Edward Kane’s manservant, Mr Horse, stared into the fire and shook his head.
“But don’t you think, Mr K, that some people are just born lucky?”
Kane sat in his wing-back chair by the fire, cradling a glass of port: “It certainly helped that the so-called ‘victim’ in the case was plainly as guilty as the accused, Mr Horse.”
Over dinner, Kane had told Horse all about the events in court that day. As always, Horse listened had listened carefully, but said nothing, just nodding occasionally. Then: “Well, it sounds as if your man, Mr Norris, done a good job, sir.
“I do marvel, Mr Horse, at his ability to spread a thick fog over the clearest landscape”
Horse went to the pantry: “Well, sir, as me old nan used to say: you might hear the footsteps, but you never know who’s comin’ up the stairs.” Clinking from the pantry. “Would you like some more port, sir?”
“Yes, please, Mr Horse.” Kane began to muse, almost to himself: “It has to be said, Horse, that we must stand in awe at Mr Norris’s feats of legerdemain...”
Horse had emerged from the pantry with a decanter and glass. But he stood still, a puzzled look on his face. One of the words was too big. Kane noted this and looked up: “Mr Horse, it means when someone is nimble with the hands...”
Horse continued to look puzzled. Kane explained: “You know. For example, when someone does a card trick and things begin to disappear...”
Horse grinned and nodded now: “Ah, got it, Mr K. Got it. I had a friend done that. The Old Bailey gave him eighteen months...”
Kane laughed. Horse stoked the fire with a poker. He gave a great yawn: “Well, sir. Time to hit the hay.”
“And how are preparations progressing for tomorrow, Mr Horse?”
Kane mused that what with all the fuss and focus on the fate of a quarrelsome old nobleman, it had been easy to forget that tomorrow was Christmas Day.
“Well, Mr K, like you asked, I went down to the Lawn Market and I got a good price on a nice bottle of port for your chum, Mr Collins.”
“Excellent, Mr Horse.””
“And a pretty box full of sweet things for his nippers.”
“Capital, Mr Horse, capital.”
Horse looked a little sheepish now: “But I didn’t get you nothing, sir. Seeing as I gave you the brooch and all. But everything has been wrapped, Mr K. You know, for your other visit. The early morning one...”
Kane smiled: “Mr Horse, you have done me a great service with the brooch. I am sure that it will be much appreciated.” He got up from his chair. “Now, I also have something for you in the way of a gift. You will forgive me that it has not been wrapped...”
Kane got up from his chair and went into his room. He emerged shortly afterwards, holding something behind his back: “So, I had a quiet word with the court Bar Officer in Sir Albert’s case and asked him what was to become of the items lodged by the Crown. Apparently, if they are not claimed - as they were not here - then, they are deemed abandoned, and they belong to her Majesty the Queen. But one can only wonder how Her Majesty would have any use...” and Kane produced the item from behind his back “...for a top hat with a hole blown in it.”
Kane handed the top hat to Horse. Horse was speechless.
“As you will see, Mr Horse, it is of good quality, made of silk and - perhaps with a discreet patch just above the brim - it will provide you with a splendid piece of head-gear for any occasion.”
Horse’s eyes were open wide: “Mr K, Mr K - this must be worth a bloomin’ fortune, sir.”
Kane smiled: “Try it on, Horse...”
Horse placed the top hat on his head. Perfect fit. Kane laughed and handed Horse a looking-glass. Horse examined his reflection: “I’m thinking, Mr K, that all it needs is a new headband to cover the hole and all, and then...” he began to admire himself, turning his head left and right, “...and then, sir, your man Horse will look very spruce...very spruce indeed, Mr K.”
Kane smiled: “And have you finalised your own arrangements for tomorrow, Mr Horse?”
“Like I said, sir, I told the barmaid at the White Hart that I’d go with her to see her nan, sir. So that’s me sorted, Mr K.”
And when Horse retired to bed (still wearing his new hat), Kane sat on for a while in his chair. And he smiled at the great tree at the window, all red ribbons and bright angels. And the memories returned of Christmases long past. When he would wake up as a child in the sheer, breathless joy of Christmas morning. With father, puffing on his pipe, expressing delight at the smallest gift from Edward. Or mother, always warm, always there. A smile in her eyes as she watched Edward remove the wrapping paper, sharing in her son’s joy at those bright red toy soldiers or the wooden animals of Noah’s Ark. Ah, those days, those days. Where are those days now? And the mantel clock struck midnight.
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.