Edward Kane and the Innocent Railway - Chapter 4

The New Calton Burial Ground was particularly damp and muddy tonight. Despite the inclement weather, Kane and Horse made their way there on foot. It was Mr Horse who held the purse strings of that household and ‘cab fare’ would be – in Horse’s words – ‘a bloomin’ waste of good money’.

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

And as they walked, Horse explained the purpose of their expedition. There were unanswered questions about this case that only the mother could answer. She was still likely at the cemetery. Wee Johnny Campbell had been buried – after payment of the appropriate expenses – at three o’clock that day. Given the time of year, and the weather, darkness had fallen early. The body was young. The body was fresh...

“Grave robbers, sir. There’s a fancy name for them, but I can never remember...”

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Kane tipped the brim of his hat to keep the rain from his face: “‘Resurrectionists’, Mr Horse.”

Horse looked quizzically at Kane from under his cap. Kane continued: “These individuals, these grave robbers, they ‘resurrect’ the fresh body long before The Day of Judgment and sell them on for medical experimentation. And by all accounts, our friends, Mr Burke and Mr Hare had innovated somewhat on the practice.”

“Call them what you like, sir. I calls them ‘scum’ with no respect for the dead.”

Kane and Horse tramped – respectfully, it should be said – across that muddy, hilly cemetery, until they reached their destination. A newly-dug grave.

Horse crouched down and felt the freshly-dug earth between his fingers. “This will be it, Mr Kane.”

Kane looked down at the final resting place of Johnny Campbell. Eleven years old...

His reverie was quickly cut short by a furious voice, shouting: “You! Stand back from the grave. Stand back – or I’ll blow your bloody head off.”

And when Kane and Horse turned around, they found themselves confronted by two angry men. And the men were holding shotguns. And the shotguns, held high, were pointed directly at the faces of Mr Horse and Edward Kane.

*****

Pouring rain. Edward Kane and Mr Horse held up their hands. Horse spoke:

“It’s not what you’re thinking here, my friends...”

The smaller man wielding the shotgun barked: “We saw ye. Aye, we saw ye from the watchtower”. He indicated the round, castle turret overlooking the burial ground “By hell! The wee boy is no’ even buried half a day and you’re here trying to rob the grave. Maybe you should join him now, ye scum.”

He raised the shotgun higher, taking aim.

Horse spoke quickly now, pointing at Kane: “Look at my friend here. Look at how he’s dressed. Does he look like a grave robber to you?”

Edward Kane pulled himself up to his full height and tried – albeit, given the driving rain, in a now very soggy fashion – to demonstrate his respectable demeanour.

The small man was unimpressed: “Aye, there’s a lot of money in digging up these poor souls. Yer fancy cloots mean nothing to us. There’s still a spade there. I think youse boys should get digging, ‘cause we’ll likely need two more holes now...”

But before the digging could begin, Horse became aware of a light emerging from the watchtower. Someone else was coming now, holding up a lantern to light the way.

Gradually, the light came down the steep hill towards them, negotiating the vaults, monuments and gravestones, each memorial of stone catching that brief light before being plunged once again into the darkness.

And as the light approached, so did Horse and Kane begin the ascertain the figure carrying the lantern. A large figure? No – a small figure, but bulked out by the encumbrance of petticoats and thick coats in that pouring rain.

As the figure approached, Edward Kane narrowed his eyes, and then exclaimed: “Euphemia Campbell!”

The grieving mother stood there for a moment and held the lantern towards Kane, her eyes squinting in the darkness: “Mr Kane? Mr Kane? What are you doing here?”

Kane smiled nervously, then: “I am happy to answer any questions, madam, but – first of all, I should be grateful if the shotgun could be pointed away from my face...”

*****

A roaring fire was burning inside the watchtower now as Kane, Horse and Mrs Euphemia Campbell basked in the light and warmth of the flames. The armed gentlemen had resumed their watch at the top of the tower.

The mother explained: “You’ll have to excuse my brother, Tam and his friend. They’re part of The Trades, sir. That’s how we came to get that wee burial spot here for my boy.” She looked out of the window into the bleak driving rain. “And ye’ll ken, sir. That’s there’s still a great deal of trouble. Wi’ the bodies being stolen and that...”

The conversation turned to the events that had left her son dead. Mr Horse took the lead:

“You see, madam, Mr Kane here tells me that the last time you saw your boy, he was going out the door with a friend – is that right?”

The lady nodded: “Aye, sir.”

“And did the friend go onto the train carriage with him?”

Euphemia Campbell thought for a moment: “I think so, sir. They went out the door together and that’s a’ they were talking about...” and then, as if realising something, she frowned.

Kane said: “Yes?”

“His wee pal – Wallace. Wallace Johnson. I haven’t seen him since that day, Mr Kane. In fact....in fact...”

The lady knotted her brows.

“Something is troubling you, Mrs Campbell.”

“He wasn’t there today, Mr Kane. Wee Wally Johnson didnae attend the funeral...”

The lady thought it through for a moment, then: “And there was nae sign of his mither or faither either, despite...”

There was silence for a moment, then Kane offered: “I suppose it was a school day, ma’am.”

Euphemia Campbell gave a hollow laugh: “Och, that wouldnae have bothered wee Wally Johnson. He’s no’ the reading and writing type, sir. A bit of a wee scamp is Wally. Him and my boy – they were as different as chalk and cheese, still...”

Mr Horse looked into the fire as she spoke, then: “And where do you think we can find this little ‘scamp’, madam?”

Edward Kane and the Innocent Railway continues in Monday's Scotsman