Edward Kane, Advocate in The Supernal Sisters. Chapter 2: ‘Subterranean Provision'

The Advocates Library. The Reading Room.Collins sipped his tea and began to open the letter: ‘Curious. Very curious. And who are the instructing agents?’
Edward Kane, Advocate in The Supernal Sisters. Chapter 2: ‘Subterranean Provision’. Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes MacfarlaneEdward Kane, Advocate in The Supernal Sisters. Chapter 2: ‘Subterranean Provision’. Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane
Edward Kane, Advocate in The Supernal Sisters. Chapter 2: ‘Subterranean Provision’. Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane

‘The instructing solicitors are a firm called “Abernathy and Hawkes” – I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of them…’

At his point, Collins spluttered in his tea. Kane leaned in: ‘I’m sorry, my friend, what did I….?’

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Collins coughed a little, wiped his mouth with his handkerchief, then regained his composure: ‘Edward, “Abernathy and Hawkes” are…I struggle to describe them…let us just say that this is a legal firm with very few clients, and each client tends to be a member of the aristocracy. Or rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Are you sure that there is no clue in that letter of instruction?’ He removed the letter from the envelope and read it through, nodding as he went. He placed the letter back in the envelope and handed it back: ‘You are correct, my friend. No client. No subject heading. Nothing. The whole thing remains a mystery. But I suspect, Edward, that what you hold in your hand,’ he nodded towards the letter, ‘is not so much a letter of instruction as the entrance to an Aladdin’s cave of treasure…’

Edward Kane. Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes MacfarlaneEdward Kane. Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane
Edward Kane. Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane


‘Snuff, Mr Kane?’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘A pinch of snuff, sir? Would you care for a pinch of snuff?’

Kane gave a weak smile: No thank you.’

They had been waiting for a good ten minutes now. No sign of any client.

Advocate and instructing solicitor sat in silence. Cameron Abernathy, solicitor, best described as large, round and hairless, began to whistle (somewhat tunelessly, it must be said) and to drum his fingers on the table in no discernible rhythm.

Kane studied the gold snuff box on the highly-polished table in the consultation rooms of Abernathy and Hawkes. Immediately there had been something about these offices that had made the young Advocate supremely uncomfortable. Just something about the place. It reeked of…what was it? Of money. Yes, money. Of course, that, of itself, was not bad. It was just that this was the kind of lawyer’s firm (according to Collins) where merchant bankers would come and make subterranean provision for children born out of wedlock from illicit trysts with social inferiors. Where the nobility would consult about some dark secret, usually some harmful act that was to be swept under the carpet by the use of their position and money. Failing which, intimidation where the problem would be escorted out of the royal door – like a beggar by burly footmen – shooed away by the threat of disgrace and ruinous legal proceedings.

As they sat in silence, Kane mused that this was not why he had become a lawyer. He has become a lawyer to do good! They waited. And waited. Kane’s mind began to wander. The Advocates Library stored not just legal books, but many treasures. Among those was the Flodden Flag. The banner that had been unfurled by the Scots in battle in 1513. And the flag trumpeted: ‘Veritas Vincit’ – ‘The truth wins’. Kane gave an inward groan. In the little time he had spent as an Advocate, he had soon realised that the truth was the last thing that most litigants wanted to hear and was often the first casualty on the battlefield of court proceedings.

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The profusely sweating solicitor, Abernathy, took his timepiece from his pocket and shook his head. He reminded Kane of a nervous pig in a butcher’s shop. Abnernathy looked up: ‘You’re probably wondering what this whole thing is about, Mr Kane.’

Kane – ever polite – nodded with a smile: ‘Your letter of instruction was…commendably brief, Mr Abernathy.’

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‘It’s the client, Mr Kane. Absolute discretion is assured. You understand…’

‘Of course.’

The solicitor leaned in: ‘But while we wait for the client, sir, I wonder if I might ask you a question?’

‘Of course. Anything.

‘Do you…um…do you…’. The solicitor gave a little cough, ‘…do you have any experience of…of exhuming a dead body?’


The door flew open. Two people came in. Only one was in any kind of a hurry. That would be the other partner in the firm of Abernathy and Hawkes: John Hawkes. In contrast to the expansive, rolling plains of the bald Mr Abernathy, Mr Hawes was reminiscent of an over-excited, hairy maypole.

The other party entering – the one for whom the words ‘in a hurry’ could never apply – was a man in his mid-twenties, Harry Humbie. Son of Alexander Humbie.

Some people are immediately dis-likeable. Harry Humbie was such a person. A life of privilege had engendered in him a general air of disdain. He would roll his languid superiority into every room as a child might roll in a hoop and a stick.

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It was Humbie’s father and grandfather who had amassed the family fortune. In Fish. Barrels and barrels of fish meant barrels and barrels of money. First selling from a barrow, then door-to-door, then owning shops, then a factory, then factories (plural) – the accumulation of all that wealth over two generations from the sweat of their brow and the fruits of the sea. This rise-at-dawn and late-to-bed family work ethic, however, was not one that Harry Humbie appeared to have inherited. His father, Alexander, had always longed for his only son to be a gentleman. And the right amount of money lavished in the right places, coupled with the right (and expensive) education had, on the face of it, achieved this. Given his conspicuous wealth, the father, Alexander Humbie, had managed to marry above his station, bagging the fifth (and until that point entirely un-marriageable) daughter of a near-ruined aristocrat. By an uncanny coincidence, the sizeable dowry provided by Humbie was able to settle the gambling debts of the father of the bride, averting social disgrace. But, as Edward Kane was about to find out, Alexander Humbie’s son, Harry, appeared to have inherited all of the wrong traits.

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