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Authors: Norman Russell

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‘They'll not spend any money here now, George. If you think this room's bad, you should see Mr Mackharness's gloomy abode upstairs!'

‘Your guvnor came stumping down here to see me, half an hour ago, while you were showing the slides. Old Growler himself. “Good morning, Sergeant”, he said. “How are you? We don't see enough of you at King James's Rents”. Wasn't that nice of him?'

‘Astonishing,' said Box. ‘He's trying to poach you from “B” Division! He certainly wouldn't say that to me. Not half he wouldn't! He'd shed no tears, George, if I went out through that door and never came back!'

George Boyd shook his head in mock despair. He threw the remains of his cigar in the fire, and began to button his coat.

‘You're too hard on him, Mr Box. Now, you're not to take offence, because none's meant, but here's a little bit of advice: try to meet Old Growler half way. You're stuck with him, you see, and he's stuck with you. And beware of jumping to conclusions too quickly. You'll come a cropper one day, through doing that.'

Inspector Box looked at himself in the big, fly-blown mirror. His own image showed him a slim, smart man in a tightly buttoned fawn greatcoat. The recently grown moustache, he thought, was a decided improvement. It gave him a dashing, military kind of look, with a discreet suggestion that he might be older than his thirty-five years. Medium height? Decidedly. Not everyone could be a giant, like Kenwright. George, he saw, was watching him with an amused smile on his lips. Box turned away from the mirror.

‘I'll bear in mind what you say, George. I'll handle Mackharness with kid gloves. I'll give deference where
deference
is due. I'll … what are you looking for? Are you searching through that coat of yours, or wrestling with it?'

‘I'm looking for something I forgot to give back to you last week. Ah! Here it is. Your key to the glory-hole. A very useful place, that. Just think, Arnold: if I was an inspector, I'd have a key of my own! Still, one can't have everything in this life. I'll be
off, now. Back to keep an eye on Percy and his friends. You know where to find me if you want me. Oh, and don't forget what I keep telling you about Napoleon.'

Sergeant Boyd pushed open the glazed swing doors of the office, crossed the vestibule, and hurried down the steps into the street. Box followed him out on to the dusty pavement.

‘George,' he said, ‘you've been telling me things about Napoleon for more years than I care to remember – things that are usually not to my advantage. So what is it this time?'

Boyd's infectious laugh rang out from the bleak, cobbled street.

‘Well, sir, it's just this: Napoleon was a great man, too. And he was only five foot nothing!'

 

Long after George Boyd had disappeared in the direction of Whitehall, Arnold Box stood on the steps of 2 King James's Rents, and looked down the dim road, filled for the moment with a blue haze of smoke, blown down from a hundred chimney stacks. Just in sight, twenty yards or so to his left, he could see the old entrance to ‘A' Division in the little narrow street called Great Scotland Yard. Until two years earlier, members of the public had come to that door when they'd wanted to ‘see a police man'. It was in actual fact the back entrance to 4, Whitehall Place, the old office of the Metropolitan Police Commissioners.

But two years earlier, all that had changed. The Metropolitan Police had removed themselves, lock, stock and barrel, from this festering collection of cramped old houses, and taken up
residence
in the gleaming new fairy palace on the Embankment. Some, though, had been left behind, including himself and a dozen other officers, shepherded by Superintendent Mackharness, the limping old growler in the mildewed office upstairs.

One day, perhaps, they would all be spirited away to the fairy palace. Until that happy day dawned, they were marooned in 2 King James's Rents, one of the later annexes acquired by the Criminal Investigation Department in one of its frenzies of expansion out of Whitehall Place. The battered building, with its
labyrinth of connecting rooms, was reputed to be as old as Whitehall. It got its name from the fact that it had provided lodging for the Scottish courtiers who had arrived in London with James I. That canny monarch had charged them rent for the privilege. The rear portion of the Rents, where the ‘exercise yard' was situated, had been acquired in 1845.

