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   Chapter 10 THE BRANCH LINE

Bones in London By Edgar Wallace Characters: 28361

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Not all the investments of Bones paid dividends. Some cost him money.

Some cost him time. Some-and they were few-cost him both.

Somewhere in a marine store in London lie the battered wrecks of what were once electro-plated motor-lamps of a peculiar and, to Bones, sinister design. They were all that was left of a great commercial scheme, based upon the flotation of a lamp that never went out.

On a day of crisis in Bones's life they had gone out, which was bad. They had come on at an inconvenient moment, which was worse, since they had revealed him and his secretary in tender attitudes. And Bones had gone gaily to right the wrong, and had been received with cold politeness by the lady concerned.

There was a week of gloom, when Bones adopted towards his invaluable assistant the air and manner of one who was in the last stages of a wasting disease. Miss Marguerite Whitland never came into Bones's office without finding him sitting at his desk with his head in his hands, except once, when she came in without knocking and Bones hadn't the time to strike that picturesque attitude.

Indeed, throughout that week she never saw him but he was swaying, or standing with his hand before his eyes, or clutching on to the edge of a chair, or walking with feeble footsteps; and she never spoke to him but he replied with a tired, wan smile, until she became seriously alarmed, thinking his brain was affected, and consulted Captain Hamilton, his partner.

"Look here, Bones, you miserable devil," said Hamilton, "you're scaring that poor girl. What the dickens do you mean by it?"

"Scaring who?" said Bones, obviously pleased. "Am I really? Is she fearfully cut up, dear old thing?"

"She is," said Hamilton truthfully. "She thinks you're going dotty."

"Vulgarity, vulgarity, dear old officer," said Bones, much annoyed.

"I told her you were often like that," Hamilton went on wilfully. "I said that you were a little worse, if anything, after your last love affair--"

"Heavens!" nearly screamed Bones. "You didn't tell her anything about your lovely old sister Patricia?"

"I did not," said Hamilton. "I merely pointed out to her the fact that when you were in love you were not to be distinguished from one whom is the grip of measles."

"Then you're a naughty old fellow," said Bones. "You're a wicked old rascal. I'm surprised at you! Can't a fellow have a little heart trouble--"

"Heart? Bah!" said Hamilton scornfully.

"Heart trouble," repeated Bones sternly. "I've always had a weak heart."

"And a weak head, too," said Hamilton. "Now, just behave yourself, Bones, and stop frightening the lady. I'm perfectly sure she's fond of you-in a motherly kind of way," he added, as he saw Bones's face light up. "And, really, she is such an excellent typist that it would be a sin and a shame to frighten her from the office."

This possibility had not occurred to Bones, and it is likely it had more effect than any other argument which Hamilton could use. That day he began to take an interest in life, stepped gaily into the office and as blithely into his secretary's room. He even made jokes, and dared invite her to tea-an invitation which was declined so curtly that Bones decided that tea was an unnecessary meal, and cut it out forthwith.

All this time the business of Schemes Limited was going forward, if not by leaps and bounds, yet by steady progression. Perhaps it was the restraining influence that Hamilton exercised which prevented the leaps being too pronounced and kept the bounds within bounds, so to speak. It was Schemes Limited which bought the theatrical property of the late Mr. Liggeinstein and re-sold those theatres in forty-eight hours at a handsome profit. It was Bones who did the buying, and it was Hamilton who did the selling-in this case, to the intense annoyance of Bones, who had sat up the greater part of one night writing a four-act play in blank verse, and arriving at the office late, had discovered that his chance of acting as his own producer had passed for ever.

"And I'd written a most wonderful part for you, dear old mademoiselle," he said sadly to his secretary. "The part where you die in the third act-well, really, it brought tears to my jolly old eyes."

"I think Captain Hamilton was very wise to accept the offer of the

Colydrome Syndicate," said the girl coldly.

In his leisure moments Bones had other relaxations than the writing of poetry-now never mentioned-or four-act tragedies. What Hamilton had said of him was true. He had an extraordinary nose for a bargain, and found his profits in unexpected places.

