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 10
"Well! That seemed to work quite well, don't you think?" I sighed as I looked towards Bertie who was now doubled-up before me.
When Elspeth had connected with Bertie's nethers, he experienced the initial pain of the contact, then a short delay - which all men I'm sure know heralds the true debilitating pain of The Aftershock. It was this which caused him to fold. Ladies – when having occasion to witness a gentleman undergoing such trauma – always find this delay somewhat strange. Hobbes' theory is that the brain immediately receives the pain signals from the nethers; the brain then does not believe how much pain is being generated, so it sends the nerves back to check again. Sure enough, it does hurt as much as reported, and so The Aftershock proper can begin.
"I did take the tablets, you know," hissed Bertie between clenched teeth. "I just wasn't prepared for how Charlie looks ..."
"And how exactly does Charlotte look?" asked Elspeth, swinging her bag in readiness and raising a quizzical eyebrow. I got the feeling that it would not have mattered how Bertie responded to this question. He was in for a hand bagging. I took a step back away from my disabled colleague, well out of range of fire – this, I decided, was nothing to do with me. Bertie paused and looked at me for support. There was none forthcoming.
"Well, she looks so ladylike. So grown-up," Bertie wheezed. "Not at all like when I last saw her at Hobbes' ..... I mean, she has many more clothes on for starters ..."
Bertie, poor soul, then attempted to soothe the affected area; first by clutching his stomach and rocking gently back and forth, and then (and here came his second error of judgement for the day) by massaging his man-regions. Obviously, Bertie's remedial action began to pay dividends judging from the "oooooh" and "aaaaaah" sounds that he was making. Elspeth saw this and got quite the wrong impression of what was happening.
"Look at the Dirty Devil now!" Elspeth exclaimed. The Gladstone bag was once again being primed.
Quite sensibly, Bertie attempted to retreat to the corner of the carriage, but being in a closed space, we all knew that it would only be a matter of time before Elspeth was once again on his case with her case. She looked furious at (what she perceived to be) Bertie's slight against her young charge, and to compound matters, now Charlotte was looking decidedly on edge, presumably upset at the kerfuffle that unfolded. Her manner changed from calm and demure to one of heightened alert. She rose slowly from her seat – slowly and precisely – as if beginning to stalk an unfortunate prey. She stood just behind Elspeth's shoulder.
I feared for the safety of Bertie at the thought of another clout from Elspeth. More seriously, I feared for his safety in the case of Charlotte – who was probably thinking that Elspeth was under some sort of attack – springing into action against my stricken colleague. I then had a dark thought; Charlotte knew that Bertie and I were friends, so what might happen if she saw me as his accomplice – as an aggressor too? I had a sinking feeling. Our mission (and most probably our persons) could soon be in tatters at the hands of these two comely females.
Gentle reader, I hear your question: "Why did you not just defend yourselves? Why did you not fight back?"
Well, Bertie and I were proud of our manners and breeding. One example of the code by which we live is that a gentleman ought not to raise his voice against a lady, let alone his hands and fists. Therefore, in situations such as we found ourselves, we had to resort to passive self-defence. This allowed us limited options when facing the music (or rather, when facing attacking females). We could, for instance, turn the other cheek, thereby riding out the storm with a stiff upper lip. Or we could simply run away.
The latter option was not appropriate. Bertie was somewhat incapacitated and so could not even stand, let alone run. There was also the point that we were in a confined carriage on a moving train. We were back to option one, which seemed to offer neither a tactical or strategic solution. We could attempt to maintain a stiff upper lip. However, nothing was likely to remain stiff after a bruising encounter with Elspeth's bag. And cheeks, whether turned or not, would likely not survive the close attention of Charlotte's claws.
This situation called for the emergency option. I therefore collapsed in a heap in the opposite corner of the carriage to Bertie, assuming the full-foetus position with knees drawn-up and arms covering my head. In retrospect this could have been caused by the "Gender Benders" I had been taking, and that I feel would be a good story to cling to.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Elspeth move to clout Bertie once more. Just as I was expecting the sequence of thump-delay-scream, the bag was caught mid-swing. Elspeth turned to see Charlotte, shaking her head at my wife, holding on to the bag.
Was I missing something here, obviously their time together had created a bond of some sort.
"Well Bertie, it would seem that Charlotte has given you a reprieve from a second walloping, from which I can only assume that she likes the tone of your voice as much as what your were prattling on about in your defence. I can see I shall have to have words with her later." Elspeth was clearly concerned, either by Charlotte's actions or because she was prevented from further thumping Bertie.
Bertie smiled and gave a little wave at Charlie. "Thank you both."
"Well I'm glad we got that sorted out." I said getting up and dusting myself down.
"No thanks to you" muttered Bertie; trying to pull himself upright.
I choose to ignore that remark and continued "I think it's time we moved on, don't you think? Now please remember, ladies, that you are escaped military fellows in disguise, dangerous prisoners...Hmm."
Elspeth gave me a look that spoke volumes and then signed to Charlie who proceeded to laugh and pointed between her legs and said "Meeennnnnn".
"Yes Charlotte, that is correct."
I looked at Bertie, who looked at me and then we both turned to Elspeth.
"What?.. Look she's almost an adult, she wasn't really aware of any differences until I drew her some pictures. Oh don't look so shocked, the pair of you!"
"I'm not shocked" I replied, "no, not at all, now then let us just get back past the guard's van, and then, Elspeth, you can happily beat me black and blue if that is your wish? Now if you two would kindly walk in front of me, and try to behave in a slightly less ladylike fashion."
Bertie led the way walking very slowly and deliberately, giving the impression that our "miscreants" had put up a bit of a fight to try and elude capture. Charlotte for her part seemed to be taking it all in her stride as if this was what all railway adventures were like. I found that I needed to have a long discussion with Elspeth about the last few days.
The guard stood up as we entered his abode and backed himself towards the wall.
"Got the buggers then." He looked at Bertie, who winced slightly as he walked on. "Good God man, they put up a fight, too?"
"Who'd have thought it, they look so genteel and feminine."
Elspeth spat in his direction and sneered "Lobcock". She made a motion with her fingers that only I caught sight of and Charlotte made to strike out towards the fellow; Bertie bravely grabbed her from behind, and I moved to block.
"I think that will be quite enough of that!" Charlotte lowered her eyes and Bertie pushed her towards the adjoining door. I did likewise with Elspeth, pushing her on with her on luggage.
"Come on, move it! You've wasted enough of our time." Elspeth muttered something unseemly; I really have no idea where she has picked up such language.
"Lock the door behind us", I smiled at the guard who seemed shaken by what he had just witnessed.
Bertie and Charlotte had already moved further along inside the carriage and we paused by the Armoury.
"Was that really necessary?" I asked, dropping the bags and hoping to plant a kiss on my dear wife's lips.
Elspeth held me at arms length, the palms of her gloved hands firmly on my chest and then dusted herself down. "It had the desired effect don't you think? After all, it was your idea that we were supposed to be men."
"Well that's true ...but..."
"Let's see if she's playing nicely then, shall we, m'dear."
"But what? The fellow clearly won't bother us any more, will he?"
I had to agree, but before I could say anything there was a cacophony of noise which could only be described as a mixture of raw animal and machinery.
"Ah, that sounds like Bertie has introduced Charlie to the gymnasium and Hobbes' mechanical construct. I had hoped to give you both a tour of the sleeping quarters first."
Elspeth gave me a coy look, as if to say "really".
A high-pitched scream pierced the air and we looked at each other.
She hitched up her skirts, flashing shapely leotard encased ankle. "I think the tour can wait!"