VICTORIANA AND THE TELECTROSCOPE
By Tachybaptus, HB and CLD
‘Victoriana!’ said her father. ‘Put that cardboard tube down now, and come and have your tea.’
Victoriana looked at him crossly. Major Adalbert Parkin-Parkinson was already plump at thirty-five, and his heavy walrus moustache and sidewhiskers made him look older. Her had taken off his uniform jacket, sword and boots, and was lolling comfortably at the table in collarless shirt and braces, his feet in carpet slippers. Victoriana was confined in a heavy flannel dress and starched blouse, itchy woollen stockings, and button boots that took Nanny Prewitt ten minutes to do up with a buttonhook every morning.
‘I was looking for Emmy through my telescope,’ she said. ‘Oh Papa, I do miss her so.’
Emmeline was the seven-year-old daughter of Adalbert’s brother officer in the Royal Corps of Signals, Jolliver Trelawney. Victoriana and she had been inseparable while they were in London, but now her father had been posted to New York as a liaison officer. Victoriana had seen a book in her parents’ library called Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and she had looked at it when they were out. She was not very good at French, but had gathered that liaison was something men did to women. Her father had never explained what he did: it was secret, he said.
‘Wouldn’t it be fun,’ said Victoriana, now seated at the table and demolishing a devilled mutton sandwich, ‘if there was a telescope you could look down and see all the way to London? And talk to people there – it would be wonderful!’
Her father choked on his sandwich. Her mother patted him on the back and made him drink some tea. When he had recovered, he turned back to Victoriana. He did not like to see his only daughter unhappy. ‘Well, Vicky, he said, ‘we let you send a telegram to Emmy at Christmas, though it was terribly expensive, and you got a reply in less than four hours.’
‘It was very good of you, Papa,’ she said dutifully. But she sensed that he was holding something back.
That evening her parents went to the Metropolitan Opera. After she had done her homework, she went to the library and sat down at her father’s desk to write a letter to Emmy. She found a sheet of stiff cream writing paper with an engraved address, and an envelope with the Corps coat of arms on the flap, and an inkpot and an ivory penholder. She had been allowed to write with a real pen since her seventh birthday in June, and didn’t make too many blots now.
But the nib in the penholder was bent, and she couldn’t see the box of Waverley nibs her father always used. So she started looking through the desk drawers.
In one of them there was an official-looking sheet folded in half. She opened it; it was headed ‘From Maj. J.F. Trelawney to Maj. A.S. Parkin-Parkinson.’
‘Oh, it’s from Emmy’s father.’ she said to herself. ‘I wonder what it’s about.’ It also said ‘SECRET’ at the top, but it couldn’t really be a secret because they were friends. So she read on.
‘Re: Telectroscope Project.
‘Your communiqué of 24th January received. Gratified to hear that the South Street terminal will soon be operational – please pass on my compliments to the U.S. Army Signal Corps on their excellent work. Our excavations at Tooley Street are now completed and installation of the optics is under way. We expect to be able to make a test transmission on 6th March. Please ask Colonel Hunsaker to have his men stand by at 6 p.m. East Coast time. Keeping our fingers crossed that everything will be “O.K.”, as they say on your side of the pond.
‘Yours ever, Jolly.’
Victoriana was beside herself with curiosity. South Street, she knew, was the road that ran along the shore of the East River past the foot of Brooklyn Bridge. And Tooley Street was in London, on the south bank of the Thames near Tower Bridge. It seemed they were sending something between them. Was it with the ‘Telectroscope’ – and if so, what was it? It sounded like a kind of telescope. She remembered the game she had been playing before tea with the cardboard tube. What if there really was such a device?
Refolding the letter and putting it back in the drawer, she went on searching and found a nib, which she fitted into the penholder. Dipping the pen in the ink, she began to write.
‘I hope this finds you well, I miss you terably and wish I was back in London with you. New York is very cold and I dont know anyone here, Nanny Prewitt says she has never seen such dredfull maners in all her born days. I was going to tell you about the boring things we have been doing but I have found something EXITING!!! You must keep this a SECRET cross your hart and swear to die. Your Papa wrote a letter to mine its about a thing called the Telectroscope and I think its a kind of telescope you can see from London to New York and back and talk to each other and I dont know how it works but its a soldiers thing and your end of it is in Tooley Street near Tower Bridge. Papa wont say anything about it of corse and niether will yours but can you try to find out wat it is and maybe well find a way to see each other after all. And dont breth a word to a sole about this.
‘Your devoted freind Vicky XXX.’
She blotted and folded the sheet, put it in the envelope, gave it a really good lick so that no one could unstick it, wrote the address, found a stamp with the right postage for England, and went out to the mailbox beside the garden gate.