People got to know him-quite important people, men who handled millions carelessly, like Julius Bohea, and Important Persons whose faces are familiar to the people of Britain, such as the Right Hon. George Parkinson Chenney. Bones met that most influential member of the Cabinet at a very superior dinner-party, where everybody ate plovers' eggs as though it were a usual everyday occurrence.

And Mr. Parkinson Chenney talked on his favourite subject with great ease and charm, and his favourite subject was the question of the Chinese Concession. Apparently everybody had got concessions in China except the British, until one of our cleverest diplomatists stepped in and procured for us the most amazingly rich coalfield of Wei-hai-tai. The genius and foresight of this diplomatist-who had actually gone to China in the Long Vacation, and of his own initiative and out of his own head had evolved these concessions, which were soon to be ratified by a special commission which was coming from China-was a theme on which Mr. Parkinson Chenney spoke with the greatest eloquence. And everybody listened respectfully, because he was a great man.

"It is not for me," said Mr. Parkinson Chenney, toying with the stem of his champagne glass and closing his eyes modestly, "I say it is not for me-thank you, Perkins, I will have just as much as will come up to the brim; thank you, that will do very nicely-to speak boastfully or to enlarge unduly upon what I regard as a patriotic effort, and one which every citizen of these islands would in the circumstances have made, but I certainly plume myself upon the acumen and knowledge of the situation which I showed."

"Hear, hear!" said Bones in the pause that followed, and Mr. Parkinson

Chenney beamed.

When the dinner was over, and the guests retired to the smoking-room,

Bones buttonholed the minister.

"Dear old right honourable," said Bones, "may I just have a few words in re Chinese coal?"

The right honourable gentleman listened, or appeared to listen. Then Mr. Parkinson Chenney smiled a recognition to another great man, and moved off, leaving Bones talking.

Bones that night was the guest of a Mr. Harold Pyeburt, a City acquaintance-almost, it seemed, a disinterested City acquaintance. When Bones joined his host, Mr. Pyeburt patted him on the back.

"My dear Tibbetts," he said in admiration, "you've made a hit with

Chenney. What the dickens did you talk about?"

"Oh, coal," said Bones vaguely.

He wasn't quite certain what he had talked about, only he knew that in his mind at dinner there had dawned a great idea. Was Mr. Pyeburt a thought-reader? Possibly he was. Or possibly some chance word of his had planted the seed which was now germinating so favourably.

"Chenney is a man to know," he said. "He's one of the most powerful fellows in the Cabinet. Get right with him, and you can have a knighthood for the asking."

Bones blushed.

"A knighthood, dear old broker's man?" he said, with an elaborate shrug. "No use to me, my rare old athlete. Lord Bones-Lord Tibbetts I mean-may sound beastly good, but what good is it, eh? Answer me that."

"Oh, I don't know," said Mr. Pyeburt. "It may be nothing to you, but your wife--"

"Haven't a wife, haven't a wife," said Bones rapidly, "haven't a wife!"

"Oh, well, then," said Mr. Pyeburt, "it isn't an attractive proposition to you, and, after all, you needn't take a knighthood-which, by the way, doesn't carry the title of lordship-unless you want to.

"I've often thought," he said, screwing up his forehead, as though in the process of profound cogitation, "that one of these days some lucky fellow will take the Lynhaven Railway off Chenney's hands and earn his everlasting gratitude."

"Lynhaven? Where's that?" asked Bones. "Is there a railway?"

Mr. Pyeburt nodded.

"Come out on to the balcony, and I'll tell you about it," said Pyeburt; and Bones, who always wanted telling about things, and could no more resist information than a dipsomaniac could refuse drink, followed obediently.

It appeared that Mr. Parkinson Chenney's father was a rich but eccentric man, who had a grudge against a certain popular seaside resort for some obscure reason, and had initiated a movement to found a rival town. So he had started Lynhaven, and had built houses and villas and beautiful assembly rooms; and then, to complete the independence of Lynhaven, he had connected that town with the main traffic line by railway, which he built across eight miles of marshland. By all the rules of the game, no man can create successfully in a spirit of vengeance, and Lynhaven should have been a failure. It was, indeed, a great success, and repaid Mr. Chenney, Senior, handsomely.

