well, not necessarily that,” said Lethbridge.
Birchill sprang up in alarm.
“Good God, do you want me to swear that I killed him?” he demanded.
Lethbridge endeavoured to explain that he would have nothing to fear from such a confession in the witness-box, but Birchill would listen to no further explanations. He felt that he was in dangerous company, and that his safety depended on getting out of the room.
“You’ve made a mistake,” he said, as he reached the door. “If you want a witness of that kind you ought to look for him in Colney Hatch.”
The impending trial of Holymead produced almost as much excitement in staid legal circles as it did among the general public. It was rumoured that there was a difficulty in obtaining a judge to preside at the trial, as they all objected to being placed in the position of trying a man who was well-known to them and with whom most of them had been on friendly terms. There was a great deal of sympathy for the prisoner among the judges. Of course, they could not admit that any man had the right to take the law into his own hands, but they realised that if any wrong done to an individual could justify this course it was the wrong Sir Horace Fewbanks had done to an old friend.
When it became known that Mr. Justice Hodson was to preside at the Old Bailey during the trial of Holymead, legal rumour concerned itself with statements to the effect that there was now a difficulty in obtaining a K.C. to undertake the prosecution. When it was discovered that Mr. Walters, K.C., was to conduct the prosecution, it was whispered that he had asked to be relieved of the work and had even waited on the Attorney-General in the matter, but that the latter had told him that he must put his personal feelings aside and act in accordance with that high sense of duty he had always shown in his professional career.
In Newgate Street a long queue of people waited for admission to Old Bailey on the day the trial was to begin. They were inspected by two fat policemen to decide whether they appeared respectable enough to be entitled to a free seat at the entertainment in Number One Court. When the doors opened at 10.15 a.m. the first batch of them were admitted, but on reaching the top of the stairs, where they were inspected by a sergeant, they were informed that all the seats in the gallery of Number One Court had been filled, but that he would graciously permit them to go to Numbers Two, Three, Four, or Five Courts.