Bertie and the Beast: Chapter 9, Part 6
Created | Updated Jan 31, 2010
Don't Cats Always Land On Their Feet?
Chapter 9 Part 6
Vestis virum reddit - or, as Mr Twain put it slightly more recently, "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society." I pondered upon this, while carefully rummaging in the trunk that I assumed had some of my clothes within – through ladies' outerwear, underwear and what I had chosen to term over my years with Elspeth as 'neverwear'. I concluded that Mr Twain may well have been wrong about the influence of naked people in society, but then again he had not moved in such debauched circles as Bertie and I were forced to, for without doubt the Countess Von Kronenbourg would not have got where she was today by being always fully clothed head to toe. Indeed, had Mr Twain ever met her, he would have been forced to create a new category between fully clothed and naked - which would have upset his little quip.
Oddly enough for a trunk with my name embossed on it, there did seem to be an abundance of female attire for all weathers compared against the amount of clothing for me - although I found a good few pairs of standard Naval Issue Wolsey Mk 3 Winter Combinations (which I had acquired over the years and kept for just such an adventure to colder climates) and plenty of socks. Excellent, I thought, these would certainly do for starters. Now all that I required were shirts, trousers, a jacket or two, topcoat, hat or hats, gloves and all the other fashionable accessories required by a modern man-about-town. I wondered aloud to myself what sort of man my darling wife was trying to make me into, based upon the few items of clothing I'd found so far.
Thankfully, there was still hot water available, and so I quickly washed and shaved, driven on by the aroma of a full breakfast coming from the front of the Express. Shaving on a moving train is, it must be said, an interesting experience, for without any view of the outside world the shaver is at the mercy of the track-layer's art. One can only hope and pray that there are no intersections of track coming up (or some emergency ahead which will lead to a heavy application of the brakes) as the blade is placed upon the delicate area between nose and lip. Mercifully, I survived with only nominal nicks, which could be covered with collar and tie - providing I found some. I made a mental note to scrutinise Bertie's chin and see how he had coped in similar circumstances.
As I towelled myself down (It really was like being at home rather than on a military-style mission) a thought struck me. Perhaps the rest of my clothing had been stowed with Charlotte's luggage next door.
I knocked on the adjoining door. I have no idea why, for I knew very well that Charlie was having breakfast elsewhere. It seemed the right thing to do. Entering the bedroom of someone you are not that well acquainted with should never be undertaken lightly, especially when that someone is a young lady, or a young lady with oddly feline tendencies, or a young lady with oddly feline tendencies that possibly could break one's neck. The list unfortunately was endless, but I needed clothing and so, grasping the door handle, I went in.
The room was dark, as the window was still covered. I left the door to our room open. At the foot of the bed were two trunks and the bag that she had been carrying the night before. I must confess I felt like some sort of lowlife cracksman as I began to delve into Charlotte's belongings. The first trunk's contents were on the face of it much like my wife's, with some allowances for age and size. The second, smaller trunk, however, seemed to contain garments of a distinctly more specialised nature - for now, we shall call these "working clothes". What shops these had been purchased in I had no idea (though I could hazard a guess), and could only assume that Merrick had pointed Elspeth in their direction.
"What on earth are you up to, Knolly?" came my wife's voice from the doorway.
I hurriedly stuffed the things I was holding back into the trunk, and in my haste caught my thumb on one of those clawed gloves. I turned to face her - but saw that the silhouette was not that of Elspeth at all, but that of a man. I relaxed slightly, feeling less guilty at being caught out by my colleague.
"Bertie. You made me jump, man. Is that Elspeth behind you?"
There was a girlish giggle from this person - who in this light also looked like a man. Something was clearly not right. I blinked once or twice to clear my vision. The pain in my thumb made me wince, and I shoved it in my mouth ..."That's it," I thought to myself, "a slow-working drug that's making me see things. It must have been on the tip of that claw.". Bertie and I had come across various toxins during our line of work - there had been some particularly nasty ones we'd seen in action during our recent time in China.
"Damnation! How could I be so stupid?" I lunged for the doorway. "Antidote - must find an antidote." Then I tripped and landed on the bed, bumping my head on a support as I did so.
"No, I don't know what he is up to, Charlotte - or why he was in your room in his underwear. Let us find out, shall we?"
It was Elspeth's voice saying the words - and, I hoped, making the associated animal noises. I opened my eyes to see a man in a suit coming towards me - a suit much like one I owned. There was a mewling noise to my left.
"I get Berrrtiee.Yesss?"
I turned, expecting to see Charlotte - but no! It was a young-looking gentleman in a brown jacket that seemed far too big for him - a jacket that looked familiar, though I was not sure why.
