Edward Kane and The Vinegar Valentine: Chapter 1

Edinburgh 1851“Mr Horse – are you feeling quite well? I swear that you have turned a violent shade of purple

Edward Kane and The Vinegar Valentine. Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane

Edward Kane, Advocate, stood before the mirror in his bedroom, open razor in hand, and was about to start shaving. His Cockney manservant, Mr Horse, had prepared a basin of hot water as usual, but had rather plonked it down onto the dresser. The manservant nodded towards the razor: “You knows what it’s like, Mr K. Some days you just wants to take that razor and slit your own throat with it...”

Kane took the open “v” razor, closed it, and placed it on the dresser. He nodded toward the old Bible at his bedside: “I am not certain, Mr Horse, that the Good Book would condone such an act.”

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“Well, it worked for old Judas, dunnit? When he kicked the bucket and such. Bible don’t complain much about that, sir.”

“Yes, Mr Horse. But, clearly, that particular individual had a guilty secret.”

Horse looked at the floor and shuffled his feet.

Kane sighed: “You have been uncommonly morose for the last two days, Mr Horse. I have never seen you like this. What on earth is it that vexes you, my man?”

Horse said nothing for a moment, then sighed: “I’ll get the breakfast on, sir. That old bit of bacon looks a bit blue, but I don’t think it will kill us...”

*****

Parliament House. The Advocates Library. The Reading Room.

Kane sat, cup and saucer balanced on his lap: “In brief, Collins, it is a matter of concern. My man Horse is the picture of misery. He survives all of the horrors of Waterloo and now here he is, talking about cutting his own throat at the breakfast table.”

Kane’s friend, Collins smiled: “Given the pedigree of this particular ‘Horse’, Edward, I doubt that you have anything to fear.” Collins sipped his tea – mischievous now: “And, in any event, if your manservant were to do such a thing – then who on earth would be there to clean up the mess?”

Kane shook his head and smiled despite himself. Their conversation was interrupted by the awareness of the silent presence of the Head Faculty Servant, Manville. Kane looked up: “Manville?”

“I am sorry to interrupt your jocularity, gentlemen, but – Mr Kane – you have a visitor in the Hall, sir.”

“Who is it, Manville?”

“I understand it to be a Law Agent who wishes to provide you with a set of instructions.”

A set of instructions! Paid work! Veritable gold dust to the struggling young Advocate. Kane put down his cup and saucer and got up quickly. Manville placed a firm hand on his shoulder: “I should be grateful, Mr Kane, if you would resist the temptation to run in the Library, sir. It would be not only be unbecoming and distracting to the other Members, Mr Kane. But – and I hesitate to say – it would appear somewhat desperate...”

*****

When Kane reached Parliament Hall he looked around. A great number of Advocates were walking up and down the Hall today, dressed in wig and gown, instructed on opposing sides, discussing their cases; nervous litigants stood awaiting news of their legal fates; huddles of solicitors formed circles, gossiping the latest Edinburgh news. And then Kane saw a familiar figure at the fireplace beckoning him over. It was a certain Mr Whittle, solicitor. Whittle was small, stooped and somewhat timid, giving rise to the nickname: “The Mole”. The Mole had previously instructed Kane – to good effect, it must be said – in the case that had gained notoriety as “The Parlour Maid Murderer”.

Kane walked over to the fireplace and smiled: “My dear, Mr Whittle. A pleasure to see you again, sir”

The Mole doffed his hat. “And you, Mr Kane, and you. I regret that I require to importune you at such short notice, sir, but the matter appears somewhat pressing for the client.”

Kane bowed: “I am at your service, Whittle.”

The Mole paused for a moment, then: “I take it, Mr Kane, that you have experience of Valentine’s Day cards, sir.”

Kane laughed: “Only by repute, Mr Whittle. I myself have yet to receive one.”

“Then you might also have heard of its vile counterpart: ‘The Vinegar Valentine’...”

*****

“Outrageous! Quite outrageous! I shall go to the blackguard’s house and wring his neck...”

Kane held up his hand to stay his client’s anger. “Mr Walker, Mr Walker...you have no proof as yet...it might not even be the gentleman that you are thinking of.”

Wealthy industrialist, Robert J Walker, sat seething: “Of course it was him. Who else knew? Who’s else, sir?”

Kane hesitated slightly: “Well, that would surely be a matter for...for...well, your lady wife here...”

There were four people in that consultation room, Kane, the instructing solicitor Mr Whittle (a.k.a ‘The Mole’), millionaire Robert J Walker and Walker’s wife, Fanny Eudora Walker. The good Mrs Walker was wearing an enormous colourful hat and dabbing her eyes (somewhat flamboyantly, Kane thought) with an embroidered lace handkerchief.

The industrialist turned to Kane, furious: “And what are you implying by that remark, sir?”

It took the meek and measured voice of The Mole, to restore order: “Mr Walker, Mr Walker, Mr Kane was implying nothing. All that he was saying was that it is probably best that we hear directly from your good lady wife about...about this...”. He pointed to the card on the table.

The card had arrived by the Penny Post that morning, addressed to Mrs Fanny Eudora Walker. At first blush, a Valentine, but on examination it was a communication enlivened by a colourful caricature of a dog with droopy ears. The dog was dressed as a lady, and the card declared:

“I’ve studied cats

I’ve studied dugs

But I never saw a woman…

With such big lugs”