Edward Kane and the Innocent Railway - Chapter 12

THUD! THUD! THUD!

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

Mr Horse was pounding on the outside door of the Doric Tavern. After a number of assaults on the door, a woman’s voice shouted from within: “Get awa’ wi’ ye. We’re shut.”

Horse shouted back: “Is that you, Rosie?”

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There was a pause, then the woman shouted back “Naw – it’s Isabel. Who’s that?”

Horse smiled: “It’s your favourite Englishman, my dear...”

“Horse?”

“The same, my lovely...”

There was a pause, and then: “What is it ye want, ye cheeky rascal? Ye ken we’re shut...”

Horse leaned in at the door and shouted: “Lovely Isabel, a wery good friend of mine has mislaid his hat. He thinks he might have left it in your establishment. Distracted by your considerable charms, no doubt, my dear..”

Silence for a few moments, followed by the jangling of a bunch of keys. Then the sound of a large key in the lock. The key turned. The door opened. A head popped out: “Ye had better come in then.”

Isabel, a knowing twenty nine year-old, full of figure, broad of smile, gave Horse a wry grin and let Horse and the boy through the door. She pointed at young Wallace Johnson: “And who’s this? Likely wan of your wee secret weans, Horse?”

Despite his usual studied composure, the boy looked affronted. Horse smiled: “This, my dear, is the young son of our friend, Jocky Johnson.” The barmaid laughed: “Oh – we ken Big Jocky, a’right. He can fair put awa’ the beer and the gin. And the amount of money he’s splashing about this week. Now, do youse boys want a beer while you’re looking for that hat?”

*****

The first thing that Kane noticed when he returned to his dwelling was the note left under his door from the concerned solicitor intimating that Mrs Campbell had been interdicted. No need to respond now that Kane had seen old Stevenson in Parliament Hall and had agreed to attend tomorrow’s meeting.

The next thing Kane was aware of was of how cold the rooms were. Of course, thought Kane, Mr Horse has been away all of the day – so no fire laid at any point. The rooms had that air of being chilly and unloved.

Kane took off his hat, and, still dressed in his coat, gloves and shoes, he slumped down in the wing-back chair before the open, unlit fire. The clock on the mantelpiece struck midnight. He undid his bow-tie and could feel a creeping warmth at his back as he sat there fully-clothed. I’ll just rest my eyes for a moment...

*****

Mr Horse raised the drink to his lips: “Ah, you do get a nice glass of beer in here, don’t you, son?”

Horse and Wally Johnson sat drinking at a small oak table at the (closed) Doric Tavern. The eleven year-old boy gave a sly grin and shook his head: “Nah – I think it’s better at the White Hart – you get more froth on the head there.”

Horse and the boy sat at the table, chatting easily, as if they were old friends. Of course, the ostensible reason for the visit to The Doric – finding the lost hat – had been sheer invention on Horse’s part. He had a clear agenda: get the boy away from the evasive parents; find out what had happened to wee Johnny Campbell on that train journey; and find out where big Jocky Johnson had got that money. Had the boy been given money to keep his mouth shut about the whole thing? And were the parents spending that money now?

Their chat was interrupted by the barmaid, Isabel: “Well, my lads, did you find the hat, or what?”

Horse shook his head: “Neither hide not hair of that head-gear, my love.”

Isabel thought for a moment: “I was only on the late shift tonight. There’s maybe something been handed in earlier. Do you want me to go and have a look ben the back room?”

Hose raised his jug in assent and Isabel repaired to the rooms beside the bar. The boy smiled: “Ha!! My da’s always losing his hat. We thought he’d lost it that day – you know – the day that wee Johnny came aff the wagon...”

Horse furrowed his brow. What was the child talking about? Horse lied: “Of course, son, of course. Your dad was telling me all about it. What happened again?”

But before the child could answer, a triumphant cry was heard from the adjoining room: “Found it!” And Isabel came through the door carrying a hat – and a very large hat at that. She held it up for them to see: “Would you believe the size of Jocky’s heid? Look at the size of it. You don’t know whether to put it on your heid – or have a bath in it. Here you go, Horse.” She threw the hat in Horse’s direction.

Horse caught the hat and placed it down among the empty glasses. Wally Johnson smiled and nodded. This was, indeed, the hat. Horse examined it more closely – was that a badge on the front? And then the creeping, gradual realisation: the marks on the dead boy’s arm, like finger marks, but too far apart to be sure, the giant figure lying in the stair entrance with the face covered by his jacket – a blue jacket, the stained blue trousers, the old lady on the landing speaking of Jocky Johnson “stepping off” his work to go to the Musselburgh races. Musselburgh. A town serviced by the Edinburgh and Dalkeith line. And now, here was his blue hat. With a badge at the front. Part of his official uniform. Jocky Johnson was one of the railway guards on the Innocent Railway.

Horse’s thoughts were interrupted by the boy’s laughter. “It’s no’ the first time that my da thought he’d lost his hat, sir. The last time was when he just flung wee Johnny out of that carriage, ye ken, when that gentleman and that wifey wanted a bit of private time, like...”

And young Wallace Johnson (aged eleven years) drained the beer from his jug.