Edward Kane and the Innocent Railway - Chapter 13

“As you will appreciate,” John Malcolm, the railways’ lawyer spoke with great deliberation, “the interdict is necessary to stop your lady from spreading false and injurious stories about my clients.”

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

Again, the offices of the solicitors Stevenson and Rose were filling with old Stevenson’s pipe smoke – and charged with the discussion of the untimely demise of little Johnny Campbell. Except, this time, the railway lawyers were trying to shut down that discussion. Four gentlemen now sat there: on one side of the desk, Edward Kane, Advocate and the old solicitor, Angus Stevenson. And on the other, Jonathan Shepherd, Director of the railway company and his lawyer, John Malcolm. Malcolm continued:

“A written undertaking from your client to desist may be sufficient to prevent the lodging of the Summons here. You have, I trust, already advised her that she has no case?”

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It’s fair to say that – on close examination – Edward Kane looked somewhat bleary this morning. Roused by Mr Horse from his sleep from a wing-back chair at two o’clock in the morning, and then ushered to his bed – only to be roused again at six a.m. – had left the young Advocate a mite foggy today. The provision of strong tea and crunchy toast (given that the original bread had now attained some vintage) assisted in the process of him being woken up.

And then Kane had sat in bleary silence at the dining table as Horse had relayed the revelations of the previous evening. Discussions turned to Kane’s visit to Dr Stanton and the Police Office and it was agreed that they should attend to speak to PC John Wilson (Junior) after seven o’ clock that morning. And then, before the consultation, there would be another visit...

Kane shook himself awake now and responded to Malcolm: “Oh, Mr Malcolm, I have advised appropriately, and I trust that you have advised your own client that the truth is a complete defence.”

Railway director, Jonathan Shepherd, could not contain his indignation: “This is outrageous!”

The railway solicitor, Malcolm, an experienced negotiator kept a very cool head. His voice was smooth and calm: “You will forgive my client’s quite natural outburst, gentlemen. Of course, the truth is always a complete defence, but – and I would have thought it material to your advice – that there would require to be corroboration of these unfounded and wild assertions.”

Kane nodded. Time to hit the railway where it would hurt most: “I wonder if it might be instructive if I were to outline a hypothetical situation?”

The railways director snorted: “It is no hypothesis that your client is damaging the reputation of the Innocent Railway.”

Kane held up his hand to placate Shepherd: “Hear me out, sir. I am certain that any dispute here can be resolved. If you would only hear me out.”

Jonathan Shepherd, director of the railway company harrumphed, shook his head, leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. His lawyer took over: “Mr Kane, with the greatest of respect to you, sir...”

But Kane pressed on: “Imagine, if you will, gentlemen, a railway company formed in the last five years or so...”

This, in fact, was the case with the North British Railway Company. Thus the director of that company and his lawyer did not interrupt. Kane continued: “...a company keen to extend its line further into England...”

The railways lawyer, Malcolm, said nothing, but he and his client, Shepherd, exchanged a look, then: “Continue...”

Kane continued: “But, of course, to do so, such a plan would require Royal Assent, would it not?”

Nether Shepherd nor his lawyer replied. Kane continued: “My understanding is that Her Majesty the Queen would, herself, require to approve of that. And it is well-known that our beloved monarch recoils from the mere suggestion of scandal, does she not?”

Malcolm and Shepherd remained silent. Kane smiled:

“However, it is an unfortunate fact that some rail lines – heaven forfend that it should be yours – are plagued with peculiar difficulties. It is an open secret that the practice of not issuing tickets on some railroads is an invitation for the users of those lines to engage in, how shall I put this – immoral activities...”

At this point, Shepherd stood up and began to rant: “How dare, you, sir. How dare you...”

Kane was cool in his reply: “I simply posit a hypothesis, Mr Shepherd. If, indeed, the hypothesis bears no resemblance to the, er, ‘Innocent Railway’, then I fail to see why you are should be so vexed, sir.”

The lawyer, Malcolm, gave his client a sharp look, and with an even sharper motion of the head, indicated that Shepherd should sit down and be quiet. He turned to Kane: “Continue, Mr Kane.”

“And Let us say that one day, an employee of a railway company, a railway guard – let us call him – hypothetically, of course – ‘Jocky Johnson’ – agrees to allow his son and a young friend – called ‘Johnny Campbell’ perhaps – travel in one of the carriages. And he takes tuppence ha’penny from young Johnny for his trouble.”

There was a different kind of silence in the room now, as the hypothetical narrative began to take on human flesh. Shepherd and Malcolm said nothing, but they were now listening intently.

“And soon into the journey – in a long, dark tunnel, an older gentleman and a young lady – and I use the word ‘lady’ very loosely here – flag down the train and enter the carriage. And the older gentleman indicates to the guard that he would appreciate a measure of privacy in the darkness of that long, long tunnel. And so, the guard tells the two young lads to vacate the wagon. The son complies, but the other lad – young Johnny – being a particular individual, and despite his young age – sits, arms folded, insisting that, having paid for his journey, he is entitled to remain within the carriage...”

The railway director, Shepherd, began to shake his head slowly from side-to-side, muttering under his breath: “Preposterous...”

“...and the gentleman – in frustration with our particular young lad – takes his cane and pushes the handle – rather like this...” Kane took his walking stick and pressed the brass handle against his own chin to illustrate, “...with some firmness, it must be said, to induce the boy to move. But with no success. And so, in a flash of anger, the guard, Jocky Johnson – a giant of a man – grabs the boy by the arm and throws him – like a doll made of rags – throws him out of the wagon. And so the train moves on...”

Shepherd and Malcolm sat. And said nothing.