Edward Kane and the Innocent Railway - Chapter 5

Three o’clock in the morning. Sometimes at that hour, Kane could hear Mr Horse murmur in his sleep in the adjoining room. Very often the babbling related to Horse’s experience at the Battle of Waterloo: “No you don’t, Frenchie...heads down, boys, heads down...it’s stuck...them poor horses...”

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

But tonight, the sound was different. Someone was creeping around. Kane sat up at the edge of his bed, took off his night-cap, lit a candle, pulled on his dressing gown and slippers and, holding the candle, made his way into the sitting room.

Horse was standing there, leaning out of the open window. Kane spoke: “Mr Horse. Mr Horse is all well with you?”

Horse brought his head back into the room. He was holding a jug in his hand.

“Oh, Mr K. I apologise, sir. Did I disturb you?”

Kane put the candle on the table and motioned to the marble clock on the mantelpiece: “I am more accustomed to you talking in your sleep at this hour, Mr Horse. Not creeping around the house.”

“Couldn’t sleep, sir. Thought I’d get up and have a brew.” He held up the jug. “We still got a drop of milk left.” He sniffed at the milk in the jug. “It ain’t turned yet, sir. Fancy a nice cuppa?”

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*****

Kettle boiled on the fire; tea properly “mashed” in Horse’s military way (the strength of which tea was notorious), Kane and Horse sat at the table. They heard the clock on the mantel strike four in the morning.

“This case. This bloomin’ case! It’s like one of them foreign lumps of cheese Mr K – full of holes, ennit...”

Kane sat, his fingers wrapped around his tea cup to keep them warm: “Oh – I don’t know, Mr Horse. It’s often the case that the true answer is the most obvious one. A boy of eleven mounts the open carriage of a train. He misbehaves. He falls off. Boys will be boys...”

“Yes, Mr K – but this boy will never grow up to be a man. There’s something nagging at me, Mr K. That’s why I can’e sleep. Something don’t make sense...”

“You mean why didn’t his best friend attend the funeral?”

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Horse nodded: “They was expecting...what was his name...little Wally and his parents, but none of them turned up. It’s all a bit rum, ennit?”

“Possibly, Horse, possibly...”

Man and manservant sat in silence in the semi-darkness around the table, each mulling over the case in his own mind.

“But, there’s something else, Mr K. Something else that don’t quite fit – but I don’t rightly know what it is yet.”

Kane finished his tea: “We shall have a pact, Mr Horse. We shall put the matter out of our minds until we have had a good night’s- - and then tomorrow, we shall visit the scene. That long, dark tunnel of the Edinburgh and Dalkeith Railway. The place that took the life of Johnny Campbell, aged eleven years.”

*****

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Bright sunshine. Kane looked around. It wasn’t quite a platform, but this appeared to them to be the obvious place to mount the train.

Edward Kane and Mr Horse stood at the side of the train tracks as, periodically, the carriages passed. Kane frowned: “It all seems rather informal, does it not, Mr Horse? Engines stopping and starting and people appearing to be getting on and off, virtually at will.”

They watched as a family of four, comprising a rather rotund lady being helped onto the carriage by her husband (the large lady in a flurry of groaning and petticoats) being followed by two their young sons lugging an outsize hamper.

Horse smiled: “That’ll be them all ready for a nice day at the seaside, Mr K. The sands of Portobello will be just the ticket on a day like this, sir.”

Kane nodded. He recalled that, as a boy, his father had taken him to see that same railway line. But at that time, the carriages were carrying coal – not people – from Dalkeith and further afield. And all in service of the magnificent, ever-growing city of Edinburgh. At that time, those great wagons were being pulled along the tracks by horses. It all resembled some bucolic scene from a carefree, distant past. And thus the Edinburgh and Dalkeith line was given its informal name “The Innocent Railway”.

Oh, father, father – what would you have made of this modern age? Kane’s father, dead now. How long was it? Kane stood in silence, looking down the rail track into the distance. What was it the Bard had said? Thou mindst me o’ departed joys/Departed never to return...

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The Advocate’s reverie was disturbed by the blast of a horn and the puffing of a large steam engine as it chugged past.

Horse looked over: “You seem melancholy, sir. I’d ask if you’ve had too much beef – but we ain’t seen much of that in the last few days, have we Mr K?”

At this point in his career, a steady income seemed an elusive proposition for an impecunious Advocate and his manservant.

“Well, sir – shall we get on one?”

Kane nodded. Horse began to wave down one of the engines, as if he were hailing a hansom cab. The driver of the engine waved back and the great machine began to slow down, huffing and puffing as it stopped. Horse helped his master onto the open carriage and then mounted it himself. Kane bowed to the lady and gentleman across from him. They gave only cursory acknowledgement, appearing somewhat evasive. And then, without a by-your-leave, the evasive couple got off quickly. But Kane hardly registered this as he sat down. A blue-uniformed rail guard hopped up: “Where are youse going, gents? Porty will be nice today. Or what about the Musselburgh races? The races are always braw.”

Horse answered: “Just along to the tunnel, my friend – you know, the big, long one where the little boy fell off last week.”

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The rail guard, a lanky fellow in his early twenties seemed to fiddle nervously with his hat for a moment, then tipped it back and waved to the driver to start the engine moving again. And once the engine was in motion, and having taken money for the fares, the young guard examined Kane and Horse with some caution, and then asked: “You police?”

Kane left it to Horse to reply. Horse was good at this sort of thing: “No, son. Just friends of the family, like. Just want to know what happened to the poor little lad, if you know what I mean.”

The young guard shook his head: “Begging your pardon, friend, but the lad was a bit of a pest. At least, that’s what they say. Wouldn’t give up his seat. And to a gentleman and a lady as well. What the boy was doing in that particular carriage was naebody’s business, I’m telling ye...”