Edward Kane and The Vinegar Valentine: Chapter 2

The consultation room was silent for a moment. The only sound was the intermittent (if somewhat theatrical) sob of the wronged recipient of the Vinegar Valentine, Mrs Fanny Eudora Walker.

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

The lady’s husband, industrialist Robert J Walker picked up the offending card from the table and studied it: “And who, in any event, would produce such filth?”

Kane sighed: “I’m afraid that such cards are widespread these days, Mr Walker. As I understand it, they are known as ‘Vinegar Valentines’.” He turned to the sobbing spouse: “Madam, do you have any idea who might have...”

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Mrs Fanny Eudora Walker, her eyes, horizontal slits of misery, squeaked out some words: “Well, at one stage, I earned my living on the stage, Mr Kane. Oh – some twenty years ago. In fact, I was quite famous for a time. My stage name was Leonora Strong.” She looked up, hope in her eyes: “I’m sure that you must have heard of me.”

Kane had never heard of her, but smiled and nodded. This seemed to cheer the lady, and her delivery became less halting: “In fact, I once understudied that great artist Lola Montez when she appeared on the stage in London. I played her laundry maid. You will, of course, be familiar with the legendary Lola Montez...”

Again, she looked at Kane. Again, Kane had no idea.

“Of course,” the lady continued, “I performed a very small role in that production, but the ‘Northern Star’ newspaper hailed me as ‘Northern Star’s “Northern Star”’. Fame beckoned, sir. In fact, there was even a feature in The Dundee Courier. But then...then...” and with a histrionic wave of the handkerchief, the lady was in floods of tears again.

Robert J Walker took his wife’s hand “She has been like this ever since the arrival of that blasted card. I require to be at her side constantly...”

The lady covered her husband’s hand with her own: “Oh you are such a dear.” She composed herself and spoke again to the lawyers: “The final straw – ‘the unkindest cut of all’, if you will – came in a touring production of Julius Caesar. I played Calpurnia – Caesar’s wife. The problem arose during the funeral scene. You must understand, we were playing that night in the Theatre Royal in Dunlop Street in Glasgow...”

Kane thought to himself: The theatre. A Glasgow audience. This might not end well...

“...and when Mark Antony cried: ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen – lend me your ears...’ someone in the audience shouted: ‘Don’t ask us – ask Caesar’s wife – thone lugs are enormous.’ The play required to be halted at that point...”

“I can understand, madam, that...”

“Oh, my Kane, you have no idea. I defy anyone to speak the immortal lines of the Bard, while the audience is pointing at your ears shouting: ‘You don’t get many of those to the pound...”

It was difficult to pick up the thread of the conversation after this. Kane looked down at his notes: “And what makes you think that this gentleman... ‘Richard Burr’...is responsible for the card in question. I hesitate to be indelicate, madam, but if your...your...”

Kane struggled with a euphemism for ‘big ears’ “...if you possess such...such conspicuous features...then surely anyone can see...”

The husband, Robert Walker interrupted: “You do not understand, Mr Kane. My wife always takes care that those ‘conspicuous features’ – as you would have them – are well hidden. The hair, the hat or the turban, sir – she has made an art of concealment. The only other person who has experienced them in any proximity was this erstwhile beau, this Richard Burr character that I have referred to. He was a suitor for a time. My rival, in fact. But when the time came, she spurned Burr and chose me. He travelled abroad soon afterwards. But we are informed that after being abroad these many years, he returned to Edinburgh at the end of January.”

Mr Whittle, The Mole, chimed in: “And thus we have our suspect, Mr Kane.”

Kane considered matters for a moment, then: “I will be perfectly honest, Mr and Mrs Walker, I am uncertain that there is any remedy here. These so-called ‘Vinegar Valentines’ may be troublesome and, in some cases, I dare say hurtful, but they now appear extremely common. I suspect that they are not actionable. Also, you may have your strong suspicions, but you have no real proof as to the identity of the sender. Thus...”

The husband looked deflated: “But, Mr Kane, there must be something...”

Kane picked up the offending card again and studied it: “It strikes me that what you require here is a detective, and not an Advocate.”

Silence in the room again. Broken only by the scratching of a solicitor’s pen, some theatrical sobs from a lady in an outsize hat, and the helpless sighs of a millionaire industrialist.

*****

Kane’s rented rooms seemed a touch cold and unloved when he came through the door that evening. Removing his hat, coat and gloves, he called into the sitting room: “Mr Horse, the house is positively chilly again. No coal left, I wager. But fear not — paid work today, enough for...”

But Kane fell silent when he walked into the sitting room and saw that his man, Horse, was sitting in darkness. Kane peered through the gloom at the silhouette sitting at the table. “You will forgive me, Mr Horse, if I light a candle, sir.”

Kane took the box of matches from the mantelpiece, struck a match and lit the candle in the candle-holder. He went into the larder. Moments later, the young Advocate emerged, with two small glasses in the palm of one hand and a bottle of whisky in the other. He set down a glass in front of his manservant and a glass at his own place. He poured a measure for Horse and then the same for himself. Kane pointed at the glass before Horse: “Drink, my friend.”

Mr Horse lifted the glass to his lips – and drank the contents in one short swallow. He discarded the glass carelessly. Kane stood up the glass, and filled it again: “Now, Mr Horse. The truth, please. What is it that ails you?”

Horse shook his head: “Well, Mr K…you’ll never believe it...”

And he started to drink again.