The usher guided Sir Hugo into the box and handed him a Bible. The witness read the oath from the card that was held up in front of him, then looked up toward the gallery, searching for the person he wished was giving evidence in his place. Mr. Pearson gave him a warm smile when he looked back down.
"Sir Hugo, would you just for the record state your name and address?"
"Sir Hugo Moncrieff, the Manor House, Dunbroath in Scotland."
"Let me begin, Sir Hugo, by asking you when you last saw your nephew, Nicholas Moncrieff."
"On the day we both attended his father's funeral."
"And did you have an opportunity to speak to him on that sad occasion?"
"Unhappily not," said Hugo. "He was accompanied by two prison officers who said that we were not to have any contact with him."
"What sort of relationship did you have with your nephew?" asked Pearson.
"Cordial. We all loved Nick. He was a fine lad, whom the family considered had been badly treated."
"So there was no ill feeling when you and your brother learned that he had inherited the bulk of the estate from your father."
"Certainly not," said Hugo. "Nick would automatically inherit the title on his father's death, and along with it the family estate."
"So it must have come as a terrible shock to discover that he had hanged himself in prison, and that an impostor had taken his place."
Hugo lowered his head for a moment, before saying, "It was a massive blow for my wife Margaret and myself, but thanks to the professionalism of the police and the rallying round of friends and family, we are slowly trying to come to terms with it."
"Word-perfect," whispered Sir Matthew.
"Can you confirm, Sir Hugo, that the Garter King of Arms has established your right to the family title?" asked Mr. Pearson, ignoring Sir Matthew's comment.
"Yes, I can, Mr. Pearson. The letters patent were sent to me some weeks ago."
"Can you also confirm that the estate in Scotland, along with the house in London and the bank accounts in London and Switzerland are once again in the custody of the family?"
"I'm afraid I cannot, Mr. Pearson."
"And why is that?" asked Mr. Justice Hackett.
Sir Hugo appeared a little flustered as he turned toward the judge. "It's the policy of both banks concerned not to confirm ownership while a court case is still in progress, m'lord. They have assured me that legal transfer will take place to the rightful party as soon as this case is concluded, and the jury have delivered their verdict."
"Fear not," said the judge, giving him a warm smile. "Your long ordeal is coming to an end."
Sir Matthew was on his feet instantly. "I apologize for interrupting your lordship, but does your response to this witness imply that you have already come to a decision in this case?" he asked with a warm smile.
It was the judge's turn to look flustered. "No, of course not, Sir Matthew," he replied. "I was merely stating that whatever the outcome of this trial, Sir Hugo's long wait is finally coming to an end."
"I am obliged, my lord. It comes as a great relief to discover that you have not made up your mind before the defense has been given a chance to present its case." He settled back in his place.
Pearson glowered at Sir Matthew, but the old man's eyes were already closed. Turning back to the witness, he said, "I am sorry, Sir Hugo, that you have had to be put through such an unpleasant ordeal, which is not of your own making. But it has been important for the jury to see what havoc and distress the defendant Daniel Cartwright has brought down on your family. As his lordship has made clear, that ordeal is finally coming to an end."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," said Sir Matthew.
Pearson once again ignored the interruption. "No more questions, my lord," he said, before resuming his place.
"Every word of that was rehearsed," whispered Sir Matthew, his eyes still closed. "Lead the damn man down a long, dark path and when he least expects it, plunge a knife into his heart. I can promise you, Alex, no blood will flow, blue or red."
"Mr. Redmayne, I apologize for interrupting you," said the judge, "but is it your intention to cross-examine this witness?"
"Pace yourself, my boy. Don't forget that he's the one who wants to get it over with," whispered Sir Matthew as he slumped back into his place.
"Sir Hugo," Alex began, "you told the court that your relationship with your nephew, Nicholas Moncrieff, was a close one-cordial was the word I think you used to describe it-and that you would have spoken to him at his father's funeral had the prison officers not prevented it."
"Yes, that is correct," said Hugo.
"Let me ask you, when was it that you first discovered that your nephew was in fact dead, and not living, as you had believed, in his home in The Boltons?"
"A few days before Cartwright was arrested," said Hugo.
"That would have been about a year and a half after the funeral at which you were not allowed any contact with your nephew?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
"In that case, I am bound to ask, Sir Hugo, how many times during that eighteen-month period did you and your nephew, whom you were so close to, meet up or speak on the phone?"
"But that's the point, it wasn't Nick," said Hugo, looking pleased with himself.
"No, it wasn't," agreed Alex. "But you have just told the court that you didn't become aware of that fact until three days before my client was arrested."
Hugo looked up to the gallery, hoping for inspiration. This wasn't one of the questions Margaret had anticipated and told him how to answer. "Well, we both lead busy lives," he said, trying to think on his feet. "He was living in London, while I spend most of my time in Scotland."
"I understand that they now have telephones in Scotland," said Alex. A ripple of laughter went around the court.
"It was a Scot who invented the telephone, sir," said Hugo sarcastically.
"All the more reason to pick one up," suggested Alex.
"What are you implying?" asked Hugo.
"I'm not implying anything," replied Alex. "But can you deny that when you both attended a stamp auction at Sotheby's in London in September 2002 and spent the next few days in Geneva at the same hotel as the man you believed to be your nephew, you made no attempt to speak to him?"
"He could have spoken to me," said Hugo, his voice rising. "It's a two-way street, you know."
"Perhaps my client didn't want to speak to you, as he knew only too well what sort of relationship you had with your nephew. Perhaps he knew that you had not written or spoken to him once during the past ten years. Perhaps he knew that your nephew loathed you, and that your own father-his grandfather-had cut you out of his will?"
"I see that you are determined to take the word of a criminal before that of a member of the family."
"No, Sir Hugo. I learned all of this from a member of the family."
"Who?" demanded Hugo defiantly.
"Your nephew, Sir Nicholas Moncrieff," replied Alex.