Don't Cats Always Land On Their Feet?
Chapter 9 Part 3
It took quite a while for me to bring
Bertie back to reality after the stark realisation of what he had done;
I must admit that I had hoped that by this part of the journey, as we
rattled further and further northwards, I would be lying next to my
darling Elspeth. However the delay caused by Bertie’s anguish and
remorse did mean that the pair of us were still awake by the time we
began to slow and pull into Crewe and whilst we did not have the major
diagram we did have Hobbes notes. Thus it was that as the Caledonian
Express began to loose speed Bertie and I were poised to test Hobbe’s
“Mobile Telegraphic and Telephony Solution”.
As recounted earlier Hobbes “Solution”
consisted of a running cables from the “Train” and connecting them
from the communications apparatus in the office area to the nearest
available telegraphic wires be they overhead or on the ground.
With a window open we could clearly hear
the brakes being applied with ever increasing force. Bertie and I peered
out into the gloom to see what connectivity options proposed themselves.
Bertie pointed. “Telegraph poles look!”
“Excellent” I shivered as the chilly
air swept in,
“Who’s climbing up them then, shall
we toss for it?”
“Ah? We actually have to climb up them
“That would be the normal method, yes”
Replied Bertie somewhat relishing in my obvious discomfort.
I was never happy with climbing poles
and whilst I had had to shimmy up masts and such in my early Navy days,
it was certainly something I did not wish to do if there was a less
hazardous alternative available.
Bertie smiled “…there is another
I scowled and closed the window sharply
with a crack. “I don’t think Elspeth would look kindly on us using
Charlotte as this juncture, do you?”
Bettie visibly reddened in the moonlight
that had now broken through the cloud. He peered beyond me to the bedrooms,
checking that the noise had not disturbed the ladies.
“That is a future alternative I’ll
admit” He coughed “However, Hobbes has kindly provided for such
an occasion. He pointed to the ceiling of the carriage.”
I looked up and noticed for the first
time above the communications hub a hatch or cupola. “We go up onto
“Indeed, and there we will find a pair
of telescopic connecting rods which with luck will have enough length
to reach out to the adjacent telegraph wires.”
“…and without said luck?”
“Some one climbs the nearest pole….”
There was a series of jarring bumps and
the sound of escaping steam.
Bertie smiled. “We seem to have
He moved to stand directly beneath the
hatch and tapped his foot against a floor panel. The hatch swung down
on silent gears and a delicate latticework of a ladder unfolded to hang
within easy reach.
“After you then Knolly?”
It was damnable cold on the roof of the
carriage, but this was only to be expected in February and being well
north of London. I crouched down low, up ahead I could spy movement
as the fireman, driver and assorted other “ engineer Johnnies”
went about their business of restocking the tender with coal and fighting
with what in the light from lamps and the firebox looked like a giant
elephant but was obviously the water tower and associated hose. They
were all to busy to look in this direction and elsewhere there was little
other movement and so I deemed the coast was clear.
I waved to Bertie waiting below and he
clambered up though the hatch passing me a lantern as he did so. I noticed
he had chosen to wear his cape once more.
“I thought it would be cold …and
this is warm.” He said before I had a chance to comment.
I pointed towards the engine and the
hustle and bustle that was going on.
Bertie nodded in a knowing way, “I
think we should have about half an hour or so before we move off, do
you have your watch?”
I sighed and took out my modified pocket
regulator dial chronograph and set the “alarm” for a few minutes
short of half an hour.
“Alright Bertie….Go!” I whispered
Quick as a wink he moved to a recess
set in the curvature of the roof (which I took for the gutter) and set
about releasing the clasps around what I assumed were the connecting
rods. The wind whistled past me and I hugged my coat tighter, “what
other mechanisms and wonders did “The Train” hold that I was not
aware of?” I made a mental note to sit down at some point with the
encyclopaedic set of guides and instructions that sat in the bookcase
Bertie was clearly in his element, a
race against the clock, something he always revelled in tough worryingly
he never seemed to win.
“Knolly some light here if you please?”
I held the lantern high and pointed it
away from the front of the express, just in case anyone should care
to glance back this way. Although shielded there was enough light to
work from and to make out the near by telegraphy wires.
“A bit closer if you please, come on
you won’t fall.”
I gingerly stepped towards Bertie and
the edge of the roof, the curved aspect of it did not help and normal
footwear was not the best choice – Bertie of course had had the sense
and the time to change to something of a more outdoor nature.
