Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 2: The Confession Club

Inspector Mackintosh sat at Edward Kane’s dining table and sipped at his tea from the only good cup in the house. One sip, then the detective widened his eyes: ‘I’m bound to say, Mr Horse, I don’t think that I’ve ever tasted tea that is quite this strong. I wager that I could stand a spoon up in it…’

Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 2: The Confession Club.  Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane
Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 2: The Confession Club. Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane

The manservant beamed: ‘Thank you, sir. You learn a lot of things in the army.’

Edward Kane smiled. It struck him that the tea was so strong that it could be sold back to the army, cut into chunks and thrown at the enemy causing serious injury. But he said nothing.

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Mackintosh of the Detective continued his narrative: ‘So, you see, sir, after every major crime, let’s say, a great fire or a murder…’

Kane nodded: ‘Yes…’

‘There is always a…how shall I put it…there is…always…an…an influx of people who report to the Police Office at the side of St Giles’. And they confess to committing the foul deed -or whatever it is -that has gained such notoriety.’ He sipped at his tea.' It has become something of a humorism among the police officers at St Giles’ that…well, the officers have started calling these individuals ‘The Confession Club’.’

The young Advocate nodded: ‘Then you have solved those crimes in a remarkably easy fashion, detective.’

Mackintosh grimaced: ‘No, Mr Kane. You misunderstand me. The members of ‘The Confession Club’ – they confess to everything. But they have done nothing. I had a woman last week – must have been in her late seventies – confessed to the recent strangulation of a circus strong-man…’

Horse muttered into his teacup ‘Maybe it was his ex-wife…’

Mackintosh continued: ‘…and so, of course, this string of false confessors, they take up so much police time, but sometimes, just sometimes…’. He sighed and sipped his tea again.

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Kane smiled: ‘And what is it that vexes you, Mackintosh?’

The detective closed his eyes in resignation: ‘We have the confession to a murder. The murder of George Meikle Kemp.’

Silence. Then more silence. Mr Horse shook his head and reached into his waistcoat pocket. He took out a long, clay pipe and a box of matches. Horse took a match out of the box and struck it on the wooden table. The manservant cupped the bowl of the pipe in his left hand and lit the pipe with the match in his right, sending up a series of cloudy puffs as he went. Pipe lit, he shook the match until it was out, then tossed it onto the table. He sat back on his chair: ‘Well, gents, I am well and truly bamboozled. Who the heck is George Meikle Kemp?’

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Edward Kane looked over at his manservant: ‘‘Who WAS, he?’, I would suggest. Mr Horse – you are aware of the great Scott Monument in Princes Street?’

‘I ain’t blind, sir.’

‘Well, what you are looking at, Mr Horse, is the vision of George Meikle Kemp…’

*****

It seemed as if George Meikle Kemp had come out of nowhere. And his death was equally mysterious.

In 1836, there was a competition to design a fitting monument for the great Scottish writer, the late Sir Walter Scott. The race soon became bitter. And more bitter still when all of the favourites fell at the fences and the victor was a newcomer with no track record.

George Meikle Kemp- son of a shepherd (of a shepherd, no less!); a man of no real education; a man of no formal training; a so-called ‘architect’ on the fringes of respectability; didn’t he used to be a joiner’s assistant?

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Surprising, then, that it was his design was chosen after open competition as the winning design for that great public monument. More surprising, perhaps that he did not live to see its completion.

On 6th March 1844, some two years before his magnificent Scott Monument was publicly exhibited to the world, George Meikle Kemp, the lowly-born architect, reputedly the worse for drink, stumbled into the Union Canal in Edinburgh and drowned there. At least, that was the theory.

*****

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Mr Horse grinned: ‘So, the bloke gets pie-eyed and falls into the canal. We’ve all done that, ain’t we…’

The looks from the other two gentlemen in the room suggested that this was not, in fact, an experience that they had in common with the speaker. He continued: ‘Anyhow, this all happened years ago now. How you going to prove the bloke was murdered now?’

Mackintosh put his cup on the saucer: ‘Apparently, Mr Lermontov….’

Kane looked up: ‘‘Mr Lermontov’?’

‘The gentleman who is now – out of the blue – confessing to the murder of Kemp. Apparently, Mr Lermontov kept a diary. And that diary contains conclusive proof that he murdered Kemp. It has names, places and dates…’

Horse bristled: ‘But the bloke what confessed to it. He must be off his head, ain’t he? Nobody would confess to that. You don’t have to waste your time…’

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The detective sighed: ‘I’m afraid that I do, Mr Horse. There has been the report of a crime. Unusually, it appears to have been reported by the person who committed it.…’

Edward Kane shook his head: ‘Mackintosh of the Detective, I wager that I could not do your job for all the tea in China.’

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‘Nor I yours, Mr Kane, because…’ the detective began to stumble over his words now, ‘…because…’. He put his cup and saucer on the table. ’Because, as I understand it, sir, you are about to be instructed. To defend him.’

Kane rested his cup on his saucer. He did not finish his tea.

Tomorrow: A Very Mixed Bag in the Box