Chapter 27 – A Trip to Dunstable


John met the others downstairs. He had a case packed for two nights. There was a spare shirt, a second union suit, his shaving kit, his notebook and reading book on some work being done by William Armstrong [1].  Michael and Felicity had to borrow a carpet bag from the pub owners and had their clothes and sundries in the one bag. Millicent had two cabs waiting outside. Liam was gone and apparently still ferrying Rachael Weiz. The cabs made the short trip to the Great Northern Station near Euston.  Both Michael and Felicity had come from out of town and were used to train stations.  But John, for all of his projected sophistication, had never left London and the prospect of travel both worried and energized him.

He shared the cab with Millicent who tried a bit of small talk with John, “So what most intrigued you about Abigail’s little talk last night.”

John held onto his bowler as the cab rushed through the streets, “Miss Monroe seemed most animated when she described some of the sights. I’d like to see some of those.”

Millicent smiled, “She didn’t tell the half. What have you seen here?”

John remained quiet at the question.

Millicent apologized in a kindly fashion, “I should know better. You are not the first recruit I’ve gotten from London. I expect Rachael hasn’t left it either.”

John looked away, feeling his face flush, and said, “I must seem rather provincial to you.”

Millicent laughed, “John, the Queen’s ambassador to China seems provincial to me. You, on the other hand, are far more well-read and that is more valuable than the diplomatic niceties of ambassadors. Try to view this as polishing another facet of yours.”  The cab pulled up to the bustling station and Millicent changed the subject, “ah here we are.”

The drivers got off the cabs and started unloading the bags. Porters arrived to carry the bags away. John looked reluctant at releasing his bag to a stranger, but Millicent nodded to an older porter with a cart. He was wearing a blue suit with a short stove pipe cap. He uttered in an ancient cracked voice, “Destination? Ma’am.”

Millicent said, “We will need to get tickets, but we will be taking the 1PM to the North. Dunstable.”

“Ah yes, ma’am” said the crackly voice, “and your service?”

“We will be in the first class coaches”

The old man tipped his cap and said, “Of course you will be ma’am. Tickets are around the corner. I will presently move your luggage to the track.” The ancient man moved the loaded cart with surprising ease.

Millicent turned to her charges and rattled off orders for each person, “Felicity, follow our baggage and make sure it gets there. Here is a tip when it does. Michael, stand outside. I am expecting Liam and Rachael shortly. The Dean, his wife and his secretary will be arriving as well. They will know you. Wave them down. John, you are with me. “

“Bringing the inexperienced one with you?” John asked.

“I suppose you could view it that way. Felicity will have a good amount of experience on trains and she has a way with people so I expect she will not only see our luggage to the right track, but that hoary porter will ensure the bags are loaded into the carriages. Michael will feel important hailing the Dean and his party and I think that is useful for him right now. And I do need to make sure someone gets them pointed to the right track. And you need to learn how to purchase train tickets.”

“Right” John said rolling his eyes and a smile.

“Don’t scoff. The process is just about the same everywhere – and I do mean everywhere. Supply the train, destination, class and number of riders and you’re done.  Sometimes you don’t even need to know the language. So here is 10£. We need 9 tickets on the 1PM to Dunstable, First class.  Repeat it back to me”

John groaned at this elementary lesson technique, but he repeated it back through clinched teeth. He joined the queue and waited. He finally got to the front of the line and looked up. The back wall was covered with departing trains each with strange symbols and times.

“Ok lad, what do ye need?” said the agent wearing a visor, a white shirt with sleeve protectors and a set of glasses. He was of middle age with a greying mustache.

John gaped for a moment and then said, “9 tickets to Dunstable”

“I’ve got three trains today. Which one lad? Come along! People is waiting”

“Ahh.. Ahh.. 1PM First class please”

“Round trip?”

“I…don’t know. I guess so and cabins next to each other”

The man pinched his nose and closed his eyes, “You guess so… “ He then moved quickly consulting his charts, running the numbers through the adding machine pulling the arm and examining the paper. “all right… that will be 8£ for the trip plus 4£ for first class. 12£ please.”

