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The Last of the Steamers - Chapter 3 Preview

The Last of the Steamers - Chapter 3 Preview

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Published by Richard Holliday
Chapter 3 of my book, enjoy and leave me some feedback!
Chapter 3 of my book, enjoy and leave me some feedback!

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Published by: Richard Holliday on Oct 20, 2011
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10/20/2011

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CHAPTER 3
Cold breezes rapped the glass that Friday morning. The rays of light bounced and cascaded through the wintry, sleet-filled air, through the octagonal turret windows of Toby's room at the top of the house and onto the young man's face,stirring him a few moments before his alarm clock sounded its two great brass gongs just after eight. The young manawoke, rubbed his eyes to rouse himself before prizing himself from his warm, snug bed and into the chilly air thatseemed to fill the room. Toby had no real love of winter, and it showed as the minute hairs on his bare arms, fromwhere they emerged from his light sleepwear, stood upright from his goose-pimpled skin. Overcoming the cold, andsweeping his hand through his messy hair, he went about his business, washing, shaving, eating a slice of toast freshfrom Gretchen's electric toasting rack in the kitchen area downstairs. It was during breakfast that the telephone nosilyinterrupted his meal. Toby's father, Brightly, looked up from his paperwork and glanced at his son."Suppose you'd better get that, son," he grunted."Alright, alright…" Toby sighed, walking through to the telephone on it's little table in the hallway. He pickedthe receiver from the springy holder. "Hello?""Ah, good," a voice that Toby sort-of recognised said briskly."Who's calling?""Ah, brilliant, it's you, Toby,""
Who's calling?
""Oh, right, sorry. It's George.""George?""You know…
George
."Toby knew who George was. "Yeah.""Your presence is required, usual place. How long will you be?"Must be serious, Toby thought. George didn't even need to tell him what it was about, but Toby knew."Give me about an hour. I'll take the train."The line went dead, and the receiver almost found its own way into the cradle. Toby went back into thekitchen, where his father was still reading his paperwork over some warm toast. His second slice, Toby noted."I'm needed in London, dad." Not a movement from the older man and his papers. "At Bertram's?""No."Brightly looked over, sceptically, but met his son's genuine look of anxiousness. "Very well. Nothing too life-threatening, is it?""No, I don't suppose it is," Toby said, turning. Quietly, to himself, he muttered. "I hope not."Once he'd dressed himself in his hefty woollen coat, going down past his knees and had tightly fastened it andwrapped his scarf around his throat. Toby left the modest little house just before a quarter to eight. The walk to therailway station, perched in the middle of the town, which was still mostly asleep at this time, was only a ten minuteone, and by 8:30 Toby stood on the stone platform of Epsom station, a card ticket clasped by a leather-gloved hand,under the pristinely painted cast iron canopy, resplendent in brilliant dark green paint, with details picked out, like theSouthern Railway symbols built into the awning supports and cast into the ironwork of the railings and balustrades, inglorious dark, shiny green. It seemed the Southern had performed freshening up of it's property to welcome in the newdecade; flecks of paint from the time it had been applied were still visible, not weathered at all, on the cement aroundthe railing posts. Within a minute or two, a distant chugging and chuffing down the line became ever nearer, and withthat, a small, but busy train pulled into the station, stopping at the platform with the screech and squeal of steel brakeshoes against flanged metal wheels taking hold. The locomotive was a smart green Southern tender engine, with twolarge wheels connected by rods and linkages to cylinders at the front of the frame, and two smaller wheels at the frontholding the smoke box, which was grey and dusted in soot and ash from the chimney at its apex. The tender, in thesame dark, shiny green hue as the locomotive in front, held coal and water for the morning's journeys, and displayedthe engine's number in classic yellow swirly writing, outlined in white, with what seemed like a shadow of glossymaroon paint."Oh, ol' Southy," Toby mouthed to himself, "always a beautiful train if ever I saw one."Which he had. Toby was biased, of course. He'd spotted the dark, oval metal plate attached to the locomotive's boiler, displaying its heritage: Mount Machine-works, 1905. A
Consolidation
class. Even though his passion for hisfather's trade had waned and withered, how could he not be proud of the sheer workmanship as one of his father'ssurrogate… children, almost, as that was how his father viewed every locomotive that rolled from the foundry in North London, pulled in to collect him on his merry way.There wasn't a great deal of people waiting on the platform, so Toby had liberty to peer through the mistywindows of the brown carriages for a suitable looking entrance. Seeing one in the second carriage of the train, wherethere were a few seats available. It was a busy morning working from Guildford, and as the train had made it's way upthe line towards London, the eight carriages the engine pulled along the track had slowly but steadily filled with silent, preoccupied commuters wanting, presumably, nothing more than to get off at their destination and begin their working
 
