Edward Kane and the Innocent Railway - Chapter 6

The day was bright, but when Kane saw the great gaping mouth of the tunnel, it looked to him as dark as death. Inside that great maw, gas lamps created isolated pools of light that punctuated the darkness every few yards.

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

The engine stopped just before the tunnel entrance. Kane and Horse climbed down onto the grass. The young guard tipped his hat to Kane and Horse below, then motioned for the driver to resume the journey. They stood and watched as the train moved on, the engine and carriage being swallowed by the blackness of the tunnel.

“Well, that young guard was a rum ‘un, wasn’t he, Mr K?”

“What do you mean, Horse?”

“Wouldn’t give us a ticket, sir. We pays the fare – but no ticket. He says that folks don’t want tickets because there’s some people don’t want other people to know what they’re about.” He tapped his nose: “Maybe don’t want the wife to find the ticket and see that they’ve been out for a little ride, if you catch my drift.”

Kane thought for a moment. On reflection, the couple who had been sitting across from them – an older gentleman and a pretty young girl, not quite in that gentleman’s class – had avoided eye contact with Kane and had left the carriage perhaps a little too quickly. A clandestine, amorous tryst perhaps?

“All clear, Mr K.”

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Mr Horse led the way into the gloom of the long tunnel. They moved along carefully, listening out for the signs of any approaching engines.

They walked on for a few minutes, then Horse stopped and pointed at the wall. “Here it is, sir.” A very large “X” had been marked onto the wall with white chalk, with an arrow pointing down. “This is where the lad was found.”

Kane looked through the gloom at the ground below him. Grass, and stones and mud. No indication that anything had ever happened there at all. Grass and stones and mud. That was it.

Kane drew his walking stick along the ground, leaving a line in the mud. “Well, Mr Horse, I fear that our visit to the locus has left us none the wiser.” He turned around and saw Horse lighting a match and following the wall towards the entrance, eyes fixed on the grass beneath him.

Horse was silent for a moment, then: “None the wiser? Oh, I don’t know about that, sir. I think it’s been a wery interesting trip so far, wery interesting indeed.” They stood in the quivering glow of the match-light. “But, if you don’t mind me saying so, Mr K, I think that now is the time that we’d better go on and find the dead boy’s friend – that little rascal, Wally Johnson.”

“Why so, Mr Horse?”

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“I don’t know if you noticed, Mr K, but the grass from the entrance to here was all scuffed, sir.””

“Meaning?”

“Meaning, the dead boy didn’t fall out here, sir – he was dragged here. Or at least his body was...”

*****

The Cowgate in Edinburgh was hardly the place for a gentleman to stroll on a dark night. On that basis, it was agreed that Kane and Horse should part, Kane returning to Parliament House to examine any scant contents of his work box, and Horse to undertake the visit to the home of Wallace Johnson – possibly the last person to see young Johnny Campbell alive.

It struck Horse that the narrow Cowgate streets were stinking more than usual tonight. And not just with human waste. Maybe it was the dead dog that was lying in the middle of the road, apparently there for some days by the state of the carcass. Horse had been given young Wally’s address by the grieving mother and he was now making his way to that tenement building.

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When he reached the stair entrance, his path was blocked by a huge object, the outstretched, large – very large – body of a man. Lying on his back, blue jacket covering the face. Dead? Horse nudged the shoulder of the body with his foot and heard a throaty moan underneath the jacket. Ah – dead drunk, more like.

Horse stepped over the inert inebriate and began to climb the stairs inside the close. Top floor, the lady said. Horse made his way up through the darkness, sometimes holding onto the walls at the sides to keep his balance.

Top floor. And now there were two doors. Black door on the left, green door on the right. No nameplate on either door. Pot luck.

Horse knocked on the black door. He waited. Nothing. He knocked again. No answer. But surely there was somebody inside – he could hear a kind of swishing and scurrying. Time to try the other door. Horse knocked on the green door on the right.

A noise from inside. Coming towards the door. And then a voice. The voice of a very old lady: “Is that you, Patrick?”

Horse hesitated for a moment, then: “No madam, sorry to disturb you, but I’m looking for the Johnson family.”

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The door began to creak, and then, slowly, it opened. Just enough for Horse to see the heavy chain inside that allowed for partial opening. And through the narrow slit, the face of a woman, possibly in her eighties.

“My son, Patrick, telt me no’ to open the door of strangers...”

“No need to open the door, madam. I’m just looking for the Johnson family, and their lad Wallace.”

The old lady smiled: “Is that Wee Wally in bother again? He’s a handful, that boy...”

“Sorry to trouble you, my dear, but it was the lad’s parents I wanted.”

The lady cocked her head, indicating the wall to her right-hand side. “They’re through the wall from me, son. Is Jessie no’ answering the door again?”

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“I tried to knock, but...”

“Aye, I doubt she thinks you’re the rent-man, so she’s no’ answering. And them coming intae that money as well.”

“Money?”

“The husband. Drunken sinner that he is. Nae wonder the boy has turned out the way he has, wi’ a faither like Jocky Johnson. It’s a wonder big Jocky can ever get to his work, the way he drinks. Oh, I hear them shoutin’ and bawlin’ through the wa’, sir. Jocky and Jessie. I doubt he’d been to the races. Again. He’d step off his work at Musselburgh. Mind you, efter that, sir, Jessie seemed to have enough money in her purse.”

Horse nodded. “And where, madam, might I find Mr Johnson?”

The old lady grinned: “Well, sir, he’s never oot of thone Doric Tavern. But tonight, I’d say – have you looked at the foot of the close?”

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Horse recalled having to step over an apparently paralytic body with a covered face at the stair entrance downstairs. He tipped his cap: “Madam, you have been wery obliging today. Thank you for your assistance. And I wish you a good day, my dear.”

And Horse turned on his heels and began to feel his way down the stairs again, towards the great body lying at the entrance.