Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 14: Letters of Comfort

Archibald Greene nodded and began his narrative:

Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 14: Letters of Comfort. ILLUSTRATION: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane
Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 14: Letters of Comfort. ILLUSTRATION: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane

‘Your husband Joseph and I were colleagues. When the ammunition exploded, I was there too. Joe caught the brunt of it, but I managed to drag him to safety.’

Esme Blakemore smiled: ‘That was very brave of you. Thank you.’

Hide Ad

Greene continued his tale: ‘And so we were both taken to the infirmary. A hellish place. Crowded. Dirty. Death and disease all round. My bed was placed up against Joe’s. He was very ill indeed and I would help him with daily tasks, eating and such. The days were long. And we would talk to pass the time. I learned a lot about him. I wager that there was not a single, un-kept secret…’

‘Yes. Joseph loved to talk. Mostly about himself.’

Greene went on: ‘We both had handsome beards at the time and these required to be shaved off before the surgeon could assess the damage to our faces. Then he immediately covered our faces in bandages.’ He chuckled: ‘As a prank, we would sometimes change places and swap beds as – you can see, we’re both the same height and build – and then – because our faces were bandaged – we would pretend to be one another.’ He chuckled: ‘I would mimic Joe’s voice and he would mimic mine – everyone was fooled. It was a way of passing those long hours in that hell-hole of a hospital. That, and of course, your letters. I would read them to Joe, and when it came time to respond to them, I…um…’

Esme gave a kindly smile: ‘Yes, those letters from India were beautiful, and…’ She stopped herself. A sudden realisation. She looked at the floor. ‘I assumed they were from Joseph…’

Greene shot her a timid glance: ‘We lived for your letters. No – I was the one who lived for your letters. Joseph was…’

Esme nodded. Tears in her eyes now: ‘So those lovely letters…they were from you, weren’t they?’ An involuntary tear began to run down her cheek. ‘Joseph was never much of a correspondent. For him, the world was very much…’ she motioned towards the window, ’…out there. Whereas, I was always happiest sitting in a corner with a book on my lap. Living in my imagination, I suppose. I’m afraid that he saw me as something of a Blue Stocking.’

Hide Ad

Archibald Greene leaned forward: ‘No, no, Esme – not at all. I remember well the letter with your analysis of Voltaire…’

She gave a sad little chuckle: ‘Mr Greene, I think that you have just proved my point.’

Greene gave a shy smile: ‘Yes, it was me. I would reply to your letters. Pretending to be him. And I have kept them, you know. All of them…’

‘As have I…’

Hide Ad

‘…and I would read them again and again, imagining your voice. And, even though we had never met, I came to feel that I knew you. And knew you well.’

The new widow blushed, then collected herself: ‘What happened to Joseph.’

Greene leaned back again: ‘Of course. Apologies. One evening, we came up with a ruse. Joseph and I swapped beds at lights-out. We were to play a trick on the evening nurse – pretending to be one another and so forth. I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, there was a crowd doctors and nurses arou nd my bed. Of course, the person in my bed was not me it was Joseph. But they didn’t know that. And I heard them shouting: ‘It’s Archibald Greene – he’s dead.’ ’

The widow nodded: ‘They assumed that the fellow with the bandaged face in your bed was you…’

‘Correct.’

She wrinkled her brow: ‘And what did you…I mean what did ‘he’ die of?’

Greene shook his head: ‘No idea. People were dying around us every day. It just became a way of life.’

Hide Ad

‘And you said nothing?’

‘There was so much wailing and gnashing of teeth – it didn’t seem polite to interrupt…’

Hide Ad

The lady was dumbfounded: ‘What an extraordinary story…’

‘Not as extraordinary as when I required to attend the funeral of Archibald Greene – my own funeral. I never want to do that again…’

‘I fear, Mr Greene, you may have little choice in the matter.’

With that exchange, newly-revealed faux husband Archibald Greene and newly-revealed widow Esme Blakemore (nee Fordyce) suddenly covered their mouths. And they began to giggle. Uncontrollably.

Then, an extraordinary thing happened. The timid Esme Blakemore reached over and gently touched the scarred face of her faux husband. She smiled: ‘Those letters. All the time – it was you…’

*****

‘Why am I surrounded by incompetents?’

Hide Ad

Lord Dick was shouting now. ‘It’s a simple question, Mr Cod. What is the nature of this ‘development’?’ Charles Cod, Advocate began to prepare his response, when he saw that Lord Dick was now staring beyond him to the back of the court. ’And who the blue blazes are YOU?’

*****

‘What do you mean, sir – ‘And that was it’?’

Hide Ad

Horse was drawing on his long clay pipe while Kane sat in the wing-back chair, glass in hand.

‘As I say, Horse, that was it. Esme Blakemore appeared out of nowhere and told his lordship that the whole thing had been a terrible mistake. That her husband was a good man and I think she said ‘a friend’ too…’

‘A friend’, Mr K? Husband and wife? Friends? It’s unnatural, sir…’

‘And Clever Dick just dismissed the case on the spot.’

Horse grinned: ‘And what did granny say?’

Kane smiled: ‘I am happy to report, Mr Horse, that granny Fordyce was lost in the throng in the great Parliament Hall, by all accounts trying to pick a fight with one of the statues.’

Hide Ad

Master and man laughed. ’And the last I saw of the now-confirmed Mr and Mrs Joseph Blakemore, I swear that they were both giggling like playmates and vowing to visit Mr Thin’s bookshop to purchase the latest instalment of Mr Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’.’

‘And what about money, sir?’

‘No fee, Mr Horse.’

Hide Ad

The manservant let out an involuntary- but clearly audible – groan.

Kane smiled: ‘Nil desperandum, Mr Horse! Tomorrow sees the final instalment of our Russian novel – and I guarantee: we will not be paid in roubles…. ‘

Tomorrow in The Scotsman, the concluding chapter: A Merry Heart