Edward Kane and the Innocent Railway - Chapter 1

Edinburgh: 1850. Inside the Offices of the solicitors, Stevenson and Rose, Writers to the Signet...

Edward Kane and the Innocent Railway. Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane
Edward Kane and the Innocent Railway. Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane

“They left him to die, sir. My wee boy. Left him to die like a dog in the street.”

Mrs Euphemia Campbell, the grieving mother, was sitting across from Edward Kane, Advocate, dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief.

“But he never done anything wrong, sir. I knew my boy. He loved his books. He loved his numbers. He wouldnae have been carrying on. Never.”

The oak-panelled room was filling up with smoke now as the old instructing solicitor, Angus Stevenson WS, nodded and puffed on his pipe. “As you will see, Mr Kane, the boy was travelling in a railway carriage on the Edinburgh and Dalkeith Railway. Reports are that he started to misbehave. He fell out of the carriage and suffered a blow to the head. His body was recovered the following day.”

The grieving mother gently sobbed: “My wee Johnny. He went out with his pal. And he never came home, sir. And I waited up all night for him, Mr Kane. All night.”

Kane nodded. “What I cannot fathom at this point is why it took so long for the matter to be reported or for the body to be found. Surely, if a child of...of…”

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The mother spoke quickly: “Eleven, sir. My boy was eleven.”

The old solicitor piped up: “It happened in the tunnel Mr Kane. The long tunnel at St Leonards. The body was obscured by the darkness.”

Kane sat back in his chair. The law was clear here. And now there was some unwelcome news that had to be imparted to the distraught mother of a dead son.

But before Kane could do that, the old solicitor intervened: “If I may presume to predict your answer, sir.” Mr Stevenson puffed on his pipe. “You are about to tell this grieving mother that she has no case. She has no case because if her son – God rest him – was carrying on inside the wagon and he fell out, then the law is clear: if it was his fault, or even partly his fault, then there is no case here.” He nodded toward the mother. “She has been told that.”

Mrs Campbell was staring hard at Kane now, as if the duration and intensity of the gaze of a distraught mother could somehow overturn the settled Law of Scotland.

Kane sighed and looked at the lady. “I’m afraid that your solicitor Mr Stevenson is perfectly correct, madam.”

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There was silence in the room for a moment, while Mrs Campbell closed her eyes. Kane saw her shudder gently as the bad news seeped through her.

Mr Stevenson, the old solicitor, tapped his pipe against an ornate wooden ashtray and broke the silence. “Well, I am sorry madam that Learned Counsel could provide you with no better answer than a humble instructing solicitor, but...”

The mother opened her eyes. She now looked and spoke like a woman possessed: “It’s all lies. Lies. He was a good boy, my Johnny. And we’ll prove that...”

Stevenson interrupted: “But the expenses alone...”

“I had money saved for my own burial, sir. I never thought I would have to use it for my son. I’m going to spend that money, every last penny, until we find the truth, sir. The truth...”

*****

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The great Parliament Hall was virtually empty today.

The Hall is awfully quiet today thought Kane. Of course, it’s Monday. The judges don’t sit on a Monday.

Kane entered The Advocates Library and enquired of a Faculty Servant: “Do you happen to know if Mr Collins is in the Library today?”

“Aye, Mr Kane. He’ll be in the Reading Room, sir.”

Kane made his way into the Advocates Reading Room. Polished wooden flooring, expensive rugs, plush leather armchairs, wing-chairs and sofas, portraits of past members on the walls and – ahhhh – coffee.

And there, at a table in the corner, was his friend Collins, all bookish eagerness and horn-rimmed glasses.

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Collins had called to the Bar with Kane and their friendship had been cemented with a common problem: no work. And no work meant no income.

Kane sat down and the two friends sat among the pipe smoke, drinking coffee and they soon began to bemoan their lack of instruction.

Collins sipped at his coffee: “Do you know, Edward, my wife required to wake me in the middle of last night. For my own part, I was dreaming of sitting down to a hearty meal of roast duck...”

“Ahhh..” mused Kane “...roast duck...”. He could feel the saliva quicken in his mouth at the (remote) memory.

Collins continued his narrative: “And when Mrs Collins roused me, she claimed that I was actually chewing at my pillow...”

The friends laughed. “And no doubt,” smiled Kane, “corroboration was provided by the presence of a quantity of pillow feathers in your mouth.”

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The friends laughed again. Then the subject turned to Kane’s recent consultation. The Advocate outlined the situation to his friend: a young boy of eleven years had taken a trip on the Edinburgh and Dalkeith Railway; he had been misbehaving in one of the railway carriages; as a result, he had fallen out of the carriage; his head had struck a rock and he had died instantly; his grieving mother denied that he would have been misbehaving; she wished to sue someone – anyone – to find the truth.

Collins listened intently, sometimes nodding, but saying nothing. Then: “Well, Edward, as you have no doubt concluded yourself – and advised as such, I hope – the case is quite hopeless.”

Kane nodded: “That was my view. I tendered robust advice.”

Collins frowned: “And you would have stressed to her that any negligent contribution by the chid would exonerate the other party.”

“I made that clear”

“And?”

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“And...the grieving mother wishes to expend the last of her life savings in pursuit of the action – against anyone.”

“And so?”

“And so, I suggested that my solicitors should send a brief letter to the rail company reminding them of their general duty to ensure that their wagons are a safe mode of travel.”

Collins shook his head: “And who, may I ask, is going to pay for such a masterpiece of legal communication?”

Kane was sheepish in his reply: “The mother, of course.”

Collins sat back in his chair and frowned. He sat silently and sipped at his coffee.

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After a few moments, Kane broke the silence: “If I could spare a penny, my friend, I would tender that penny for your thoughts.”

Collins leaned forward: “You will excuse me, Kane, for suggesting that – as impecunious as I am – rather than take the life savings of a grieving mother in a hopeless case, I would rather be roused at midnight with a mouthful of feathers...”

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