Whatever drug had entered my system was certainly making my head spin. "What? Who are you? Where is my wife?"
This rambling quickly came to a halt. The suited gent struck me a blow across the face. "Knolly, stop being a silly ass. You're frightening Charlotte."
It certainly sounded like my wife. The slap felt like one of hers, too. I opened my eyes once more and saw her face before me.
"Elspeth, it is you. Quickly, I think Charlotte's glove has drugged me, I need to take some of Hobbes' "all-purpose antidote". It will be in the 'office' ."
"I think you banged your head a bit hard, husband, when you fell through the door."
She grinned and, being so close, her smile filled my vision. She turned to the young gentleman and waved her hands in his direction. Instantly his hair became longer - and there was Charlotte in my jacket. Elspeth eased herself back from me, and I could see now that she was wearing my suit.
"My clothes, I was looking for my clothes."
"In Charlotte's room?" She put her hands on her hips and head on one side and gave me one of her looks, which seemed very odd, considering how fetching she looked in my garb.
"...Well, I'd looked everywhere else."
Charlotte hissed, "Not....so," and proceeded to drag a small steamer trunk out from under the bed.
There was a knock on the door and a head appeared around it. "Well, hullo all, what's going on? If Knolly doesn't want this nosh, then I'm for seconds. What about you, Charlie, bit more meat?"
Elspeth shot Bertie a look ." I think she's eaten more than enough. She needs to get changed after our little ruse - as do I. Knolly, dearest, why not go and eat what we brought you while Charlotte and I change into something more comfortable? I must admit, I have no idea why women of a certain persuasion feel the need to dress up as men - quite uncomfortable - and the way things are cut, they just dig into one so. Still, I suppose they are specially made to order."
She stopped and smiled to herself. I looked at her and then at Charlotte, who was flapping her arms in my jacket sleeves, which had now rolled down - memorising the scene for future use. I pushed myself off the bed and stood up, Bertie looked me up and down.
"Food first, then get dressed. Come along, old stick."
While I sat down to a plate of bacon, kidneys and a pair of odd-looking eggs, Bertie related the tale of the "Breakfast Quest."
"It was Elspeth's idea, really, he began. " She decided to let you have a lie-in and remarked that the Express was supposed to have an excellent dining car. The only issue, of course, was how to get past our friend the guard, who now knew that the ladies were really chaps in disguise. So then I thought, why not take it one step further and have them dress up as men - like those we saw at the Empire?"
I stopped him here with a wave of a kidney-embellished fork. "This was a recent idea, I take it?"
"Knolly, I have no idea what you mean, although the pair of them did scrub up well and looked very fetching. Why, in the dining car itself, Elspeth attracted the odd glance or too from some of the women diners."
I rolled my eyes and prayed him continue.
"Well, between you and me we had enough clothes. The only problem was shoes. Alas, they had to keep their own on, but this gave them a bit of extra height, which the cut of trousers soon hid, and who looks at feet anyway? Women in trousers though, an interesting thought, eh, think it will catch on?"
I shook my head, "No."
"Hey, what about Elspeth when we first met her though, in her uniform?"
"That was different! Now, what about getting through the guards' van?"
"Ah, well, that was easy. I went and spoke to him before we all trooped through, gave him my best smile and spun him a yarn about there not being enough food for all the prisoners now we'd apprehended the other two last night...therefore I was taking them to breakfast.... He asked me to ensure the safety of the other passengers, and I told him that would not be a problem. So there we are. I put cuffs on the ladies and waved my revolver on the way through the guards' van, Charlotte snarled and Elspeth cussed and we had a scrumptious meal."
I pointed towards the front of the train "And he gave you no problem on the return trip?"
"No, he wasn't there - which was good, really, as I don't think Charlie enjoyed being cuffed."
I mopped my chin with a napkin, "So, do you have any idea where we are?"
"Well, we are not in England any more, that's for sure. How far out of Glasgow, I'm not sure, though we must be due a water stop soon."
"Excellent, and now I think I really should put some proper clothes on."
"Yes, Bertie, you have a question?"
"Well, what happens when we get to Glasgow, I mean how do we get "The Train" further north towards Loch Ness?"
"Ah, I'm hoping that we can find an engine going our way."
"So, no plan then?"
"Details, details. Something will present itself, I'm sure."
"..and if it doesn't?"
"There is always the automobile. Besides, the Navy must have a regular supply line to Fort Augustus. I know for a fact that there is regular traffic between there and Barrow-In-Furness while they are experimenting with the submar...."
Bertie's face froze.