Box went back up the steps, and pushed open the swing doors. Daylight never penetrated with any conviction into the front office, and the gas mantle burned and spluttered for most of the day and night. He sat down at the long, cluttered table with his back to the fire, and lit a slim cigar.

The teeming millions…. There were many embodiments of evil out there. Gideon Raikes was one of them. A lawyer gone wrong, trained up to the law at Gray's Inn, and called to the Bar. There had been some scandal involving bribes, back in the 1860s, and he'd been disbarred. Raikes had gone to Paris and
disappeared
. Then he'd re-emerged as a legitimate insurance promoter. But Gideon Raikes was in with Percy Liversedge, and Percy was in the process of planning a bank robbery—

There was a noise of a scraping chair from the floor above, and presently a ponderous, limping footfall began to make itself heard through the ceiling. There was a faint trembling from the iron gas-bracket. Old Growler was coming out on to the landing. Box threw the stub of his cigar into the fire, and hurried out into the vestibule.

‘Box? Come up here, if you please. I'll not detain you more than five minutes.'

 

Superintendent Mackharness's office was even darker than Box's, because at some stage in the remote past it had been fitted up with heavy green velvet curtains and pelmets, which
effectively
excluded whatever faint beams of sunlight might have ventured to penetrate the tall, grimy windows. The room smelt strongly of mildew and stale gas.

Box looked at the heavy, thickset man sitting behind a carved oak desk, and recalled George Boyd's words: ‘You're stuck with him, you see, and he's stuck with you'. Well over sixty, with a yellowish face lightened by well-tended mutton chop whiskers,
Superintendent Mackharness regarded Box with bright,
intelligent
black eyes, in which there was a kind of defensive wariness. His thin hair was well brushed and combed. Although he wore a civilian frock coat, with an old-fashioned black cravat tucked into a turn-down collar, he gave the impression that he would be more at ease in uniform.

‘Yes, well, sit down there, Box. I've not been able to see you earlier. You were detained, I believe, in the drill hall, and I was out visiting Lord Maurice Vale Rose. I think I told you that His Lordship had invited me to take breakfast with him in Clarence Gate this morning?'

Mackharness's voice was both powerful and well enunciated. Box was very familiar with his turns of phrase, and knew that his question had not been framed to require an answer.

‘Was it a good breakfast, sir? At Lord Maurice Vale Rose's, I mean.'

‘What? Yes. As a matter of fact, it was. Very good. I shouldn't have thought that my observation required a comment. Now I've a report here for you to read. It's from a Superintendent Parker, from Maldon, in Essex. I don't know him, but he very sensibly thinks that we need to send someone down to his part of the world. Glance through it now, if you please, Box, and then I'll tell you what I want you to do.'

Box watched Mackharness's right hand hover over a neat stack of papers, noting the thick, spatulate fingers, and the big round thumbs. The superintendent, having aroused his curiosity, would make him wait for half a minute until he chose his own moment to give him the report. Box let his eye roam upwards to a dim,
smoke-stained
portrait of Sir Robert Peel hanging above Mackharness's crowded mantelpiece. It looked as though it had been evicted from grander surroundings, as it was rather too big for the wall.

Mackharness finally handed him a dark green folder, levered himself up from his desk, and retired to a dim corner of the room. Presently there came a fusillade of high sneezes, and then the superintendent limped back to his desk. He blew his bulbous nose vigorously into a large snuff-stained handkerchief.

‘Well?' he demanded, when Box had read the final page of the brief document.

