The Railway Incident
Carla Dow | Cait Maloney
It was the end of a long day and everyone was relieved it was over. The children had tired of the do-gooders from up town and the committee had just about enough of those snotty brats from the bottom of the village, thank you very much.
For now the children were free of the social restraints and never more relieved to be home. There they could slouch their shoulders without fear of Myrtle White thwacking them on the head with her wooden ruler and a “if you please”. There, they could continue the spitting contest without Harry Blackstock-Smythe admonishing them with a patronising “come on now fellows, that’s just not done”.
To be fair to the committee members — although fairness was not top of their own stakes — they had never been willing volunteers, rather coerced into it.
“Thank goodness that’s finished with,” Myrtle slammed shut the door of the mini bus, screwing up her face as the hinges shrieked in complaint. She backed her over-proportioned posterior onto the seat, slapped her palms on her thighs and, with a nasal rise, announced, “let’s go chaps” as if she were the conductor of this little show.
‘Chaps’ was a term loosely used, as an equal number of women and men remained on the mini bus. Myrtle, Harry, Hattie Thompson and Daniel Persimmons were returning from a tedious day of herding a group of unwilling and — in their equally humble opinions — ungrateful children for the annual educational day.
“Poor people do smell rather funny, sort of mouldy, wouldn’t you agree?” Harry asked no one in particular.
“Disadvantaged, if you please Harry. You are supposed to call them disadvantaged, not poor.” Myrtle admonished him, but gently, as she could never manage to be completely cross with Harry, handsome as he was.
“Well all right then, those disadvantaged people smell rather mouldy — better old sport?” Harry chuckled to himself, which was just as well as no one else appreciated his humour enough to vocalise it.
Harry glanced surreptitiously at Hattie, but she was not paying him any heed. Instead, the heiress to Lyley Manor was craned up in her seat, leaning toward the review mirror that she had wrenched around to face her.
“Ergh, I’ve a huge pimple, it’s just mortifying,” she groaned, poking at her chin.
“Poppycock, you can hardly notice it,” Harry put in before anyone else could pretend to care. “Nothing so small could overshadow your fair beauty.”
Hattie rolled her eyes and slumped back, unimpressed, into her seat. “Oh do be quiet.”
Daniel pushed his foot further down on the accelerator and the mini bus responded with a groan and a leap of power before returning to the same sluggish speed. He was eager to get home and away from these dolts — but that was not to be. The world was never so kind to Daniel.
“Stoooop!” Hattie’s ladylike demeanor lost all composure as the grey outline of a man appeared from within the fog, right in the middle of the road.
With a screech of tires Daniel stopped the bus, throwing all but himself forward with a dramatic air.
“Oh golly!” Myrtle immediately covered her delicate eyes with gloved hands.
The bus shuddered to a halt just inches from the figure and, as the quartet watched on, more silhouettes unveiled from the almost white night.
“What the devil?” Harry — for once — had little to say.
A bang and shaking at the bus door made them all jump with fright. Myrtle scrambled for the handle just as Harry protested against it. Too late. She swung it wide-open, metal screech wheeling off into the night.
“There’s been a terrible accident, please help us,” the figure — a man — pleaded.
The bus had stopped in the middle of a level crossing. More grey shadows were now outlined against the fog, their faces as pale as the mist. The four climbed out.
“What can we do?” asked Daniel, ever eager to assist.
“Help us?” a lady begged as she plucked at Hattie’s sleeve with chilled fingers.
“Please, we need shelter, it’s so cold,” another, younger woman, insisted.
“Whatever has happened?” Myrtle asked the increasingly growing assemblage.
An elderly man, white hair sprouting from every pore of his sagging face, pointed silently up the tracks. A railway carriage lay on its side, a jagged open scar ripped into its metal belly, the contents spilled across the tracks.
“Oh my…” Myrtle was silenced with hapless shock.
“Good Lord!” Harry exclaimed, “Are there many still… in there?”
“They’ve taken them.”
“Please help us.”
