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't Cats Always Land On Their Feet?
Chapter 9 Part 8
Leaving Elspeth to take command of developing a "Bertie - Charlie" scenario (of which I was confident of the outcome but hoped she'd remembered the safety on her fan) I walked with haste back through "Clarabelle" and down to "Annie" and found the nearest "real" window available to take a peek out of. Sure enough my darling was right, gone were the countryside vistas we had been hurtling through in the night. Instead the picture this morning was now one of smoke and gloom that defined a modern city thriving with industry and associated poor living conditions, the very foundation stones that put the "Great" in Great Britain and created our Empire. (Alas, even then I felt it had reached its zenith and would have to change to survive)
I pulled up the blind fully and opened the window slightly to suck in the smells that this Northern metropolis produced, and soon found myself having a coughing fit. Definitely not London, I thought as I pushed the opening firmly closed, there we would have had a mix of fog and smoke which Bertie had cunningly termed "foke", that would have had me sneezing, too.
As we crossed over Clyde our speed dropping all the time, I could just glimpse the dockyards in the distance – a weak shaft of sunlight lighting up the steam-powered cranes and other assorted machinery. I caught sight of my reflection and decided to leave my jacket off, as the sabre cuts would just take too much explanation. Elspeth and the others were obviously still "tidying up", for want of a better phrase, and so, without waiting for them to make an appearance, I made my way to the guards van to discuss our requirements.
The poor fellow seemed rather out of sorts as I opened the door and entered his domain, perhaps I should have knocked?
"Good morning to you, Sir, I see we have almost reached our destination," I beamed.
"But only a way station for you, hmm? I suppose you'll be wanting me to stop the train outside of Glasgow and leave you near a siding to be collected later?" he replied in a rather terse manner for one who is supposed to be the passengers' friend.
I was astounded by the chap's grasp of our predicament and lack of planning – was he a mind reader? There was I thinking that we would have to remain with the train all the way into Glasgow Central and then try and find assistance to shunt us about later during the day.
"Why yes! " I exclaimed rather too exuberantly, "that is exactly what I was coming to ask."
The guard pulled a face, " To be honest with you, Sir, I'll be glad to see the back of you and your lot, those female impersonators you caught up with plain give me the heebie-jeebies."
"I quite understand, and..."
"What makes it worse, is, I could quite fancy the older one of them, too, I like 'em feisty...If he was a woman of course." He gave me a wink.
"Yes...yes...quite...I know what you mean."
I must admit that I wasn't overly happy with the way he was describing my wife, but this was not the time to call him out and teach him some manners, not now. I thought it best to keep on his good side. The guard smiled in a knowing way which was also oddly disturbing.
"The younger bloke though, he's a bit of a wild 'un by the looks." he continued.
This conversation was taking too strange a turn to say the least, and I had to regain control of the situation.
"So, you have no objections to uncoupling our carriages and leaving us outside of the station itself, then?"
"Me? No, none at all. We don't want a lot of military riff-raff worrying the rest of my passengers, and I'm sure you don't want anyone else snooping around if you were alongside the platform, would you?
The guard unfortunately was correct in his assumption, and I nodded. He checked his own watch.
"This time of day there'll be nothing behind us for a good few hours, so I'm sure you can wave your Government papers at someone and get them to shunt you off into a siding while you organise yourselves."
I gave a wan smile. "Excellent, how long before you need to stop the train?"
"The driver knows what to do; I had a quiet word with him when we last stopped for fuel and water. I would think in the next ten to twenty minutes or so."
"Really? So soon? Right, I best warn every...I mean... lock down the prisoners then. Thank you for your assistance, I'll make sure a letter is sent to the railway company mentioning you by name. Mister...?
"Perks. Good, well I'm sure the company will be more than happy with the assistance you have given us and Her, I mean His Majesties Government."
I left before he could comment on anything and collided with Bertie who for some reason had decided to block the doorway between the guards van and "The Train".
"Bertie...excellent....good...everything ship-shape?" From his facial expression this was plainly not the case.
"Knolly, I'm most dreadfully sorry about earlier."
I clapped him manfully on the shoulders. "Oh there's no need to apologise, we have more important things to attend to."
"Oh, but I must," he continued.
"Yes he must!" came Elspeth's voice from the bedroom; it was the one of happiest of tones I had ever heard her use.
"SEE" blinked Bertie in an urgent manner.
"CAN'T IT WAIT?" I replied.
"NO E IS LISTENING WITH C AND HAS GIVEN ME ONE OF HER WARNINGS. UNHAPPY FACE WITH TEARS"
"Well, it seems that Elspeth is rather insistent on the matter," I said in a slightly louder voice, but not as loud as that to muster a ship's crew, you understand. "So let's hear you out then."
"My manners were appalling, it was a despicable display of ungentlemanly conduct, especially in front of ladies and one so young and impressionable as Charlotte. I'm afraid I do not know what came over me". Here he paused for breath. "And I will not be at all surprised if you or your family should no longer be acquainted with me."
This came out in rather a rush and I was, I admit, rather taken aback by this and wondered what hold my dearest wife had put upon my oldest of friends. I tried not to laugh, but Bertie seemed deadly serious.