‘A very interesting report, sir. An unidentified lady of quality, found floating in a canal in the Essex countryside. Garrotted, they say, not strangled…. Wearing a green silk dress – they mention the dress seven times. And then they say that this unfortunate lady was wearing an expensive diamond necklace. The whole thing sounds decidedly odd, to me. Garrotted…. Why that? I wonder—'

‘Yes, well, Box, take that report away with you, and digest it. As you say, there's something very peculiar about the business. I know you're going to the Old Bailey later this morning, and you'll need time to make whatever arrangements you decide upon. So you'd better go down to Essex tomorrow, or Wednesday. Bardley, the place is called. Nearest railway station, Bishop's Longhurst. The police station is in a place called Danesford. Field Lane Police Station. Sergeant Bickerstaffe is the officer in charge. Sergeant Isaac Bickerstaffe. I don't know the place. Sounds as though it's a bit of a backwoods. Back of beyond, you know.'

Box gathered the papers together in their green folder, and stood up. Before he had reached the door, the loud, testy voice had burst out to detain him.

‘Where are you going, man? For God's sake, I haven't finished talking yet! Sit down, will you? I
knew
you'd start your impish tricks…. There's a police surgeon at Bishop's Longhurst. His name's Dr Oake. Well, he's up in London this week on business, and he's very kindly agreed to come and talk to us today. He arranged that, apparently, with Superintendent Parker. You're off duty this afternoon, I think? Yes, I thought so. See him, will you? He couldn't be particular as to the time of his visit, so if you're not here when he comes, I'll send him after you. Find out what you need to know from this Dr Oake, and then make your arrangements accordingly. That's all, I think, Box. Good morning.'

Superintendent Mackharness turned to the contents of his neat desk. He had already picked up a steel pen and dipped it into an inkwell when Box asked a question.

‘Sir,' he said, ‘have you considered my list of choices for sergeant? It's three months now since I had a regular sergeant with me.'

A pair of dark, steely eyes regarded him warily.

‘I have considered your list, Box. You made some very sensible choices, I must admit. In the normal way of things, of course, you'd have the principal say in choosing your sergeant. However, I have received a special request from the Chief Constable of Surrey to accept a replacement nominated by him. I have agreed to his request, and have therefore had to set your list aside. The new man will be with us any day, now.'

‘Am I to be told this man's name, sir?'

‘What? Well, of course you are. Why will you not let me finish speaking? His name is Knollys. Sergeant Jack Knollys, at present with the Croydon Constabulary. He's thirty years old. I see no reason why you and he should not work well together.'

There was a belligerence in Box's voice that he strove
unsuccessfully
to control.

‘May I ask, sir, why the Chief Constable of Surrey has wished this man upon us?'

Mackharness blushed crimson with anger. He banged his knuckles sharply on the desk in a tattoo of vexation.

‘No, you may not! And I take exception to that phrase, “wished upon us”. There are sufficient and cogent reasons. Don't look at me with that brow of thunder, man! You seem to think that I do nothing up here but concoct schemes to make your life difficult. What about me? Do you think I enjoy
persecuting
you? Do you think I've nothing better to do with my time? You're a good man, Box, but you're too impertinent. Too truculent. You get above yourself, and it won't do! The
commissioner
himself has commended the man! What do you say to that?'

Box knew that it was time to calm down. Nothing positive would be gained from showing his resentment too blatantly.

‘Well, sir, I have to admit that Sir Edward Bradford's the best commissioner we've had for years. Whatever his reasons for agreeing to accept this Knollys in the Metropolitan force, they'll be sufficient, as you say, and above board. So I suppose I'll just have to do as I'm told!'

‘Yes, quite so. It's far the best course of action, Box. We've all got our crosses to bear, and it's no good repining. So no more
impudence, do you hear? See this Dr Oake, then go down to Essex tomorrow, or Wednesday. Clear up their little mystery for them, and then get back here!'

‘My Lord, gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case!’

Sir William Porteous QC sat down. He was conscious that all eyes in the crowded courtroom remained fixed on him, as though the mesmerism of his oratory still held them under its spell. He attempted to produce a modest, self-deprecating smile, but he was not a modest man by nature. The resultant grimace, he knew, had been described long ago by his fellow benchers as ‘the Porteous leer’.