“You must, you must help us, so cold.”
The pleas and enquiries evaporated into the night.
“Well I say!” You may perceive from the slight tinge of excitement in Daniel’s voice that he was pleased to have come across such carnage, maybe the world was kinder to Daniel Persimmon than we had imagined. Fear not dear reader I can assure you that Daniel’s enthusiasm was set with the best of intentions. He was training to become a doctor and with all this before him he could progress several leaps and bounds in his practical experience.
“Righto, all on the bus,” Daniel instructed. “The emergency services have obviously been and gone with the severely wounded — not quite right to have left these poor chaps here alone, that is rather peculiar — but hey ho it’s our job to mop up this little lot. All aboard for the hospital.”
He waved the grey gathering closer to the minibus.
“Oh my, are you sure Daniel?” Myrtle asked.
“You’re as mad as a box of frogs if you think I’m letting that lot onto the committee bus,” Harry blustered.
“Oh Harry, pooh, we must help. We can’t just leave them here,” Hattie admonished him, but her tone was a shade gentler as she saw for the first time the scared little boy desperate to prove himself underneath all that bluster and puff.
He peered back at her, noting how the pimple on her chin,s which earlier had not seemed such a big deal, now pulsed with a vulgar life of its own.
“Right, well,” Harry muttered, unsure where his own flapping mouth was leading. “If we are going to proceed regardless, we’ll need to get all of our ducks in a line.”
And without further explanation he began herding the passengers onto the bus. Harry looked across at Myrtle who suddenly seemed indescribably beautiful. Myrtle made a face at him, as if seeing — or rather hearing — for the first time what a first-rate prat he could be. No longer interested in Harry, she busied herself with swooning over Daniel’s heroism as he masterfully checked the pulse and pupil response of each passenger, swinging a torch into their pale faces one after the next.
“Weak pulse, can’t quite find… Pupils unresponsive… this one doesn’t seem to…”
Daniel became more and more flustered as his newly acquired cohort of patients failed to display any signs of good health.
“You’re all fur coat and no knickers Daniel old thing, you haven’t even passed first year yet have you, come on,” Harry shooed the still growing crowd straight onto the bus.
With the passengers boarded, Daniel cranked up the heater vents against the chill mist that had followed them inside, throttled down and off they went.
Upon arrival at St Mary’s, Hattie was dispatched to get assistance, while Harry and Myrtle — under close supervision from Dr-to-be Persimmons — unloaded the walking wounded. The passengers filed off the bus and, on closer inspection, Daniel noted several held together deep cuts to their torsos while others cradled bent and disfigured limbs. One poor chap even seemed to have lost a hand entirely. Sure that did not happen during transportation but scalding himself for not noticing previously, Daniel heaped his entire attention on this poor creature.
Meanwhile Harry was entirely distracted by Myrtle’s dazzling blue eyes and the lady in question had her hands full fending off his newly-unwelcome attentions. It so happened therefore that nobody witnessed where exactly the passengers disappeared to.
On her return – Matron and porters in tow – Hattie raised the question, “where exactly have the passengers all disappeared to?”
Harry looked about in surprise. Myrtle shrank under Hattie’s glare, as if it were her fault alone. Daniel left his hand-less charge to peer inside the bus.
“Well… I …?” he stuttered at the cross Matron and bored porters. “They were, I mean, er… em… well take this poor fellow first – he’s lost an entire hand. And we’ll round up the others. They can’t have got far they’re all really rather poorly indeed. Poor souls, terrible business, awful accident, on the railway, level crossing and all, mayhem, carnage, eh-em…”
But turning back to his patient, Daniel saw he had now misplaced him too. Matron huffed loudly, turned her back and stalked into the hospital.
“I say, if you please,” Myrtle called after her, but to no avail.
The remaining porter sparked up his tobacco pipe.
“Not very smart,” he judged. “Not very smart at all, wrong time for a practical joke. The victims of that rail accident this morning all died at the scene. Matron has been dealing with the families all day.”