Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 1: The Changeling

Edinburgh 1852The Solicitors’ Offices of Stevenson and Rose, Writers to the Signet

Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 1: The Changeling. Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane
Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 1: The Changeling. Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane

‘The man is clearly an imposter!’

The lady may have been almost ninety, but her proximity to the grave did nothing to temper her white-hot anger. She pointed to the young lady beside her: ‘My granddaughter here – my only living flesh and blood – duped! Bamboozled – by a shameless adventurer!’ The girl said nothing, but stared at the floor, her cheeks turning a gradual crimson.

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Edward Kane, young Scottish Advocate, shook his head: ‘Well, Mrs Fordyce, whether Joseph – ‘Joe’ – Blakemore is an imposter will, at the end of the day, be a matter for the courts to decide. It certainly is an unusual situation…’

‘He should be ashamed of himself – thoroughly ashamed!’

The papers that had landed in Kane’s work box contained an account of a series of events that were familiar, except for that final twist. Kane looked through his papers:

Two young people get married in a hurry. So far, so ordinary. Soon afterwards, the young man is called to India to serve his country (or in this case – to serve the private army of The East India Company). A common occurrence in the 1840s and 50s. The young soldier is badly injured with others when a nearby arsenal explodes. Unfortunate – but not unknown. After fifteen months’ convalescence in a Madras hospital, he is shipped home. A welcome development. Once home to his young bride, the young soldier seems to have changed utterly. So changed, that the young bride’s grandmother suspects that the soldier who has returned to them is not the same soldier who left…

‘It was the small things that gave him away…’

‘Such as?’

The old lady frowned: ‘He did not recognise his friends in the street.’

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Mr Stevenson, the old solicitor who had instructed the meeting shook his head and spoke in his gentle Aberdonian burr: ‘Mrs Fordyce, Mrs Fordyce, it’s a sad fact that oor young men are coming back frae war every day, and oftentimes, when they get hame,’ Old Stevenson tapped his head with his index finger, ‘they are not all there…’

The old lady held up her hand to halt the solicitor’s explanation: ‘I know what you are going to say, Douglas. But let me put a question to you: am I ever wrong in any important matter?’

It soon became apparent that this was not a lady who was accustomed to be contradicted. The Widow Fordyce continued:

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‘I’m near blind now. And I’m maybe not as sweet-tempered as I was…’ (this struck Kane as something of an understatement) ‘…but I can still smell a rat. The lad who came back is very cunning. But not cunning enough. He is an imposter. The first Joseph – the one my granddaughter married – against all advice, I might add’ - she nodded towards the sobbing girl, ‘was a right…a right drinker…’

A sense of embarrassment now filled the room like the vapour of a marshy bog. The young Advocate looked towards the old solicitor. The solicitor, Old Stevenson, puffed on his pipe and nodded: ‘Aye, right enough, the lad was often blue bleezin’ and staggering aboot the place…’

Kane frowned. Although some of the words were unfamiliar, the sense was obvious enough.

The old lady leaned forward, full of ire, conspiratorial now: ‘But the lad who came back… he doesn’t touch a drop.’

Edward Kane, Advocate knotted his eyebrows and tried to reason his way through the account: ‘But surely, madam, it would have been obvious by just looking at his face…’

It was now the young lady’s chance to speak: ‘That’s the whole thing, Mr Kane, the ammunition blew up in his face, sir. And when he left Scotland, he had a rather bushy beard. But when he came back…’

*****

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‘…he was clean-shaven.’

Kane sat back in his wing-chair in his cramped rooms in the Old Town and regaled his Cockney manservant with the events of the day. Mr Horse stroked his stubbly chin: ‘So, what are they moaning about, Mr K? The lad goes into the service as a bit of a soak and he and comes back as a goody-two-shoes. Sounds like that young wife got a better deal here.’ He grinned: ‘And what about in the bedroom, sir, what did she say about that?’

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Kane looked coy: ‘We did not dwell on the detail, Horse, but I understand that marital relations have not yet resumed.’

‘How long was he gone, sir?’

‘Five years.’

‘Bloomin’ eck – if it had been me, I would have had trouble getting me boots off first…’

Kane avoided the somewhat lascivious turn in the conversation: ’Apparently, Mr Horse, the last straw was when the young chap visited a lady who was recently widowed….’

Horse winked: ‘I’ve done that meself…’

Kane shook his head: ‘I wager you have Mr Horse. But on this occasion, the chap took the family dog with him.’

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The manservant snorted: ‘And what’s wrong with that?’

The Advocate paused from sipping his tea: ‘A dog, Mr Horse. A dog? When visiting a new widow? It’s just not done. Let’s just say that it’s not entirely welcomed in polite society.’

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Mr Horse was about to utter an expression not entirely welcomed in polite society – when there was a loud rap at the door. Kane gave a start, then whispered: ‘Mr Horse – this month’s rent - is it…’

Horse got up from his seat: ‘All paid up, Mr K – but I’d know that knock anywhere. That’ll be the police, sir…’

‘The police???’

But rather than answer his master, the manservant answered the door. Kane heard the door being opened, some cursory conversation in the hallway and then he looked up to see their visitor. Hat in hand, stood Inspector Mackintosh of the Detective: ‘Please don’t get up, Mr Kane – this is a flying visit.’

Nevertheless, Kane stood up and gave a short bow: ‘And to what do we owe the pleasure, Mackintosh?’

The detective stood there, blinking behind his thick glasses. He began to stroke his bushy moustache with the knuckle of his index finger. ’Well, sir, it’s…it’s…’

Kane smiled, inviting an answer: ‘Yes?’

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Mackintosh sighed: ‘Mr Kane, did you ever hear of ‘The Confession Club’?’

Tomorrow: ‘The Confession Club’…