days. Toby clambered through the little doorway into the second carriage from the engine, and took a seat on one of the benches. Local services to London only used communal seating on passenger trains, unlike express trains whichhad their own little compartments, set from corridors that ran the length of the coach, for privacy. There were alreadya good number of passengers already in their seats, having joined the train further up the line, and Toby sat down, andthe rest of the carriage filled with shuffling commuters from the platform outside, who one after the other either  produced newspapers from their coats or pulled leftover work from their leather cases to complete in the carriage,widely renowned as a most conducive final-chance working environment, while propped up on their snow-soakedknees. The train journey was uneventful and short, passengers alighting and embarking as the little steam engine andit's carriages snailed it's way along the snowy track, as it always was for Toby, who simply looked at the whiteembankments as they slipped by, looking like heaps of sugar, only less sweet and colder, less inviting. Chuggingthrough the countryside, through towns and finally into the city, the train weaved along it's iron track between housesand over viaducts and bridges, before finally slowing with a squeak under an impressive, arched iron roof. Tobylooked, waking himself from the half-daze he had been rocked into by the motion of the train, to see people all around,walking all in one direction. He stepped from the carriage at his destination, London's brilliant, vaulted, but chillyImperium station, not far from the Palace, of course, and passed through the ticket check at the end of the platform.The attendant, cold and tired, nodded him through the barrier and out onto the rest of the station area, where Tobystarted negotiating his way along the concourse and out of the tall, red brick building, with spires vaulting skywardtoward the grey clouds, pregnant and heaving with snow, out from under the metal-and-glass apron frontage and intothe city.Toby had for a few years now been helping out a small outfit that took it upon itself to poke around in caseslong thought beyond the application of reason’s ability to get to the bottom of. He’d found it a short while after returning from his stint of duty in the 1906 Franco-Prussian War that he had found himself a part of, and it kept him busy while he was readjusting to life back in merry old England. They called themselves The Green Glass. Why thatwas escaped Toby. He'd never asked, and their de facto 'leader', the Old Major, never ventured to elaborate. Tobywalked along the narrow roads off the main thoroughfares from the station, taking a left onto Highvale Terrace, andthen a right where Highvale met Farnham Lane, until he came to a large, decript old building that had obviously beentownhouses at one point in its existence, but now had been converted inside to function as offices for hire, but most of them were old, abandoned and falling to pieces, from when the tenants of those properties had died without provisioning for the leases to be signed over to another party. Toby fumbled at the white, heavy wood door for hiskeys, and let himself in. The door was stiff, but this was no match for a well-placed kick from a heavy, snow-crustedwinter boot.Toby walked out of the small vestibule inside the door and into a darkly panelled and richly carpetedstairwell, not too wide but not uncomfortably cramped either. The panels were dusty and the carpet bald from heavyfootfall in prior years. A wooden staircase with an aged cream runner along the centre hugged an iron lattice shaft,which went the full height of the building; six floors, including the basement. Musky, yellow light filtered from askylight at the top of the stairs. Many of the light fixtures were devoid of bulbs, and those who did have bulbs glowedso weakly that they made no difference to the stuffy gloom within. Toby walked up to the concertina door for theelevator and pressed the little button on the panel, and a white tell-tale illuminated. Gears and pulleys creaked andgroaned, and the iron car descended from the heavens, and stopped abruptly at the foot of the shaft. Toby manhandledthe stiff doors and stepped inside. A half-moon control was on the inside of the car, and it had a handle, a lot like acrank, that travelled from the top to bottom. It currently had set itself to the position from the ground. Toby pulled thehandle up until it met the engraved numeral five on the brass disc. The door just about managed to close itself, and thelift began its slow, clunky ascent into the rafters of the building.With a clattering and groan of metal under friction against more metal, like wails of a being that found anyattempt at movement agony, the lift stopped at the fifth floor. Toby grumpily discovered the old door release hadtaken a dislike to him, and pushed the door out of the way and stepped out of the landing, with the stairs leading up tothe left. In front of the small, square landing was a solid oak door, dusty and marked with the traces of woodwormfrom long ago, which Toby opened, giving it a little kick where it stuck to the frame. Inside, the poorly-lit, narrow passageway opened out into a wide floor full of desks, bookshelves and towering wooden curios full of shallowdrawers. There were other doors leading to other rooms, but this was the main floor, marks on the floor indicatingwhere old partition walls used to be, and had long since been ripped out This was a place where Toby always feltwarm and welcomed, although especially warm due to the dozen or so powerful electrically operated air fans blowinga steady stream of warmed air through ducts to each floor. Someone was being kind and keeping them warm in thewinter."Anyone in?" he called. His voice echoed off the walls of the empty place.Walking toward the empty floor, he saw a messy desk surrounded and buried by papers, texts and theoccasional trinket of antiquity, Toby threw his scarf lazily onto the desk with a thud. Dust flew up. Then there was asound of sauntering, sombre footsteps. Muted chatter reverberated through walls at the far end. Someone was in, hewas sure of it! Within a second, a bespectacled auburn-haired fellow appeared at the threshold of an old enclosedroom at the far end of the floor, and motioned for Toby to come forward.
 