With the connecting rods now free he
braced one between his legs whilst he attached the secondary length,
he then triggered a mechanism. Silently and slowly the pole within his
hands began to increase in length and extend upwards and outwards in
the direction of the nearby telegraph wires. As it extended away from
Bertie fine cables snaked out behind. With my eyes I followed
these cables back to their source, the recess the rods had been nestling
in. “So” I thought “they were already linked up somewhere within
the carriage. Masterful”.
“Knolly we are almost done here, if
you leave the lamp with me and make your way back down into the carriage
and stand by the telephone you should see a small light come on when
the rods are fully engaged and then you can just dial Hobbes number.”
I nearly lost my footing “It’s that
“Good Lord, Knolly! What did you expect,
I know we have been away for some time, but science and mechanics have
not stood still during our time in China. Now hurry up and make that
Taking care I made my way back to the
hatch and down the short ladder making as little noise as possible,
though I’m sure our footfalls on the roof must have been loud to Elspeth
and Charlotte, but they had not stirred. I checked my watch, twenty
There was now a small green light flashing
by the telephone – the connection was live. I hastily dialled Hobbes
number and waited for his voice.
“Hobbes, it’s me Knolly…this is
“Remarkable, remarkable. Do you know
what time it is?”
“Er…. Quite late or perhaps very
early, depending on your point of view.”
“I was in bed you know?”
“I’m sure you were, but you did ask
us to test some more, and we were up and Crewe provided an ideal opportunity.”
I didn’t care to mention that he seemed to have answered after the
second ring, so surely had not been asleep.
“Humph!..Crewe you say ….So this
is just a social call is it?
“No … listen have you made any further
progress with the diary or the staff?”
“Humph!…I’m still cross with Bertie
“I’m sure you are. I did give him
a stern ticking off and so too quite recently has Elspeth.”
A chuckle at the other end of the line
showed that this last comment had struck home with the effect I had
hoped. I checked my watch once more, plenty of time to get some sense
out of the fellow.
“So Hobbes, tell me what progress since
we last spoke?”
There was an intake of breath. “Remember
what I said about the staff being a key? Hmm…well it is …sort of.”
“Yes, all those indentations around
the middle, they form an elaborate message in soup.”
“Yes, my dear fellow, I’m sure ink
would do just as well, but I didn’t have any available so I painted
the staff with chicken broth I was eating and rolled it across a piece
of black paper.”
“My word! What did it say?”
“Alas I have no idea but many of the
symbols seem to match some of the script your Uncle collected from the
“I don’t remember seeing those…”
“No, you and Elspeth saw blank pages…but
it transpires they are actually wax rubbings of symbols similar to ‘soup
“Can you ascertain the meaning?”
“Possibly, quite possibly, with time.
Your birthday gift from Archie seems to be a latter day Rosetta stone,
the key to a lost language or perhaps a language not necessarily of
“Oh so the drawings …..”
“Hmm ..Yes the sketch by your Uncle
would now seem very likely to be of a ‘staff’ or message cylinder
“Rothwell was not the first visit?”
“Or not the first crash, do you really
think other worldly folk would come here on purpose?”
I felt a slight jolt, the sort you feel
as a train is getting ready to depart and the buffers take the strain.
I put the phone down and checked my watch there were ten minutes to
go at least; surely they couldn’t be ready to go.
“Hello Hobbes, I need to check something.”
“Right then, will discuss….”
The line went dead; the little green
light had gone out, disconnected. There was another jolt and a squeal
from the wheels beneath. We were starting to move.
“BERTIE!!!” I yelled as I flew
from my chair to the ladder. The bedroom door flew open and there stood
Elspeth in tartan splendour.
“Some people are trying to get some
rest you know?”
“Apologies dear, but I need to help
Bertie off the roof before we get up to speed.”
She folded her arms and screwed up her
face in a scowl. “And I suppose you’ll be wanting some help then?”
I was at a loss how to react to this
and I shrugged, she looked behind her and then stood aside
“I’m sure this young lady will be
of assistance, she should be asleep, but that cannot be helped with
all the noise you’ve been making.”
And there stood Charlotte smiling and
seemingly ready for anything. “We… go.. up?” She purred and pointed
with an armoured glove.
“Yes, Charlie we go up.”
I shuddered inwardly, what was Bertie
going to think?
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