“That’s too much. I’ve only got 10,” John protested.

“Lad, it’s the price. You want coach?,” The man said raising his voice.

“No…I don’t know… I’ll be back,” John stuttered and scurried off.

The agent narrowed his eyes and clenched his jaw, but said nothing put the tickets aside and waved to the next person in line. John hurried back to Millicent and said quickly, “He wanted 12£”

Millicent’s features pinched as she said, “Nonsense. It should have been 8£. Did he ask anything?”

The whole experience was turning his breakfast over. John rubbed the back of his neck looking at the ground, “Just what you asked me. Where, time, class ….oh and he asked about round trip. I said yes. We are coming back, aren’t we?”

Millicent eased her expression and laughed again, “I am sorry, John. Ask for one way. I am hoping we will have one more in our party and I want flexibility. Try it again and this time it is one way. “

John headed back to the same line. He ended up with the same agent whose arms were folded in front of him, one eye brow raised, he asked in a sharp tone “Yes?”

This time John remembered the phrase, “9 tickets to Dunstable, 1 PM, First Class, and one way.”

The agent smirked a bit and adjusted the tickets he had set aside. “That will be 8£”

John protested, “That’s not half.”

“This ain’t the market, lad. Do you want the tickets or no?”

John handed the money over, got the tickets and the change.

“Thanks” John said a bit harshly.

“You’ll learn. Next!” to the next person in line.

John returned to Millicent rubbing his head as if to ease the frustration, but he was holding tickets the tickets in front of him. She was now standing with Liam and Rachael.

John practically shouted in frustration, “That was ridiculous. He was surly and unhelpful.”

Liam and Rachael tried to hide smiles. Millicent simply said, “And yet you got the tickets.”

John, calming himself, shook a bit and said, “Yes… Yes I did, but he didn’t need to be so short with me. “

Millicent nodded in agreement and asked, “How many people does he serve a day? When you don’t know the answers, it slows him down. “

John stammered then said quickly, “He is writing them out by hand”

Liam raised his eyebrows and asked, “How else do you expect him to make tickets?”

“Print them up before and time stamp them? I don’t know. Use something like an adding machine and print them out as needed?” John rushed out the words and waved his hands.

Millicent remained calm and smiled enigmatically, “How intriguing. Not your specialty – more like Rachael’s. I shall send her along to get the tickets when we return. Perhaps she can figure out how to make your idea work. Excellent start Mr. O’Malley. You may get your first patent and you haven’t even met your patron.” John stared at her open eyed and mouth as if he was going to retort. He stopped. Then scratched his head and pulled up a bit. She turned to Liam, “Why don’t you head over with Rachael and John to the track. Felicity should be waiting with our luggage. “

As they walked, Rachael asked, “She had you get the tickets?”

John looked at his feet and played with his hat and mused, “Yes. It was all confusing. I suppose it makes sense, but it was like a code I didn’t have the cipher to. I am Protestant. Have you ever gone to a Catholic Mass?”

“No, I’m Jewish.”

“Well, a funeral, a wedding, Saturday night, they’re all pretty much the same.” Liam added, “I went to a Roman church once for a friend’s wedding. People was kneeling, then standing, then crossing themselves, then praying. I was always just a bit behind. Everyone knew what to do except me and it was in a foreign language.”

Liam shook his head, “Tain’t that bad, lad.”

Rachael said gently, “I suppose temple services can seem like that. We don’t kneel, but there are chants and prayers in Hebrew that everyone knows unless you’re new.”

John’s pulse had slowed but he stilled felt slighted somehow, “Well it was like a strange church service. I suppose everyone figures it out eventually, but they feel pretty stupid until they do. The ticket agent wasn’t helping.”

Rachael responded, “I figured. Not all of our services are like that. I should have you to a Seder – the Passover meal. The food is good and you still get the ceremony. We eat the entire meal reclining. And you have to drink wine.”

Liam said, “Now that is a service I could enjoy.”