"You'd better come in."Inside the small chamber was an aged, balding sofa, and sitting on it was a pair of twins, one male, the onefrom a moment ago, tall, skinny and the other a smartly dressed lady whose hair was as equally strawberry-shaded asher brother's. The pair of them looked in their mid-twenties, so around the same ages as Toby. They hastily shifted asToby entered the room. Toby instantly noticed another man, an older gentleman with thick-rimmed spectacles and ataut bowler hat, sitting behind the desk. Where he didn't belong. Toby didn't know this man, and was naturally a littledefensive."Where’s the old Major?" Toby asked, impudently. The little office was usually the one occupied by the oldcrust that founded and ran the ragtag bunch of amateur sleuths. The male twin, George, sat in the creaky old woodenchair that was slung behind the mahogany desk that was festooned with messy piles of paper, dried pens and dust thathad presumably fallen from the old, rusting rafters holding the roof up."Oh, you didn’t hear?" the man in glasses said, looking up from the desk. "Old Major Holborn’s been takenill.""Ill? Have they fetched the physician?" Toby gasped, surprised. The Old Major was a battle-axe, and hadnever been taken unwell at any point, as far as he could remember.The other twin, a woman with long, immaculately brownish-blond hair, looked across again and took her turnto speak. George's twin sister, Milly. Though her name was actually Milan, Toby thought, and remembered why thatwas. Named after his favourite city in continental Europe, their father had explained once. Pretentious idiot. The girlherself must've agreed: she insisted on being called Milly instead. "It’s the polio again. Took hold last night. The bitter cold of this time of year did nothing but exacerbate it, so the doctor informed us."Toby paused. "So what do we do?""Nothing."The rest of the people in the room turned their gazes to the man at the desk, as he finally spoke."I don't believe I've had the pleasure…" Toby ventured."It's not a pleasure, I can assure you," the man said, smartly."Then might I enquire as to your business here?""My name is Riddle, executor for the late Frederick Fitzgerald Holborn…"He wasn't a real Major, of course.Toby coughed loudly, interrupting. "
 Late?!
""Indeed, late. Major Holborn died peacefully yesterday evening."The female twin, Milly, took an audible gasp. Of shock, of disbelief. It couldn't be! "Any cause?""Yes," Riddle said, "pneumonia. I take my position of executor very seriously. Major Holborn's express wishwas to gather the members of the Green Glass together in his office on the morning after his passing. Without fail.This has been accomplished."Second, I am to inter to you what has been duly bequeathed by the deceased.""You mean, we were in his will?" Toby said."That's right," Riddle replied, looking in a case he held behind the desk out of view. He produced from it acard folder and opened it on the desk. Inside was a typed document which he held, his eyes scanning it briefly beforehe began to read. "To the three young minds to which brought me much revitalisation and allowed me a second youth,I award you the entirety of my estate's worth in pounds, to be split equally."The three, George, Milly and Toby, looked at each other, unsure how to feel. Guilty for being the Major's only beneficiaries, but also curious. What estate? It was their belief he was nothing more than a forgotten pauper. "Whatdoes that amount to, sir?" asked George. Riddle had already located three cheques in the folder."You each receive, dated the first day of January, the year of our lord nineteen-hundred and ten, a deposit notefor £76,000, for a total of £228,000."A small fortune, indeed. The Major'd kept that quiet.Gulps were all that came from the opposite side of the desk as the notes were handed out. They were writtenin the scrawl of a man who knew his days were very limited, barely legible and jagged."For Mr. Toby Mount," Riddle continued, reaching into the case, "you are awarded a package from thedeceased."Toby looked on. Out of the case came a little package, wrapped in torn brown paper and secured by string. Onthe reverse, Toby saw the folds of the paper were sealed with wax. How quaint. "Can I open it?""I'd hazard to presume you can," Riddle said kindly. Toby eased the string from the sides of the package andtore the paper. It was a book, dog-eared and old. On the cover, a picture of a snowy peak, with clouds and rocks jutting from the glacial ice on top. The title was faded in silvery guild:
 A Peak, The Future-kind 
."Nothing else?" George asked, ponderous about why Toby had an additional gift. Maybe the money wasn'tenough for him? Why did he care that Toby'd been given an old book that he'd, for sure, never heard of."That's all there is to deal with," Riddle said, closing the leather case he'd brought with him and standing,making for the door. "I'll bid you kind gentlemen good day. And you, too," he said toward Milly, "my lady," before

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