Bertie and the Beast

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A green and scary monster

Once again we are beholden to the current executors of the Knolly estate for letting us publish this, the second package of the great man's journals and memoirs.

Don'tcha know we're riding on the Caledonian Express?

Chapter 8 Part 6

I must admit that I was hoping for a nightcap of some sort; cocoa would have been an ideal; with perhaps a tot of rum before we retired for the night. Alas, Stanley had turned in for the night - obviously to the same hostelry that the rest of Meeds' engineering crew were staying in. He had left a note stating that he would return in the morning to provide us with breakfast.

Sleep did not come easily for me, for I had the snoring of both Hobbes and Bertie to contend with.

Oh, how Bertie snored that evening ! But I should not have been at all surprised, for he had quite a record. I remember one snoring episode very well. After returning late from an exhausting expedition, I invited Bertie to dine with with Elspeth and me. The poor fellow could barely keep his eyes open during the meal. Elspeth suggested that he might wish to stay overnight, and he gratefully accepted her offer. Shortly after the repast was complete, he excused himself to retire upstairs early. No sooner could his head have hit the pillow than there came the most dreadful sound from his room. It was as if a bull elephant was trying to impersonate a mechanical steam drill. I looked at Elspeth and shrugged. She looked up from her book, and with a benign smile said: "I expect that he will settle down soon, poor Bertie!"
Thirty minutes later, the sound had got louder and Elspeth was pacing the room. "What is wrong with that fellow?" she asked. "What can be done?"

I shrugged again. In all the years I had known Bertie, he had been a snorer and not even gadgets and potions from Hobbes himself could quell the noise. Elspeth suddenly stopped. "I have an idea to cure Bertie. Come with me," she said.

I followed her to the study. She pointed high on the bookshelf. "Could you please get me that copy of 'Great Expectations'?" she asked.

I did so. I had not read this fine work for some years, but I could not recall there being any references to cures for nocturnal noises. Maybe Elspeth knew better, what larks eh? She flicked through a few pages and muttered "yes ... yes ..." and then went upstairs to Bertie's room, the noise now almost unbearable. She tapped gently on the door (purely a courtesy), marched in and then dealt the poor fellow a large thump on the head with the Dickens. Understandably, Bertie leapt from his bed and stood bolt upright, staring in terror at Elspeth.

"Shhhhh. You're dreaming," said Elspeth. Bertie nodded slowly, clambered back into bed and fell into a - thankfully - silent sleep for the rest of the night.

And so back to the present day. Even though Bertie was in the next carriage on this occasion, the noise of the snoring seemed to reverberate between the open spaces, and so it was in the small hours that I found myself pacing up and down in the office area wondering how the day would fair. I was happy in the knowledge that the safety of Elspeth and her charges was assured by the proximity of Baddick. Now all I had to do was come up with some way to ensure that we knew how to control the signal box at the appropriate time.

I was up for most of the night and I did not actually go to bed again until around 2:30am. I felt that I had earned a lie-in. I had left a note pinned to my door asking that I was not to be disturbed until at least half-past eight. I had failed to appreciate that Hobbes was of a certain age and therefore needed to visit the heads on a rather regular basis. And so it was that every hour, there would be the sound of his door opening, the sound of him stumbling up the corridor to the adjoining carriage .... and then minutes later the same events played in reverse. In the intervening quiet moments, I thanked any deity that was listening that Charlie would be light on her feet when she was ensconced next door.

I feel that eventually I must have drifted off into a deep sleep, for the next thing I remember was a quiet knocking at the door.

"It's nine o'clock, Commander, and I'm about to dish up breakfast. Shall I wake the others?"

I thought about this, and then thought about Bertie snoring in his hammock and Hobbes padding about and I smiled to myself. Oh, the possibilities! I heard a polite cough the other side of the door.

"No thank you Stanley, I'll attend to that. I'll just find my dressing gown and I'll be out."

"Right you are sir. Oh, and I picked up this morning's edition of the Times for you too, sir. I'll leave it on the table."

Stanley was truly wasted in the Navy. Suitably robed, I strode in the direction of the gymnasium; this was going to be so much fun (or so I thought ). Imagine my chagrin to find not only was Bertie not in his hammock, but that he was fully dressed and limbering up with a cutlass. Damnation!

"Good morning to you, Knolly!" he said breezily. "Slept well, I trust?"

What was this jollity? He was supposed to be full of melancholy and miserableness after a night in a hammock.

"Yes, yes I did", I said, quite taken aback by his demeanour. "And yourself?"

"Splendid, quite splendid. Out like light and up with the birds .... or rather up with the early train. I didn't fall out of the hammock once. I'm quite proud of that."

"Oh ..good! Well, Stanley has breakfast on the go, so put down that weapon, why don't you? Hobbes hasn't surfaced yet."

