Victoriana 22

Tachybaptus, Going Postal

Chapter 22

‘I suppose it’s back to normal life for us now,’ Victoriana said. ‘It’s been exciting, though.’
‘A bit too exciting sometimes,’ said Rusty.
They were sitting with Emmeline on empty ammunition boxes in the tent that had been allotted to them in the encampment. Victoriana was wearing a new pinafore, in a hatefully old-fashioned style, that had hastily been bought for her in Oban. But she had won a small victory, she thought, as she looked down at her feet, comfortably shod in a pair of elastic-sided boots that she could put on in seconds without recourse to a buttonhook.
Rusty was ill at ease in a stiff new sailor suit. He looked out of the tent flap at the castle, now surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. ‘I’ve been thinking about that machine we saw in there,’ he said. ‘It was a kind of Telectroscope, no doubt about it. But it had a lens at both ends. So if you looked in one end you could see something at the other end. But that’s only ten feet away, so you could see it anyway. What’s the point of that?’
‘It could have been just for testing,’ said Emmeline.
‘Well,’ Victoriana said, ‘I did see something a bit strange.’ She told them about the mouse that had vanished at one end of the machine and seemingly reappeared at the other end.
Rusty excitedly quizzed her, but there was not much she could add.
‘This could be really important,’ he said. ‘Suppose you had a big one of these, as big as the machine in New York. You could send things across the Atlantic in no time at all.’
‘You could go yourself, if you dared,’ said Victoriana.
‘No more need for ships, or trains, or balloons. Ever.’
‘Wait a moment, though. What happens to all the shipping lines, the railways, the airship companies? They’d be furious.’
Emmeline said, ‘And suppose the Vulgarians wanted to invade Britain. They could just bring in a Telectroscope in secret, and march an army through it.’
‘We could do it back to them,’ said Victoriana. ‘But that isn’t the point.’
‘This thing is dangerous,’ said Rusty. ‘It’s all right for now, because no one knows about it, except us.’
The three soldiers’ children thought for a while.
‘I love my Papa,’ said Victoriana. ‘Still, I don’t really think I want him, and certainly not the Army, to know about this.’
‘Me neither,’ said Emmeline.
Even Rusty had to agree. ‘We ought to disable it, destroy it if we can.’
They stood up as one and headed for the tent that housed Irving and Fingers.
Irving was resplendent in a knickerbocker suit of ginger tweed which gave off a strange agricultural smell. Fingers had chosen a belted Norfolk jacket with four large pockets, now bulging with the tools of his trade.
Irving saw the point at once, though Fingers looked regretful. ‘I could gedinna anyplace wid dat,’ he said, ‘an’ geddanyt’ing outta dere too.’
‘Ya’d have to bring da scope in foist, lamebrain,’ said Irving. ‘Da kids is right. We godda smash dis t’ing.’
‘An’ take da lenses out foist,’ added the practical Fingers.

 

* * *

 

That night a small party crept out to a patch of gorse not far from the guard post in the barrier around the castle. Fingers found a good-sized boulder, tied a cord securely around it, and slung it over a branch of a stunted birch tree, securing the other end of the cord to a larger stone on the ground. Turning his back to the soldiers to shield the flare of the match, he lit a candle stump and propped it up so that the flame was under the cord. They quickly retreated to the other end of the gorse patch.
Two minutes later there was a satisfactory crash as the boulder fell. As the soldiers rushed to the spot, the four sneaked through the abandoned gate.
The interior of the castle was deserted, the machine unguarded. Working by the light of his covered lantern, Fingers unscrewed all the lenses, a little disappointed at their small size in the reduced machine.
As they wondered what to do next, there was a low rumble and the ground trembled under them.
Rusty said, ‘You remember we were thinking about what would happen when the pins in the fault gave way? And now it’s all full of water …’
There was another, louder rumble.
‘Oitquake,’ shouted Irving. ‘Geddaddahere!’
Rusty seized a sheaf of papers as they bolted for the main gate.
It was not a moment too soon. As they crossed the drawbridge, with a roar of falling masonry the castle tower collapsed into the moat behind them. A crack raced along the ground, opening into a huge pit which engulfed the building.
Deserting their posts, the soldiers fled up the hill. There was no need for concealment as the four joined them at a safe distance from the chasm.

 

* * *

 

Two weeks later, the S.S. Star of India docked at New York. Irving and Fingers had been amused at travelling in a ship named after a famous diamond when they had some smaller examples sewn into the hems of their jackets.

 

Tachybaptus, Going Postal

 

The Parkin-Parkinsons and the Dawe Hinges were waiting on the quayside for the gangway to be lowered. So, unfortunately, were the press, as reports of an airship battle and a Scottish riot ending in an earthquake had been telegraphed across the Atlantic several days previously, and the children had to run the gauntlet of magnesium flashes and inane shouted questions before they were chivvied into a waiting steamer by Nanny Prewitt. Covered by the disturbance, Irving and Fingers sneaked ashore unnoticed and melted into the crowd.

 

* * *

 

Despite furious speculation about the events, the press never discovered the existence of the Telectroscope. The terminal lost from the New York end was replaced with the tiny telescope-sized device from McHerring’s castle, which St George had reluctantly yielded up in gratitude for his rescue – though not before studying it closely with a view to copying it.
But there could be no further secrecy within the families, and Victoriana and Rusty were both present when the device was inaugurated with such ceremony as could be provided by Major Adalbert’s little force parading in an underground chamber. The telescope eyepiece had been replaced for the occasion with a projector lens, and the life-size image included the figure of Emmeline waving between Major Jolliver Trelawney and her mother, while a crackly sound of cheering came across the ocean link.

 

* * *

 

Victoriana went to stay with Rusty again during the school summer holidays.
‘I’ve got something to show you,’ he said, guiding her to his laboratory. On the bench there was a small tubular device which looked familiar, though it seemed to have been made from old biscuit tins rather than the gleaming brass of its prototype. There was a similar one on a table in the corner of the room. Each was fronted by a four-inch glass lens with a little wire cage in front of it. The cage on the bench contained a mouse, which was eating biscuit crumbs.
‘Look at the one over there,’ said Rusty.
There was a flash accompanied by a sharp crack, and the mouse appeared in the other cage, crumbs and all. It had obviously done this before, for it gave only a brief glance around before returning to its meal.
‘I know we agreed it was dangerous …’ Rusty said.
‘But how could anyone resist?’ said Victoria. ‘What about the diamond lenses, though?’
‘Oh, diamonds are for losers. I can do it with glass.’
When Victoriana went home she took with her not one, but three long, mysteriously wrapped paper packages. Later, she delivered two of them to the stationmaster at East Broadway, marked with a forwarding address.

 
THE END

 

 

This chapter by Tachybaptus. © Tachybaptus et al. 2017.