But the railway, it seemed, was a failure, because the rival town had certain foreshore rights, and had employed those to lay a tramway from their hustling centre; and as the rival town was on the main line, the majority of visitors preferred going by the foreshore route in preference to the roundabout branch line route, which was somewhat handicapped by the fact that this, too, connected with the branch line at Tolness, a little town which had done great work in the War, but which did not attract the tourist in days of peace.

These were the facts about the Lynhaven line, not as they were set forth by Mr. Pyeburt-who took a much more optimistic view of the possibilities of the railway than did its detractors-but as they really were.

"It's a fine line, beautifully laid and ballasted," said Mr. Pyeburt, shaking his head with melancholy admiration. "All that it wants behind it is a mind. At present it's neglected; the freights and passenger fares are too high, the rolling-stock wants replacing, but the locomotive stock is in most excellent condition."

"Does he want to sell it?" asked the interested Bones, and Mr. Pyeburt pursed his lips.

"It is extremely doubtful," he said carefully, "but I think he might be approached. If he does want to sell it, and you can take it off his hands--"

He raised his own eyebrows with a significant gesture, which expressed in some subtle way that Bones's future was assured.

Bones said he would think the matter over, and he did-aloud, in the presence of Hamilton.

"It's a queer proposition," said Hamilton. "Of course, derelict railways can be made to pay."

"I should be general manager," said Bones more thoughtfully still. "My name would be printed on all the posters, of course. And isn't there a free pass over all the railways for railway managers?"

"I believe there is something of the sort," said Hamilton, "but, on the whole, I think it would be cheaper to pay your fare than to buy a railway to get that privilege."

"There is one locomotive," mused Bones. "It is called 'Mary Louisa.' Pyeburt told me about it just as I was going away. Of course, one would get a bit of a name and all that sort of thing."

He scratched his chin and walked thoughtfully into the office of Miss

Marguerite Whitland.

She swung round in her chair and reached for her notebook, but Bones was not in a dictatorial mood.

"Young miss," he asked, "how do you like Sir Augustus?"

"Sir who?" she demanded, puzzled.

"Sir Augustus," repeated Bones.

"I think it's very funny," she said.

It was not the answer he expected, and instinctively she knew she had made a mistake.

"Oh, you're thinking about yourself," she said quickly. "Are you going to be a knight, Mr. Tibbetts? Oh, how splendid!"

"Yes," admitted Bones, with fine indifference, "not bad, dear old miss.

I'm pretty young, of course, but Napoleon was a general at twenty-two."

"Are you going back into the Army?" she asked a little hazily, and had visions of Bones at the War Office.

"I'm talking about railways," said Bones firmly. "Sir Augustus

Tibbetts-there, now I've said it!"

"Wonderful!" said the girl enthusiastically, and her eyes shone with genuine pleasure. "I didn't see it in the newspaper, or I would have congratulated you before."

Bones shifted uneasily.

"As a matter of fact, dear old miss," he said, "it has not been gazetted yet. I'm merely speaking of the future, dear old impetuous typewriter and future secretary to the Lynhaven Railway Company, and possibly dear old Lady--" He stopped short with one of his audible "tuts."

Happily she could not see the capital "L" to the word "Lady," and missed the significance of Bones's interrupted speech.

He saw Mr. Harold Pyeburt at his office, and Mr. Harold Pyeburt had seen the Right Hon. Parkinson Chenney, and the right honourable gentleman had expressed his willingness to sell the railway, lock, stock, and barrel, for sixty thousand pounds.

"And I advise you"-Mr. Pyeburt paused, as he thought of a better word than "disinterestedly"-"as a friend, to jump at it. Parkinson Chenney spoke in the highest terms of you. You evidently made a deep impression upon him."

"Who is the jolly old Parkinson's agent?" asked Bones, and Mr. Harold Pyeburt admitted without embarrassment that, as a matter of fact, he was acting as Parkinson's attorney in this matter, and that was why he had been so diffident in recommending the property. The audacity of the latter statement passed unnoticed by Bones.

