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.
We don't belong to Glasgae
Chapter 10 Part 1
Bertie and I jumped down from the rear of the carriage, which without a station platform was quite a way down; thankfully both of us landed on our feet.
"....and where are you two off to in such a hurry?" enquired Elspeth, looking down upon us with a rather sour look.
"Checking the carriages, my dear, after that sudden stop you can't be careful," was my quick, though unplanned, response.
"...and you both know what to look for, do you?"
Bertie and I looked at each other, "Probably not, but if we find loose and dangly things, we shall tidy them away and make good". This, as I had expected, got a firm nod of approval from my wife.
"So what was that about Mr Talbot's finest?"
Bertie beamed up at her. "Oh that was my suggestion. We need to find a way to get us shunted off the main line, and we think the station is about two miles up the line, where there is bound to be a signal box or something between us and there. So we need to unload the automobile."
Elspeth looked down the line. "Two miles being too far to walk for such..." She paused to think ... "fit and healthy gentlemen, then?"
"Er...no...but..." here Bertie floundered at such a logical riposte, and so I had to rescue.
"Indeed not, my dear, but it will doubtlessly be quicker."
She stood, head on one side, thinking on this. "And wha,t pray, should Charlotte and I be doing whilst you two play with your mechanical toys?"
I knew this game of old, it was trick question time, that dangerous arena where man and woman have sparred throughout the ages – and no doubt would continue to do so until the end of time. There was never a wrong or a right answer, but whatever the male came up with would be frowned upon, and there would be consequences of varying degrees depending on the answer and the mood of the woman asking the question. I had to choose my words very carefully and indeed quickly to ensure that Bertie did not make things worse than they already were.
"I would like you to rest, but that is of course out of the question." I paused, watching her reaction, and then continued. "So I would be grateful if you could get Charlotte to station herself on top of the carriage and keep a watchful eye on the world. She has keen eyesight, Merrick has told us – so why don't we put it to the test?"
Elspeth smiled at my verbal dexterity "Why, Knolly, that is an excellent idea, both useful and educational for Charlotte at the same time.Is there a spyglass or similar on board?"
"You'll find some field glasses stowed with my gear," Bertie added, eager to join in.
I saw Elspeth wrinkle her nose at the thought of rummaging through Bertie's gear, but she nodded her thanks and waved us on our way, calling Charlotte to her as she went back inside. Bertie and I scuttled away along the wheels before Elspeth thought of something else to question.
"That was a jolly good answer, I must say."
I laughed, but not too loudly "Oh I thought so, too. We could have been in heaps of trouble there".
"So what are you having them keep watch for?"
"What? Oh, nothing".
"Right, just thought you might doubt Perks and his estimate of when the next train was due."
I gave Bertie my best superior look which often left me squiffy if maintained for too long a period. "I would expect a railway employee to know their subject intimately, so no, I do not have doubts about what we have been told."
We continued our way along the lengths of Annie and Clarabelle to the disguised flatcar. There was little sign of any other damage done caused by neither the emergency release mechanism nor the subsequent manual application of the brakes – at least nothing loose or dangly that we could determine in the poor light of the morning.
"For the outskirts of a large city it seems very quiet, don't you think?" asked Bertie.
I checked the time; it was forty-five minutes past seven.
"Calm before the storm, and I rather think we are off the beaten track at the moment".
Bettie nodded and pulled himself up on the lip of the flatcar and began to unfasten the eyelets holding the canvas "door" in place. The flatcar this close up resembled a large blue/grey oblong tent rather than a railway carriage, but I was confident that from only a short distance away , it did look like any normal railway carriage seen in these parts.
Grey clouds had now scudded in to fill the sky, and a cold rain began to fall. It was no time to be outside in the elements without the proper attire, and so I, too, hauled myself up and followed Bertie inside. With no real windows, the only available light inside was that coming through the canvas seams and the eyelet holes and the flap behind me, but this was enough to make the red paintwork sparkle in front of me. There she sat, a tribute to modern engineering and some hastily applied modifications courtesy of Hobbes, Harrison-Harrison and Zborowski, but it was still mine nevertheless. Bertie however seemed to have disappeared. There was a sound of canvas tearing followed by a cry of...