It had been, he supposed, a minor triumph to add to his tally of successes. The secret was to defer to the judge. Never try to score points off him, but let him think that you bowed at all times to his superior wisdom. Defer to the judge, yes – but let the jurymen think that you were the thirteenth member of their band!

Young Forster, the opposing counsel, began his closing speech for the defence, but Porteous knew that it would be his dramatic words that would be ringing still in the ears of those twelve good men and true. He half listened to Forster’s speech, but made no effort to concentrate on what the young barrister was saying.

The Old Bailey was an exhilarating place in which to ply the lawyer’s craft! Its courts were invariably crammed with curious visitors, expecting a particularly thrilling kind of entertainment. Each court was a theatre in its own right. Its permanent
repertory
company consisted of the throng of bewigged and gowned lawyers, forever posing as enemies, divided by the need to
prosecute 
and defend, but in reality old friends and allies, engaged in hugely enjoyable battles of words and wits.

There was an audience, too. Not the motley crew of figures in the public gallery, but the twelve good men and true who
constituted
the jury. One played to them, not to the gallery. Some of the jurors, clad in their sober best black, blended in with the court’s scenery of old oak panelling and cracked plaster ceilings, with the great Sword of Justice hanging above the bench, and the florid Royal coat of arms perched on the pediment above the judgment seat.

Others brought a more secular feel to the place. These were the fellows who came there determined not to be overawed by the ranks of black and white figures in the well of the court. They were free spirits, who would dare to sport a coloured
neckerchief
, or pretend to glance at a newspaper during the
less-interesting
passages of the proceedings.

Sir William Porteous knew his audience, and what they demanded from the players. He had contrived to catch the eye of every one of the jurors when he had delivered his concluding speech, and had crafted a telling sentence for each of them. ‘This was a miscreant who valued a man’s life at half a guinea, the price of a watch and chain’, he had told one juror, a thin-faced man, who looked as though he’d put a price in pounds, shillings and pence upon everyone and everything. ‘Poor Hungerford offered no resistance, and for that, he was done to death, for violence and slaughter understand only violence and slaughter.’ That had very much impressed the juror for whom he had designed it – a man who looked as though he might have been a Quaker.

Each of the twelve men had received his piece of oratory gratefully, and had appropriated it to his own store of
impressions
. ‘Where is the spirit of righteousness and justice?’ he had asked of one tightly buttoned man in black, who might at one time have entertained an ambition to be a clergyman. When finally he had reached the far end of the jury box, where a free spirit who looked like a butcher’s assistant sat with clenched fists and a look of murderous indignation on his red face, he asked the man a question. ‘Will James Hungerford’s blood cry
out for redress in vain?’ The man shook his head vigorously, and glared at the prisoner in the dock with undisguised hatred.

Oh, yes, there was a prisoner, too, though he was never allowed to play too great a part in the proceedings. Odd, how commonplace these murderers looked when they sat between their warders in the spike-topped dock! You wouldn’t give them a second glance, under normal circumstances.

Poor young Forster was doing his best. He’d learned already not to overdo it, not to look for virtue where none was to be found. He was talking about Albert John Davidson’s sad
childhood
in the slums, his mother’s death from gin, and all the rest of it. None of it would be of any avail: that ashen-faced, simian brute in the dock knew he was doomed.

The trial moved to its inevitable conclusion. There was a masterly summing-up and charge to the jury from the Common Serjeant. The jury retired for no longer than twenty minutes. They returned to deliver the inevitable verdict of ‘Guilty’.

The prisoner was brought to stand at the bar of the dock to listen to his sentence. His face remained impassive, his eyes fixed on the Common Serjeant.

‘Albert John Davidson, you have been found guilty of the murder of James Hungerford, a man universally liked and respected, and the father of five children. Throughout this trial you have stubbornly refused to admit that you did this awful deed, and even now your motive for doing so is obscure.

