It was not so much a hospital ward, as a sort of dormitory that housed ladies of a certain class.
Clutching the (beautifully-wrapped) pieta brooch (Thank you, Mr Horse), Edward Kane walked along the middle of that long room. Beds on each side, Kane gave a little bow to some ladies, smiled at others, and to others he wished “Merry Christmas”.
And, in a bed at the end of the room - there she was. Sitting up and smiling in his direction. His mother, Emily Kane. She held out her arms to greet him: “Edward, my own Edward.”
Kane smiled: “Mama.” He leaned over the bed and embraced her for the longest time, “...my own Mama...”
She looked better today. Not so hollowed-out. The dark rings around her eyes disguised by the careful application of make-up. And nothing, nothing could dull the warmth in those eyes. Nothing. Not even serious illness.
Emily Kane gave a girlish giggle. “And what, Edward, would Christmas morning be without an exchange of gifts?” She reached under the top blanket of the bedclothes and retrieved what - judging by its shape and size - was likely to be a book, and a thick one at that.
Kane laughed - as he handed over his own gift to her. “What indeed, Mama, what indeed?”
Mother and son sat happy in each other’s company as they examined the festive packages. Emily Kane was excited now: “Open yours, Edward. Oh – I always loved to watch you open your gifts.”
Kane tore the paper. It was, indeed, a book. “Oh, Mama. Thank you ever so...”.
It was a copy of ‘David Copperfield’.
The mother smiled: “I am rather proud of myself, Edward. Heard that it was published as a book last month, so I sent word to our Mr Thin in Infirmary Street, and he was able to secure this copy from London.”
Kane opened the book and smiled: “And such marvellous illustrations.” He nodded towards his own gift: “Your turn.”
Emily Kane’s eyes sparkled. She took the little package and shook it, teasing him: “Let me guess. Is it an orange?”
Mother and son laughed. She proceeded to tear open the paper delicately, enjoying the anticipation of what the gift might be: “And so beautifully wrapped, Edward.”
“That was my man, Mr Horse, Mama. A man of unexpected talents, it would appear.”
And when the gift was opened, and she saw the contents, Emily Kane uttered a little squeal of delight. A cameo brooch. Michelangelo’s pieta. Mary cradling the adult Jesus in her arms: “Oh, Edward, Edward - it is...beautiful.”
Kane beamed that the gift had been so well received: “I’m afraid that is not gold, Mama...”
She laughed: “Oh, Edward, stuff and nonsense. Look at the quality of the carving on the shell. The whole thing is quite exquisite...”
Kane’s mother examined the image for a long time, and Kane could see a range of emotions playing on her face now: “Your father had this very picture hanging on his study wall...”. Her eyes studied the coral carving. She gave a little laugh “...and he could never understand what the artist meant...”
“How so, Mama?”
She ran her finger over the carving: “Your father said that the picture made no sense. Look closely, Edward. The face of Mary is the face of a young girl. Fifteen years old, perhaps? But here she is, cradling the body of her son - a man of thirty-three years...”
Kane examined the image more closely now. “At first, your father thought that it must be a mistake. You’ll recall that he would often say ‘Even Homer nods sometimes...’”
Kane laughed. “But, Edward, when you consider the image, it is simply that of a mother holding her baby. Mary was just a slip of a girl when Jesus was born. And here she is now, a young girl once again, holding her baby in her arms. For the last time...”
The mood had shifted now. The surface gaiety with the exchange of the Christmas gifts had evaporated. Emily Kane seemed exhausted, as if she had just grown older before her son’s eyes. Kane looked at her hands. They seemed almost transparent now. His mother placed the brooch on her lap and leaned back on her pillow: “Oh, Edward. Pay no attention to me. I am such a silly goose sometimes...”
Kane took his mother’s hand. She turned to face him. “Will you read to me, Edward? As I used to for you when you were small...”
Kane smiled: “Of course...”
“Will you read to me? Until I sleep?”
Kane smiled and nodded.
Emily Kane motioned to the well-worn Bible that sat on a chair at her bedside. Kane picked it up and looked at her. Where from?
She gave a slight wince and leaned further back into her pillow. And Kane saw on his mother’s face something of the pain that had been her companion for many months: “In honour of Christmas, Edward, let us have Luke. Luke, Chapter 2...”
The reading had been an annual favourite in the Kane household at Christmas. And Kane opened up the book and he read of the shepherds abiding in the field, and of the angel of the Lord, and the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, and the multitude of the heavenly host praising God.
“And all that heard it wondered at those things...”
And Kane looked up at his mother, and Emily Kane had tears in her eyes.
She looked down, took her son’s hand and smiled, then lay back on her pillow and said, almost to herself: “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart...”.
She smiled, and studied the image on the brooch: “Poor Mary.” She closed her eyes. “I think I should like to sleep now...”
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.