"I see, well...don't let it happen again". I wagged my finger in an admonishing way à la Auntie Lettuce.
"Is that it? " boomed Elspeth's voice from beyond.
It suddenly struck me that Elspeth was viewing this as a test of my future parenting skills. "....and there will be no more brandy for you for the remainder of this journey."
Poor Bertie looked crestfallen, but I could hear the sound of gleeful clapping next door.
"NOTE, I SAID THIS JOURNEY". I blinked at Bertie and he grinned back.
"Let us shake hands on this and get back to matter in hand, shall we?"
There was a shriek from the engine up ahead as the whistle blew and the brakes began to be applied.
"Ha, it would seem that we are coming to end the of the first part of our journey, which is what I was just discussing with Mr Perks back there." I jerked my thumb in the direction of the guards van. "If we could all gather round the table I'll let you know the plan."
"Will there be time for a walk around Glasgow?" enquired Elspeth from our room.
I replied in the affirmative and then Bertie piped up, "Excellent – another new accent to master then."
I didn't think this a good idea, but Bertie just grinned at my scowl.
"DON'T YOU THINK YOUR ARE ENOUGH TROUBLE THIS MORNING ALREADY?" I blinked.
Seated together, I outlined what was to happen in the next hour or so and how I hoped we would progress. Elspeth was rather crestfallen with the fact that we would not be pulling to the station itself but would be, as she put it, "skulking" in the shadows. I pointed out quite firmly that this was not supposed to be a holiday and that she was here with the specific purpose of minding Charlotte. This, as you can guess, was not at all well received by my wife, until I mentioned that it would quite likely take the best part of the day to sort out a means to get "the Train" moved onto the line to take us further North. Elspeth smiled at the thought of a day wandering around new shops, new streets, and this seemed to quite excite Charlotte, too, though I'm not sure what subtle message had actually been passed between the two of them, and the pair of them rushed off to find suitable "walking out" clothes.
Alas, we were not expecting the final application of the brakes, and none save Charlotte managed to keep their feet. Elspeth ended up in my lap and Bertie with his chair went skittering across the room towards the door. (Perhaps the request for chairs on wheels had not been a good idea after all.)
"Everyone all right?" I asked as Charlotte, ever attentive, helped Elspeth off of me, comfortable though it was. "Bertie?"
Bertie was trying to get out of his chair and failing miserably, those mischievous "action and reaction" Laws of Newton having a wonderful time of it. He looked over at me wide-eyed with panic and unable to use "Blinkage"
"Braked too sudden, need to check them."
"Check them ..what are you on about?" I said hurriedly getting to my feet. A good job that Elspeth had moved.
"Oh, Good Lord, they were active?"
Bertie shrugged. "I'm not sure, never thought about them until now" and then the chair and he went separate ways. I caught him as he fell forward.
"Come on man, stay here." I added to Elspeth before she could enquire as to the urgency of the issue or discuss the words "explosive and or "bolts":
"The Train" had been fitted early on in its construction with an emergency un-coupling mechanism which consisted of a small explosive device that could be fired should an emergency arise and the carriages needed to be separated from the engine, without the need to move outside and be shot at, get wet or similar. Alas the device (like so many of Hobbes' "adjustments") had proven unstable and mis-fired on too many occasions for the Service's liking, for example emergency braking. I thought that because of this they had been removed, but Bertie thought otherwise."
Bertie had run ahead of me down the corridor that ran past the two bedrooms, and was now prone on the wooden floor with his ear to the ground. I kneeled down beside him.
"Well?" I asked in a hushed tone.
"Bad news is that I was right to be worried, good news, though, is that it's ticking still so we still have..."
There was a loud bang from the other side of the door linking us to the Express.
"Too late, then?" asked Elspeth, who had crept up behind us holding tightly onto Charlotte's hand, whose eyes were wide with excitement.
Dusting off my trousers, I opened the door that moments before had linked us to the guards' van. The Express had continued on its way and Perks stood there in his own doorway, looking rather the worse for wear. I smiled and waved – it seemed the only thing to do, given the circumstances. Perks turned and closed the remains of his door behind him, and the Express continued its way to Glasgow along the line as we began to lose momentum.
I closed the door, shutting out the disaster and sighed. "Bertie, remind me to drop a note to Hobbes the moment we find a telegraph office, won't you?"
He nodded. "Brakes, then?"
"If you would be so kind."
Bertie folded back a panel in the floor on which he had been laying to reveal what could only be described as large stopcock. The ladies stepped back into the bedroom, he handed me his jacket, rolled up his shirtsleeves, made himself comfortable, took the wheel in his hands, and began to turn the wheel. I opened the door once more to peer ahead, the Express was now in the distance and we were indeed stopping – though where exactly "here" was, only time would tell. Bertie, brakes now fully applied, stood behind me picking at the door frame.
"Could have been worse, I suppose. How far to the city itself, do you think?"
"A mile or two if we walk along the lines. We'll need to get us moved off on to a branch line, though, Perks said we had a couple of hours leeway before the next train came this way.
"Righty ho, best get moving then?"
"Indeed, time, I fear, to release Mr Talbot's finest on the world!"
If Bertie's grin had been any wider, the top of his head would have fallen off.