‘Nevertheless, the prosecution has proved conclusively that you committed the crime, and a jury of your peers has found you guilty. Have you anything now to say before sentence of death is passed upon you?’

At first Albert John Davidson simply made some inarticulate noises. Then he found his voice. It was a chilling sound,
unnaturally
shrill for such a big man, and seeming to come from somewhere far off.

‘Yes, My Lord. I confess the deed, but I will say no more. To this I was born, and to this have I come.’

There was a murmur from the public gallery, which was quickly suppressed by the usher. Porteous looked up sharply, and drew in his breath with a little hiss. He glanced towards the door.
Yes; there was Detective Inspector Box. Bless him, he’d kept his promise to come, and it was obvious from his manner that he, too, had understood the hidden meaning of the prisoner’s words.

The Common Serjeant made no comment. He glanced briefly to his right, and the chaplain appeared on the bench.

Sir William Porteous shaded his eyes with his left hand and sank a little further down in his seat. He did not relish this part of the proceedings, and contrived not to look as the judge placed the black cap on his wig.

‘You
will
be
taken
from
here,
to
the
place
from
whence
you
came

Albert John Davidson…. What a stupid, mindless brute! Sent to steal a watch, he had destroyed an innocent life. Now, his own life was forfeit. And those words from the dock…. Inspector Box knew what they meant.

‘and
from
thence
to
the
place
of
execution


Many people must have wondered why he had volunteered to conduct the prosecution in this case. It was a relatively minor affair for a man of his eminence. Well, it was from a sense of duty, and a passion for justice.



and
there,
you
will
be
hanged
by
the
neck
until
you
are
dead.’

How he wished that he could stop his ears! Now it was all over. The condemned man had disappeared with his warders below the dock. It was time for all the rising and bowing, and the usual clatter and chatter as the court emptied.

 

Sir William Porteous spoke briefly to his junior, and then crossed the court to where Forster, the young defence counsel, was somewhat forlornly ordering his papers.

‘My dear Forster, congratulations! You put up a splendid fight. Splendid!’

The powerful, mellifluous voice filled the court. It usually filled any space in which it was vented. The young counsel’s face registered unconcealed delight.

‘Why, thank you, Sir William. How very kind of you!’

‘No, dear man, no; not kind. Just the truth. You’re going far: you’re one of the coming race. Old fogies like me will soon be taken from the scene. You’ll see.’

Sir William, thought Forster, looked set to occupy the centre
stage for a good while yet! He was a big man, well over six feet tall, with a heavy patrician face, pink and clean-shaven. Most people noticed the bright blue eyes and the large smooth chin, and the well-groomed greying hair peeping from beneath the powdered wig before being mesmerized by the famous Voice.

Sir William kept hold of the young barrister’s arm as they moved towards the door, and continued to retain him when he threw a cordial greeting to a lithe man in a curly-brimmed hat who was standing among a knot of spectators in the gangway.

‘My dear Inspector Box! You managed to be here, as you promised. As you have seen, justice has been done. This is my learned friend Mr Forster, who led for the defence, as you no doubt noticed. Forster, would you mind if I had a private word with Mr Box for a moment? Don’t go away, on any account!’

Porteous drew Inspector Box aside into an empty corner of the court. ‘Did you hear him?’ he whispered.

‘I did, sir. “To this I was born, and to this have I come”. And as he said it, a certain villain I know got up and left the public gallery. They’re the words that Percy Liversedge’s thugs use to signal that they’ll never squeal. Which is very interesting, sir, because Percy’s employer is—’

‘Hush, Box! Names! Be careful with names, especially in a place like this. But there. Once again, you and I have been pitted against the same monstrosity. I wondered about Albert John Davidson, but I didn’t actually know that he was one of Gideon Raikes’s creatures until that moment.’