In the end Bones agreed to pay ten per cent. of the purchase price, the remainder to be paid after a month's working of the line, if the deal was approved.

"Clever idea of mine, dear old Ham," said Bones. "The Honours List will be out in a month, and I c

an easily chuck it."

"That's about the eighth fellow who's paid a ten per cent. deposit," said Mr. Chenney to his agent. "I'll be almost sorry if he takes it."

Three weeks later there were two important happenings. The Prime Minister of England, within an hour of leaving for the West of England to take a well-earned rest, summoned to him his right-hand man.

"Chenney," he said, "I really must go away for this rest, and I'm awfully sorry I cannot be on hand to meet the Chinese Commission. Now, whatever you do, you will not fail to meet them at Charing Cross on their arrival from the Continent. I believe they are leaving Paris to-morrow."

"I shall be there," said Parkinson Chenney, with a little smile. "I rather fancy I have managed their coal concession well, Prime Minister."

"Yes, yes," said the Prime Minister, who was not in the mood for handing out bouquets. "And would you run down to Tolness and settle up that infernal commission of inquiry? They've been asking questions in the House, and I can give no very definite reply. Solebury threatened to force a division when the vote came up. Undoubtedly there's been a great deal of extravagance, but you may be able to wangle a reasonable explanation."

"Trust me, Prime Minister," said Mr. Parkinson Chenney, and left that afternoon by special train for Tolness.

On that very morning Bones, in a pair of overalls and with a rapt expression, stood with his hand on the starting lever of "Mary Louisa," and explained to the secretary of the company-she also wore white overalls and sat in the cab of the engine-just how simple a matter it was to drive a locomotive.

For two glorious days Bones had driven the regular service between Lynhaven and Bayham Junction, where the lines met. He had come to know every twist and turn of the road, every feature of the somewhat featureless landscape, and the four passengers who travelled regularly every day except Sundays-there was no Sunday service-were now so familiar to him that he did not trouble to take their tickets.

The Lynhaven Railway system was not as elaborate as he had thought. He had been impressed by the number of railway trucks which stood in the siding at the terminus, but was to discover that they did not belong to the railway, the rolling stock of which consisted of "Mary Louisa," an asthmatic but once famous locomotive, and four weather-beaten coaches. The remainder of the property consisted of a half right in a bay platform at Bayham Junction and the dilapidated station building at Lynhaven, which was thoughtfully situated about two miles from the town.

Nobody used the railway; that was the stark truth borne in upon Marguerite Whitland. She recognised, with a sense of dismay, the extraordinary badness of the bargain which Bones had made. Bones, with a real locomotive to play with-he had given the aged engine-driver a week's holiday-saw nothing but the wonderful possibilities of pulling levers and making a mass of rusting machinery jerk asthmatically forward at the touch of his hand.

"There are a lot of people," said Bones, affectionately patting a steam pipe, "a lot of people," he said, after sucking his fingers, for the steam was extraordinarily hot, "who think poor old 'Mary Louisa' is done for. Believe me, dear old miss, this locomotive wants a jolly lot of beating, she does really. I haven't tried her full out-have I, jolly old stoker?"

The jolly old stoker, aged seventeen, shook a grimy face.

"And don't you try, neither," he said ominously. "Old George, he never takes her more than quarter speed, he don't."

"Do you hear, dear old miss?" said Bones triumphantly. "Not more than quarter speed. I tell you I could make enough money out of this engine alone to pay the whole cost of the railway.

"What about giving engine-driving lessons? That's an idea! And what about doing wonderful cinema pictures? That's another idea! Thrilling rescues from the train; jolly old hero struggling like mad on the roof of the carriage; railway collisions, and so forth, and so on."

"You can't have a collision unless you've two engines," said the girl.

"Oh, well," said the optimistic Bones, "we could perhaps borrow an engine from the Great Northern."

He looked down at the girl, then looked at his watch.

