I must admit I was feeling rather excited at the prospect of a holiday, albeit in the company of a couple of comedians, but my initial enthusiasm was short lived. Just after 7.00AM this morning, a knock came at the door and an urchin handed me a note:
Train cancelled due to leaves on line – have booked us on the next available locomotive. 3.00pm. Don’t be late!
And so it was mid-afternoon when Mary and I arrived at the station to locate our compartment. Arthur and Dickie were already aboard and proceeded to spend several minutes bowing to Mary, reciting their catchphrase ‘I Thank Yew, I Thank Yew’ until the train pulled away, throwing the pair off balance.
“Lovely day for it,” said Arthur, stowing his generous hindquarters on the seat opposite mine.
“Ooh, don’t you start with that dirty talk in ‘ere,” retorted his partner, shaking a finger.
Arthur did a double-take. “Dirty talk? Dirty talk? Wash your mouth out, young man!” At which point I realized they were performing one of their routines.
I must admit their banter was entertaining, but by the time we’d left the city behind and were rattling through the Home Counties, it had begun to grow a little tiresome. Thankfully, Mary came to the rescue and asked if our companions knew how to calculate the speed of the train by counting telegraph posts. I was well aware of the computation necessary to affect this small feat, as Holmes had once chastised my lack of mathematical abilities and taken great delight in explaining it to me. However, I kept my mouth shut and was pleased to observe the simple sum had, at least for the time being, shut the pair up. While Dickie took notes, Arthur alternately counted on his fingers and ran out into the corridor to lean out of the window. I concentrated on the previous day’s Times crossword and Mary fetched out her knitting, giving me sly winks and touching my knee every so often.
We’d only been travelling an hour when the train began to slow down, and after a few minutes, came to a stop.
“I say, Dickie, we can’t be there just yet, eh?” said Arthur, pressing his nose up against the window “I do hope we’re not going to be late.”
As if on cue, the ticket collector appeared and popped his head into the carriage. “Fraid there’s a fault on the line up ahead, so we’ll be waiting til it’s fixed. Sorry for any inconvenience.” He closed the door and continued along.
“Didn’t look very sorry to me,” piped up Arthur. “I’ve a good mind to thrash him soundly and…”
“Oh, shut up,” said his partner, slapping him several times on top of his head. “Let’s go and get a cuppa while we’re waiting.”
Mary and I declined the offer of refreshment and took the opportunity to enjoy some ‘quiet time’ to ourselves.
I must have dozed off, for when I opened my eyes, the train was moving again and it was getting dark outside. Mary stood in the corridor trying to talk to the conductor, amid a flurry of questions from Arthur and Dickie. From her disapproving tone, it sounded as if the Twins were getting on her tits.
As I stepped into the corridor, the argument petered out. Everyone looked at me. I looked at the conductor.
The man gave me a fed-up sigh. “As I were just sayin’, sir, this train’s been diverted to Worthing, so you’ll all ‘ave to get orf at the next station to change for Chichester.” He gave a funny little laugh, then “Course, I wouldn’t want ter be stopping there myself…what with the phantom and that…”
I frowned in a way I hoped might convey that he was dealing with a serious individual. “Phantom? Tish tosh. We don’t believe in ghosts, do we chaps?” I looked at the twins, but they’d both gone rather pale.
“My husband’s right,” said Mary. “We don’t believe in ghosts. Anyway, how long will our connection be?”
The conductor shrugged. “Bout ten minutes.”
I clapped my hands. “There we are, then. We’ll be on our way before this ghost chappie’s even got his act together.”
Arthur nodded. “That’s alright then, cos we’ve to be on stage in the morning for a run-through, and if I don’t get a decent night’s sleep, I’ll be all at sevens and eights.”
His friend nodded solemnly. “He’s a martyr to his sleep patterns. He’ll be farting all night as it is.”
“Well yous can talk about it all yer like, but if you want to get to Chichester and yous are ‘appy ter take your chances, you’ll ‘ave to get orf.” And with that, the conductor ambled off down the corridor, muttering his bad news to other passengers.