‘Names, Sir William! Names!’ said Box, smiling. ‘This was not one of my own cases – it was a mite too open-and-shut for the Yard – but I never doubted Davidson’s guilt for a moment, and it’s been your skill here today, Sir William, that’s seen justice done for the shooting of James Hungerford.’

The great advocate raised a pink, be-ringed hand in
deprecation
: it was a favourite gesture of his.

‘To tell you the truth, Box, my learned junior, Mr Fetlock, did most of it. I ran away from time to time to hide in my sister’s house while Fetlock did the unheroic bits. But today’s
summing-up
for the Crown was reserved for me, and seeing you in court was the icing on the cake.’

The barrister and the detective bade each other farewell. Porteous and Forster watched Box as he bustled out of the court, surrounded by a little throng of reporters. Sir William’s eyes followed him with a sort of tolerant and affectionate amusement.

‘He’ll take those fellows with him to the Clarence Vaults in Victoria Street, and spin them a popular yarn. This wasn’t one of his cases, but they’ll want to hear his impressions. They’ll think he’s told them all. In fact, he’ll simply tell them what they want to hear. But come now, Forster, a spot of lunch with me at my club – I’ll not take no for an answer!’

 

The debris of a substantial meal lay on the table, together with an assortment of glasses. Sir William sat well back in his chair, and surveyed his guest with an air of becoming gravity.

‘Now then, Forster,’ he said, ‘what kind of tale did that wretched fellow tell you? He confessed at the end, of course, because he’d no option to do otherwise. But surely he tried to persuade you that he wasn’t acting alone? They usually do, you know.’

Young Forster was still savouring the heady delight of a defeat turned into victory by this unexpected invitation to lunch with the great advocate at the Carlton Club. The hospitality had been overwhelming, and he felt disinclined to leave his
comfortable
chair at the dining-table. He would be happy enough to answer any of Sir William Porteous’s questions.

‘Well, Sir William, he
did
tell me a story of sorts, but I think it was just a desperate lie. It was so outrageous I refused to put it up in evidence. Another glass? Well, thank you, yes, but just this one, if you don’t mind.’

‘What story did he tell you? This was in the cells, I suppose.’

‘Yes. He must have known the case was hopeless, but he had to protest his innocence, of course. You’ll appreciate, Sir William, that there was little I could do for my client. He was a man of appalling antecedents, and there was scarcely anything that he could tell me in mitigation. But he was stubborn in insisting that he had been hired for ten guineas to shoot Mr Hungerford, and that he was to steal the dead man’s watch. It was nonsense. Davidson was no stranger to picking pockets, and he could have done that without risking his neck.’

‘He could have done that, Forster.
Should
have done that. I’m inclined to believe that the shooting was an act of venom against a respectable man – the act of a degenerate brute with a grudge against the whole world. He may have been hired – I grant him that – but I think he was hired to rob, not to kill. Killing was his own idea.’

‘I’m inclined to agree with you, Sir William. And then, you see, he said that the man who ultimately hired him was Mr Gideon Raikes, the insurance promoter and distinguished connoisseur. He was mad with fright by then, of course, and cried out these pathetic accusations without reason or purpose.’

‘Gideon Raikes? Did Davidson actually say that?’

‘He did. Mr Gideon Raikes is a man of considerable public standing, and a desperate slander of that nature repeated in open court would have made Davidson’s plight even worse. So I made certain there was no mention of that slander in my defence.’

Sir William stared at young Forster with something approaching disbelief. Could a young man fully trained in the law be so naïve? Gideon Raikes was a living disease, raging unchecked against the vulnerable body of society at large, and his power was malign and relentless. To Raikes, murder was a mere commonplace.

‘My dear young man,’ said Sir William, ‘here’s a word of advice. Cultivate the police. Get to know them. Talk to them. They may be a rough lot, but they know things. To do well in our profession, you’ve got to rub shoulders not only with the rogues and robbers, but with their sworn opponents, the police. The police will tell you some surprising facts about Mr Gideon Raikes, if you let them.’

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