"Time to be up and doing, dear old thing," he said, and looked back along the little train. The aged guard was sitting on a barrow, his nodding head testifying to the sleep-giving qualities of Lynhaven air. Bones jerked the whistle, there was an unearthly shriek, and the guard woke up. He looked at his watch, yawned, searched the train for passengers, waved his flag, and climbed into his little compartment.

The engine shrieked again. Bones pulled over the lever gently, and there was a gratifying chuck-chuck-chuck. Bones smiled down at the girl.

"Easy as shelling peas, dear old thing," he said, "and this time I'm going to show you just how she can go."

"Old Joe don't let her go more than quarter speed," said the diminutive stoker warningly.

"Blow old Joe!" said Bones severely. "He's a jolly unenterprising old engine-driver. That's why the naughty old line doesn't pay. The idea of running 'Mary Louisa' at quarter speed!"

He turned to the girl for approval, but she felt that, in the circumstances and with only the haziest knowledge of engineering, it would be wiser to offer no opinion.

Bones pushed the lever a little farther over, and the "Mary Louisa" reeled under the shock.

"In re knighthood, dear old miss," said Bones confidentially. His words came jerkily, because the footplate of an outraged locomotive pounding forward at an unaccustomed speed was not a good foundation for continued eloquence. "Rendering the jolly old country a service-helping the Cabinet-dear old Chenney awfully fond of me--"

"Aren't we going rather fast?" said the girl, gripping the side of the cab for support.

"Not at all," jerked Bones, "not at all. I am going to show 'em just how this--"

He felt a touch on his arm, and looked down at the diminutive stoker.

"There's a lot of sand round here," said the melancholy child; "it won't hurt you to jump I'm going to."

"Jump!" gasped Bones. "What do you mean? Hey! Don't do that, you silly young--"

But his black-visaged assistant was already poised on the step of the engine, and Bones, looking back, saw him performing somersaults down a sandy slope. Bones looked at the girl in amazement.

"Suicide, dear old miss!" he said in an awed voice. "Terrible!"

"Isn't that a station?" said the girl, more interested for the moment in her own future.

Bones peered through the windows ahead.

"That's the junction, dear old thing," he said. "This is where we stop her."

He tugged at the lever, but the lever was not to be moved. He tugged desperately, but it seemed the steel bar was riveted in position. The "Mary Louisa" was leaping along at an incredible speed, and less than five hundred yards away was the dead-end of the Bayham platform, into which the Lynhaven train was due to run.

Bones went white and looked at the girl with fearful eyes. He took a swift scrutiny to the left and right, but they had passed out of the sandy country, and any attempt to leave the train now would mean certain destruction.

* * * * *

The Right Honourable Mr. Parkinson Chenney had concluded a very satisfactory morning's work of inspection at Tolness, and had secured all the information he needed to answer any question which might be put to him in Parliament by the best-informed of questioners.

He was lunching with the officers of the small garrison, when a telephone message was brought to him. He read it and smiled.

"Good!" he said. "Gentlemen, I am afraid I have to leave you a little earlier than I expected. Colonel Wraggle, will you see that my special train is ready! I must leave in ten minutes. The Chinese Commission has arrived," he said impressively, "or, rather, it arrives in London this afternoon, and I am deputed by the Prime Minister--"

He explained to his respectful audience just what part he had played in securing Chinese Coal Concessions. He made a little speech on the immense value to the Empire in particular and the world in general of these new coalfields which had been secured to the country through the acumen, genius, forethought, and patriotic disinterestedness of the Cabinet.

He would not claim to set any particular merit on his own action, and went on to claim it. By which time his train was ready. It was indeed vital that he should be in London to meet a commission which had shown such reluctance to trade with foreign devils, and had been, moreover, so punctilious in its demand for ceremonious receptions, but he had not the slightest doubt about his ability to reach London before the boat train arrived. He had two and a half hours, and two and a half hours gave him an ample margin of time.

Just before his special rounded the bend which brought it within sight of Bayham Junction the Lynhaven express had reached within a few hundred yards of annihilation. The signalman at Bayham Junction had watched the oncoming rush of Bones's train, and, having a fairly extensive knowledge of the "Mary Louisa" and her eccentricities, he realised just what had happened.