The three continued walking to the track and arrived shortly at the appointed track. The passenger train was a set of carriages that strung from the engine to the length of the track. The carriages towards the front were painted a bit better and seemed to have steps leading to the interior. The old man and Felicity were waiting by the accumulating luggage. Liam and Rachael added theirs to the pile of other bags. The old man croaked, “May I see your tickets?” John handed them over.  “Very good sir. These two carriages are adjacent. Miss seemed to believe this was important. I will start loading the bags in these cars. When I finish, please feel free to board.” The old man lifted and shifted the bags in to place with an agility that seemed to belie his apparent age. When Liam started to help, he was waived off by the old man and Felicity telling Liam to “let the man do his job.”  So the four watched as the bags were arranged.

Liam said, “What don’t you board the first car?” He said to the three younger folk. “I’ll wait for the others and send Michael to your carriage. And we can let Bob Knife here get some more tips.” Felicity handed the helpful porter several shillings for his effort and that seemed to be enough for him to smile and wished them a good day. He stood by Liam anticipating more tips.

Felicity climbed in to the carriage first and began oohing and ahhing. “So this is what the posh cabins are like. Shades and the seats are cushioned!”

John and Rachael looked in. The cabin was well decorated. The seats were cushy, but hardly high tea at the University club. Rachael asked, “This is good? What are the other class cars like?”

Felicity said smiling, “Oh this is swank. Coach cabins have seats that will all be filled and the rest stand. They don’t have the shades and fancy upholstery . Now steerage don’t even have these cabins. They got one long bench and people have to stand for the whole ride. My legs used to get so tired after a couple of hours.” She sat down on one of the fancy cushions and sighed, “Now this is the way to travel. You two will have fun on this trip. On my first train, I didn’t have no seat for three hours, it was crowded and all I had to eat was an old sandwich.  We’ll have a proper luncheon on the train,” patting the basket that had been assembled by the pub cook.

Rachael looked at the window and sighed, “I am not even signed up. Millicent said I had to go and Daddy conspired with her to get me on this trip.”

John said, “We’re going to see Jason McNeill.”

Rachael turned back to the cabin replied, “That is a plus. He was always friendly to me. I got the impression his home life wasn’t everything it should be.”

John looked out the window, “Well, I didn’t spend much time with him, so I wouldn’t know.” Before Rachael could say anything, he added, “That’s my mistake. I will have some work ahead correcting it.”

As they sat, other passengers filed by on the platform heading to other carriages. Occasionally one would poke his or her head in and see the three of them and move on. Finally, Michael arrived and looked around, and commented, “I could get used to this.” He gave a quick small kiss to Felicity and said, “Very Posh.”

John and Rachael replied simultaneously, “That’s what Felicity said.” Michael looked at them oddly and then at Felicity who only shrugged. Millicent had poked her head in to the carriage “to count noses” she said and then went to the other cabin. The train began to move shortly after her check. Liam decided to join them. As the train picked up speed, John and Rachael could no longer resist watching the city scape and then the landscape go by. Neither had seen an open field with cows in it causing much merriment to the other passengers. They crossed over one river which seemed impossibly far away which caused both of them to lean back. Michael said, “This bridge is one of the finest in the world. We studied it in construction.”

Rachael leaned back in her chair and snapped, “Tis still a long way down and I don’t swim.” Which caused Michael to laugh. Rachael crossed her arms and looked to the other side. Felicity said warmly, “I think it is time for a bit of luncheon. The pub had provided beef, pork and chicken meat pies, late season fruit, and bread. There were five plates and silver ware which was distributed. A Flagon of ale, a bottle of wine, and three flagons of water were included with the meal. Conversation ranged from school to doing laundry to best places to see in London as the slow train wound its way to Dunstable.

 

 

[1] William Armstrong was a 19th century industrialist who developed the hydraulic accumulator. This device consisted of a large cylinder that was filled with water. There was a plunger on top of the cylinder and large amounts of weight were put on the plunger increasing the pressure of the water. Armstrong went on to create a massive industrial company and was a strong advocate of renewable energy in his later life.

 

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One thought on “Chapter 27 – A Trip to Dunstable

  1. Pingback: The Recruiting Matter – Chapter 27 – A Trip to Dunstable | The Finder's Saga

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