Bertie's eyes lit up at the thought of our old mentor having a rude awakening in the bed that could have been his, and he rushed past me to get there first. I quickly followed him, my slippers slip-slapping on the carriage floor. I careered into the back of Bertie who had suddenly stopped.

"Good morning to you both," came Hobbes' cheery voice. "Stanley has found some marvellous sausage from somewhere. Tuck in."

"They're from Camden Market, Mr Hobbes," called a voice form the galley behind us.

Hobbes was dressed as though he had gone to bed in his clothes, though it was difficult to tell. I suddenly thought back to the state of the suit he had worn at my wedding. He waved my copy of The Times in my direction.

"Seen this yet, have you?" he asked between forkfuls of sausage.

I pulled up a chair and sat down. "No, not yet," I replied in a very pointed manner in the hope that he would see the error he had made.

"Well let me tell you what is going on the world," he said, peering over half-moon spectacles as he wrestled with the pages, folding them as he went. I winced inwardly.

"King Milan I of Serbia has died!"

"Oh, that's sad," said Bertie through a mouthful of sausage.

"Sad? Sad?" I said. "It is a disaster waiting to happen. You mark my words, it will test the mettle of our new king against his cousins, that's for sure. Anything else?"

"There's marmalade," said Bertie.

"Anything else in the newspaper?" I clarified.

"Hmm, there's still some outcry about our chaps still being in South Africa, but that's old hat now," said Hobbes as he folded another page over.

"Oh, this is good! The Americans are getting a bad press at home it seems, over their war in the Philippines..."

"I've seen reports of their mishandling of prisoners," I said.

"Yes, that seems to be the nub of the article," said Hobbes.

Together, the three of us discussed the current plight of the world over breakfast until after a short while I left my colleagues with a newspaper that I had no further interest in reading. I went to freshen up. With fingers crossed, I entered the water closet with some trepidation. Bliss! Hot running water! Meeds' chaps had done a sterling job!

After my ablutions I returned to my friends and instantly had the telephone thrust at me by Hobbes.

"It's Merrick," he whispered.

"Hullo John, how are you this.." I looked out of the window "...rather grey morning?"

"I thought I should let you know that the patient upstairs has gone."

"Oh dear! That is unfortunate. Do we know the cause of death yet?"

"No, Knolly. Not that sort of 'gone'. I mean 'gone' . He's been removed. He's been taken."

"What?! When?"

"I suspect early hours. No-one was hurt. He just seems to have disappeared between ward rounds. The police have been called in, and I've seen one of Biggfat's lesser mortals about the place."

"You are lying low then, I trust?" I wondered who Biggfat might have sent?

"I thought that best, though I sent Charlotte up on the roof to have a sniff around."

"Really? Has Elspeth not been to collect her yet?"

"No she's coming early evening, though she was round yesterday to pick up some luggage and to chastise me for my poor packing."

"Well I'm not sure what this means for us, but it changes nothing, other than we have no witness to question. How's everything else? Any more thoughts on my uncle's diary?"

"Some, but Hobbes is best placed to fill you in."

"Right then, we'll see you when we get back."

"Quite ...oh and Knolly...look after her."

"I will John, I will. Have no fear."

I handed the telephone back to a waiting Hobbes and proceeded to tell them Merrick's side of the conversation. Bertie was quite concerned at the thought of Charlie prowling the rooftops of London – at least I think it was concern. As to who could have taken Joseph Moore, we had numerous suspects but no obvious motive. Hobbes suggested that we try to get a message to Baddick to see what he and his team could uncover. It was a sound notion, and one to put in motion. However, as a pressing issue, we had yet to find out the intricacies of working a railway signal box.

Meeds and the rest of his crew had still not shown up, and so, as Officer in Command, I issued Stanley with an order. He was to head in the direction of Charing Cross and start asking around for Baddick. He was to question any street urchin that smelt worse than he/she looked. Once he had departed without even asking the reason why, the three of us disembarked and set off once more towards the signal box.

Over the sound of bustling engines and carriages, Bertie asked me the plan of action.

"Well, I think we should adopt our 'noms de guerre' once more ..."

"I'll be Mr Paddington, then," interjected Bertie. I chose to ignore him and continued.

"....don our new disguises, and as men of science we shall interview them on behalf of a new monthly periodical for the enquiring mind. Hobbes, name such a journal please?"

" there's the one I read that helps me look after my chickens?"


I knocked on the door of the signal box and entered. A pair of surprised looking fellows turned round.

"Good day to you sirs," I said cheerily. "My friends and I are from a new periodical that will shortly be going on sale; and as such we would like to interview you and tell our readers all about the working day of a signalman on one of the country's premier railways."

Bertie flapped at his pockets for his notebook - which I produced from my own pocket with a flourish and handed to him.

"My colleague Mr Stapleton will take notes if that is all right with the two of you?"

The fellows seemed dumbfounded by this. And then, all of a sudden, a little bell rang and they sprang into action.

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