There was only one thing to be done. He could see the smoke from the Cabinet Minister's special rising above the cutting two miles away, and he threw over two levers simultaneously. The first set the points which brought the Lynhaven express on to the main line, switching it from the deadly bay wherein the runaway train would have been smashed to pieces; the second lever set the distant signal against the special. It was a toss-up whether the special had not already passed the distant signal, but he had to take that risk.

Bones, with his arm round the girl, awaiting a noisy and violent dissolution, felt the "Mary Louisa" sway to the right when it should have swayed to the left, heard the clang of the points as he passed them, and drew a long breath when he found himself headed along a straight clear stretch of line. It was some time before he found his voice, and then it was little more than a squeak.

"We're going to London, dear old thing," he said tremulously.

The girl smiled, though her face was deathly pale.

"I thought we were going to heaven," she said.

"Never, dear old thing," said Bones, recovering something of his spirits as he saw the danger past. "Old Bones will never send you there."

The problem of the "Mary Louisa" was still unsettled. She was tearing away like a Flying Dutchman. She was oozing steam at every pore, and, glancing back, Bones saw the agitated countenance of the aged guard thrust through the window. He waved frantically at Bones, and Bones waved genially back again.

He was turning back to make another attempt on the lever, when, looking past the guard, he saw a sight which brought his heart into his mouth. Pounding along behind him, and emitting feathers of steam from her whistle, was an enormous locomotive. Bones guessed there was a train behind it, but the line was too straight for him to see.

"Gracious heavens!" he gasped. "We're being chased!"

He jerked at the lever-though it was a moment when he should have left it severely alone-and to his ill-founded joy it moved.

The two trains came to a standstill together ten miles from Bayham

Junction, and Bones climbed down into the six-foot way and walked back.

Almost the first person he met was a gesticulating gentleman in a frock coat and with a red face, who, mistaking him for an engine-driver, dismissed him on the spot, threatened him with imprisonment-with or without hard labour he did not specify-and demanded what the dickens he meant by holding up a Cabinet Minister?

"Why," chortled Bones, "isn't it my dear friend, Mr. Chenney?"

"Who are you," snarled Mr. Chenney, "and what do you mean by calling me your dear friend? By Heavens, I'll have you kicked out of this service!"

"Don't you know old Tibbetts?" cooed Bones. "Well, well, fancy meeting you!"

He held out a grimy hand, which was not taken.

"Tibbetts!" growled the gentleman. "Oh, you are the foo-the gentleman who bought the Lynhaven line, didn't you?"

"Certainly," said Bones.

"But what is your train doing here?" asked Mr. Chenney violently. "Don't you realise you are holding up a special? Great Heavens, man, this is very serious! You are holding up the business of the country!"

The engine-driver of the special came to the rescue.

"There's a switch-over about half a mile further on," he said. "There's not a down train due for an hour. I'll unlock the switch and put you on to the other line, and, after we have passed, you can come on."

"But I don't want to come on, dear old thing," said Bones. "I want to go back."

"Well, that's simple," said the driver.

He it was who piloted the Lynhaven express for another half-mile up the road. He it was who found the switches, unlocked them, telegraphed to the next station to hold up traffic, and he it was-Bones insisted upon this-who brought the "Mary Louisa" along the switch to the down line.

The position was as follows: The "Mary Louisa" was on the down line. Two coaches were between the down and the up line, and the guard's van was exactly on the up line, when the "Mary Louisa" refused to work any further.

Neither the experienced engine-driver, nor Bones, nor the stoker of the special, nor Mr. Chenney, nor the ancient guard, could coax the "Mary Louisa" to move another yard. The Lynhaven express stretched across both lines and made all further progress for traffic impossible.

Three hours later a breakdown gang arrived and towed the "Mary Louisa" and her appendages back to Bayham Junction.

Bones and the girl went back to London by the last train, and Bones was very thoughtful and silent.

But Bones was ever an optimist. The next morning he saw on a newspaper placard: "Birthday Honours. Twenty-two New Knights." And he actually stopped his car, bought a paper, and searched the lists for his name. It was not there.

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