Home > Cometh the Hour (The Clifton Chronicles #6)

Cometh the Hour (The Clifton Chronicles #6)
Jeffrey Archer

PROLOGUE

THE P.A. CRACKLED. “Would all those involved in the Lady Virginia Fenwick versus Mrs. Emma Clifton…”

“The jury must have reached a decision,” Trelford said, already on the move. He looked around to check that they were all following him, and bumped into someone. He apologized, but the young man didn’t look back. Sebastian held open the door to court number fourteen so his mother and her silk could resume their places in the front row.

Emma was too nervous to speak and, fearing the worst, kept glancing anxiously over her shoulder at Harry, who sat in the row behind her as they waited for the jury to appear.

When Mrs. Justice Lane entered the courtroom, everyone stood. She bowed before resuming her place in the high-backed red leather chair on the dais. Emma transferred her attention to the closed door beside the jury box. She didn’t have to wait long before it swung open, and the bailiff reappeared followed by his twelve disciples. They took their time finding their places, treading on each other’s toes like late-arriving theatregoers. The bailiff waited for them to settle before he banged his rod three times on the floor and shouted, “Will the foreman please rise.”

The foreman rose to his full five feet four inches and looked up at the judge. Mrs. Justice Lane leaned forward and said, “Have you reached a verdict on which you are all agreed?”

Emma thought her heart would stop beating as she waited for his reply.

“No, my lady.”

“Then have you reached a verdict on which you are agreed by a majority of at least ten to two?”

“We did, my lady,” said the foreman, “but unfortunately, at the last moment one of our number changed his mind, and we have been stuck on nine votes to three for the past hour. I am not convinced that will change, so once again I am seeking your guidance as to what we should do next.”

“Do you believe you could reach a majority of ten to two, if I gave you a little more time?”

“I do, my lady, because on one particular matter, all twelve of us are in agreement.”

“And what is that?”

“If we were allowed to know the contents of the letter Major Fisher wrote to Mr. Trelford before he committed suicide, we might well be able to come to a decision fairly quickly.”

Everybody’s eyes were fixed on the judge, except for Lady Virginia’s advocate, Sir Edward Makepeace, who was looking closely at Donald Trelford, Emma’s defense counsel. Either he was a formidable poker player or he simply didn’t want the jury to know what was in that letter.

Trelford rose from his place and reached into his inside pocket, only to find that the letter was no longer there. He looked across to the far side of the court, to see that Lady Virginia was smiling.

He returned her smile.

HARRY AND EMMA CLIFTON

1970–1971

1

THE JURY WAS out.

The judge had asked the seven men and five women to make one final effort to reach a verdict. Mrs. Justice Lane instructed them to return the following morning. She was beginning to think a hung jury was the most likely outcome. The moment she stood up, everyone in the well of the court rose and bowed. The judge returned the compliment, but it wasn’t until she had left the court that a babble of chatter erupted.

“Would you be kind enough to accompany me back to my chambers, Mrs. Clifton,” said Donald Trelford, “so we can discuss the contents of Major Fisher’s letter, and whether they should be made public.”

Emma nodded. “I’d like my husband and brother to join us, if that’s possible, as I know Sebastian has to get back to work.”

“Of course,” said Trelford, who gathered up his papers and, without another word, led them out of the courtroom and down the wide marble staircase to the ground floor. As they stepped out onto the Strand, a pack of baying journalists, accompanied by flashing cameras, once again surrounded them, and dogged their steps as they made their way slowly across to the QC’s chambers.

They were finally left alone once they’d arrived at Lincoln’s Inn, an ancient square full of neat-looking town houses that were in fact chambers occupied by barristers and their clerks. Mr. Trelford led them up a creaky wooden staircase to the top floor of No. 11, passing rows of names printed neatly in black on the snow-white walls.

When Emma entered Mr. Trelford’s office, she was surprised to see how small it was, but then there are no large offices in Lincoln’s Inn, even if you are the head of chambers.

Once they were all seated, Mr. Trelford looked across at the woman who sat opposite him. Mrs. Clifton appeared calm and composed, even stoical, which was rare for someone who was facing the possibility of defeat and humiliation, unless … He unlocked the top drawer of his desk, extracted a file and handed copies of Major Fisher’s letter to Mr. and Mrs. Clifton and Sir Giles Barrington. The original remained locked in his safe, although he was in no doubt that Lady Virginia had somehow got hold of the copy he had with him in court.

Once they had all read the letter, handwritten on House of Commons paper, Trelford said firmly, “If you will allow me to present this as evidence in open court, Mrs. Clifton, I am confident we can win the case.”

“That is out of the question,” said Emma, handing her copy back to Trelford. “I could never allow that,” she added with the dignity of a woman who knew that the decision might not only destroy her but also hand victory to her adversary.

“Will you at least allow your husband and Sir Giles to offer their opinion?”

Giles didn’t wait for Emma’s permission. “Of course it must be seen by the jury, because once it has, they’ll come down unanimously in your favor and, more importantly, Virginia will never be able to show her face in public again.”

“Possibly,” said Emma calmly, “but at the same time, you would have to withdraw your candidacy for the by-election, and this time the prime minister won’t be offering you a seat in the House of Lords as compensation. And you can be sure of one thing,” she added. “Your ex-wife will consider destroying your political career a far greater prize than defeating me. No, Mr. Trelford,” she continued, not looking at her brother, “this letter will remain a family secret, and we will all have to live with the consequences.”

“That’s pigheaded of you, sis,” said Giles, swinging around. “Perhaps I don’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling responsible for you losing the case and having to stand down as chairman of Barrington’s. And don’t forget, you’ll also have to pay Virginia’s legal costs, not to mention whatever compensation the jury decide to award her.”

“It’s a price worth paying,” said Emma.

“Pigheaded,” repeated Giles, a decibel louder. “And I’ll bet Harry agrees with me.”

They all turned toward Harry, who didn’t need to read the letter a second time, as he could have repeated it word for word. However, he was torn between wishing to support his oldest friend and not wanting his wife to lose her libel case. What John Buchan once described as being “between a rock and a hard place.”

“It’s not my decision to make,” said Harry. “But if it were my future that was hanging by a thread, I’d want Fisher’s letter to be read out in court.”

“Two to one,” said Giles.

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