"Well there's lucky, by Jove!"
I moved towards the sound of Bertie's voice and the new light source caused by a hole in roof. My friend stood there, examining his rod and grinning happily.
"Look, Knolly, it wasn't lost over the side after all, but got snagged on the roof. Just took a couple of quick tugs to get it through the hole it had made."
"Which you seem to have made somewhat larger, it would seem?"
"Well, yes, but at least we can avoid any climbing of telegraph poles, and the rain won't land on the automobile."
At this point a trickle of water dripped through. I looked at where it had landed and nodded.
"We must be grateful for small mercies. Now let's unload, shall we?"
Together we removed the rear of the camouflage and pushed out the twin loading ramps which made rather a loud clang as they hit the rails. We were ready to roll, but Bertie was chewing his lip in thoughtful mode.
"Do you think we should take the Maxim off? I mean, we don't want to scare the locals too much, the site of a non-horse-drawn vehicle might be bad enough?"
I sat down in the driving seat and pondered upon this. On the one hand Bertie was right, a horseless carriage was still viewed with wonder, even in London, so who knows the effect of such a vehicle this far north – and towing a machine gun behind it, too? On the other hand, where would we stow it? I was rather loathe to leave it on the train, even locked in the armoire. With Elspeth in her current condition, and knowing that the weapon was so close to hand, she could possibly have an uncontrolled attack of the vapours. I closed my eyes. A grave mistake, for a horrific vision flashed before me, a vision of my dearest darling wife lying in bed wearing nothing but her favourite leotard, writhing with, and caressing the "Mighty Maxim" and getting covered in gun grease as she did so. I took a deep breath. No, that would not do. Bertie was looking at me in a deuced odd way.
"Everything all right,Knolly? You seem to have gone rather pale."
"Er... yes fine, tired eyes. We'll keep it with us."
"Are you sure?" Bertie asked.
"Positive. We'll cover it with something." I looked around. "Ah this tarpaulin should do the trick."
"Right then, best unhitch it first, and roll it down the ramp."
The rain had stopped pretending to drizzle now and was falling more heavily, which meant we would get wet. But we were stout-hearted men and we wouldn't melt (Auntie Lettice would often tell me so). With blocks and tackle we eased the gun carriage down the ramps and onto the rails. The oversized all-terrain tyres that had been fitted made it easy to push it off the line and onto the strip of land adjacent to the track. Grinning madly together, we rushed up the ramps to the Talbot and took up our respective positions. I engaged the motor, Bertie yelled contact from somewhere behind me and did the necessary with the starting handle; there was a roar of noise within the confined space, but even I could tell this was a far different tone to that which it had made on the way home after my birthday bash. Bertie hauled himself in beside me and I adjusted the throttle levers so that it made more of a ticking "topocota topocata" sort of sound. With one hand on the wheel I eased the gear stick into its reverse position, engaged the clutch lever and we began to move towards the ramps.
"Steady as she goes, Commander" piped up Bertie as he twisted himself in his seat to be my eyes whilst performing this delicate manoeuvre.
I opened up the throttle slightly as we hit the lip of the ramps, and the tyre bit with confidence as we mounted them, and then eased back on the power as gravity took over and we rolled backwards.
With the machine disembarked and on the ground Bertie showed me how to engage the additional drive train which Louis had installed. The engine note changed slightly, but the power was all too obvious as we made short work of climbing over to steel rails to park next to the waiting gun carriage. Leaving the engine running we quickly manhandled the covered Maxim into position and fixed it in its towing position.
"Right then, let's move out."
Once more I engaged the necessary levers and I parped the horn.Both Elspeth and Charlotte waved back from their position on the roof – the rain was not going to put them off their task. They were now clothed in full wet-weather gear which looked all too familiar. The shock of this made me release the clutch rather fiercely, and we lurched off in the direction of Glasgow station in a series of jumps.