LEINIGEN & THE LAMBETH TREASURE
A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or less
Part Fourteen: A Passage Cunningly Forged
Edinburgh. My quarry was there, or at least on the way. Moon, the YMCE; Vespa and the Archbishop. And the damned book. The Taxus Brevifola.
I have never gone in for multiple narratives – you’ll notice, it follows, that this adventure is a splendidly linear, single-person affair.
So what Vespa thought and did as Moon sped her northwards, in company in her cage with the highest prelate in the land, I could not say.
For, dear reader, I was not there. I know now that the other folk in my tale travelled thus beyond the Wall, for I met them there later.
But then, in the continuous present that is forced upon any such hardy narrator, I knew not where they were, or how fast they travelled.
As I ran, as previously mentioned, to King’s Cross, I mulled such undergraduate problems. But I forced them from my mind. Edinburgh it was!
This presented problems, not least in Scotland being a place I find chill, haughty and insufficiently supplied with domestic conveniences.
Suffice to say, I arrived at King’s Cross – portal to northern adventure, gateway to romance in Grantham and Newark – in a spot of a fix.
I had not, for example, eaten since before Sam Phraxby and I set off on this ride into uncertainty, insanity and hideous subterranean death.
This problem proved solvable – discovering a soft protuberance in my trousers, I fell on Sam’s oilskins of sandwiches with a happy yell.
Nor, however, had I drunk. I cursed my refusal of the Reverend Moon’s offer of tea, however filthy his sweepings would certainly have been.
I resolved this. King’s Cross being a locale to make Lambeth look like Monte Carlo, I simply joined a line of tramps. Tea flowed as nectar.
Bucked by such a capital feed, I set about solving the final poser – how to board a steam train for chill Caledonia when I had no ticket.
This would be tough. Suffering a shortage of cash – I’d left my billfold of ooff in my other jacket, at Phraxby’s – I could not buy one.
Nor could I steal. Needs must in a tight spot, as a variety of encounters in the bush had taught me, but stealing? Never. A code is a code.
And so I stood on the forecourt, eyeing the train-company stooges who stood at the turnstiles like so many ill-qualified school leavers.
I had decided to ride to Scotland on a train roof when fortune, a mistress not blind to my charms, or at least my moustache, played me fair.
As my eye roamed the crowd, I spotted a familiar and, it had sadly to be said, entirely welcome phiz, lurking about near the arrivals board.
Chap called Pengelly. Martin. Writer, second class. Penned unlikely adventure stories and lurid sex-crime shockers for the penny dreadfuls.
Knew him at prep. Not trusted. Partial to fruit juice. He had now sprouted a beard; his fingers were stained with inky drips from pamphlets.
Last I heard he had a job at the Manchester Guardian. Headmaster mentioned it in the yearly round-robin, in something of a resigned tone.
The grubby swine would be what chaps in darker trades call my ‘mark’. I would still catch a train by stealth, but I would have a ticket.
I sidled up to the hack and, mastering the rising in my gorge, tapped him on a brown-corduroyed shoulder. He turned, grinning absently.
I introduced myself and, using the same technique as when hypnotising water buffalo in paddy fields for food, quickly won his confidence.
In no time we were sitting in a roundly ghastly canteen, sipping oily tea from chipped cups and munching on quite appalling jam donuts.
It took three cups of tea – ordered by Pengelly, greedily – two donuts and a promise of the ghosting rights to my memoirs before I had him.
Which was to say, desperate for a deal. Utter oiks, hacks. Pengelly cited Lawrence and Burton, but I knew he would sell my life to Tit-Bits.
Gamely, I told him the tale was as good as his. The only problem, I said, was that I had left the manuscript with my brother in Edinburgh.
I had no brother and no manuscript. I had not seen Edinburgh in years. But I had every faith in a journalist never, ever checking his facts.
I said I had to make it to Edinburgh, retrieve the papers and return. Unfortunately, as a gentleman of adventure, I had mislaid my ticket.
Within a minute I had accepted, with manly protestations followed by demonstrations of quite sickening gratitude, one ticket to Edinburgh.
I had to prise myself away at the gate – Pengelly pumped my hand and tried his best to look manfully glad to have helped an old school chum.
I knew he was really happy just to have secured a fat commission and, like as not, a plum byline or two in the dailies. Vainglorious oaf.
But, eventually, as I settled myself on a railway-carriage banquette and contemplated the long journey ahead, I softened towards the chump.
He’d write anyway, cook up some ludicrous escapade and sell it as a true-life tale, twittering to anyone who’d listen. Maybe self-publish.
‘Good luck to him,’ I thought. But further cogitation was muffled by the whistle of the train and the sweet arms of Morpheus. I slept.