Edward Kane’s friend, Mr Collins, Advocate, exclaimed in triumph: “Yes, Edward - ‘David Copperfield’!”
Collins was praising himself for the gift that he had just handed to Kane. Kane stood in the Collins household, contemplating the book that had just been given him. The second copy of ‘David Copperfield’ that day, another one having been given to him that very morning by his mother.
Collins enthused: “I know that you are a fanatic for Mr Dickens’ work, Edward. For my own part, I find it all rather sensational. But, my friend, as they say: ‘It takes all sorts...’”
Kane looked at his friend’s shining face, but said nothing of the fact that he already had the book - and with a feigned surprise: “What can I say, Collins? I shall read it twice...”
And then the five Collins children, shepherded by the vivacious Mrs Collins, were brought into the room and were lined up at the side of the dinner table. They stood there, from eight years to four years old. They reminded Kane of a line of little dogs begging for scraps at the table, getting gradually smaller and smaller as the table progressed.
Collins stretched out his hand: “And now, my dear friend, I hand you over to the less-than-tender ministrations of the Collins offspring.”
Kane addressed his tiny audience: “Well children - what would you like to play?”
A common clamour filled the air: “Swat the Blind Man! Swat the Blind Man!”
Mrs Collins put her hand to her lips to stifle a laugh. Kane turned to Collins: “Not a game with which I am familiar, I’m afraid.”
Collins laughed: “Simple, my friend. We are all blindfolded and we proceed to bash each other over the head with pieces of paper...”
Kane had the fleeting thought that this sounded very much like appearing in the Appeal Court...
“You’ll soon get the hang of it, Edward. In fact, it’s rather like fighting a duel.” Collins smiled: “But please don’t breathe a word of it to the Lord Advocate. I would hate to see the children in the dock...”
And later that night, when the games were over and Kane’s gift of port had been opened, sampled and much praised, Kane bid his hosts goodnight. He made his way through the snowy streets of the Old Town of Edinburgh and returned to his furnished rooms.
After seven o’clock now. The rooms were empty, and more than a little chilly. Kane lit a candle. He took off his wet shoes and placed them near the fireplace. Ah, Mr Horse has left the fire made up – requiring only a match. Taking a box of matches from the mantelpiece, he struck one, knelt down and lit the papers in the fireplace, and soon the kindling began to crackle and flame. He sat down, and before long he was basking in its warmth.
What was that noise in the street? Children? At this time?
Kane got up, opened the window and looked down. And there in the street was a group of children involved in their own duel - squealing and chortling and throwing snowballs.
Kane rested his elbows on the windowsill and watched them for a time, smiling. And in the fading winter light, the whole scene was like some flickering magic lantern of the past, of his own childhood, gone these many years now.
Kane smiled and closed the window. Then, with a blanket on his lap, and cradling a glass of rum and milk, he sat down before the fading embers of the fire.
He opened the book that his mother had given him. Only now, did he realise that it had been inscribed:
“To my precious son, Edward.
Always remember: you are the hero of your own life.
With much love from your adoring Mama
In the Year of Our Lord, 1850”
And the young Advocate smiled and nodded to himself, and turned the pages of his book. As outside, a gentle blanket of snow began to cover the long, winding streets of the Old Town of Edinburgh.
Ross Macfarlane QC has written The Scotsman Christmas story every year for the last ten years. His Scotsman story “Mr Charles Dickens and the Tale of Ebenezer...Scroggie” was chosen as the featured fiction by the international organisation, the Dickens Fellowship in 2017. His novella “Edward Kane and The Matter of Honour” is set in Edinburgh in the same period, the mid-19th Century and has been specially commissioned by The Scotsman. Illustrations by Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane.