by Jon Hepworth
Linda Fairlight reached for the recently published1982 British Railways Timetable and was pleased to find that there was a train leaving Lower Compton for London the next Friday, at ten in the morning. She always liked the ten o’clock trains as they were less crowded than earlier ones and cheaper.
She was travelling to London to visit her Aunt Agatha. ‘Poor old Aunt Agatha’ Linda would say; poor because her aunt could only afford a bed-sit, and old because her aunt would be shortly celebrating her eightieth birthday.
The next Friday Linda boarded the train at Lower Compton and was delighted to have a compartment all to herself. The journey up to London would take over an hour and so she had brought a book with her. She settled herself in the seat near the window, placed her spectacles with the tortoise-shell frame on the end of her nose and, with great expectation, opened her book titled, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.
The train was starting to pull out of the station when there was a bang, someone wrenched open the door of her compartment, clambered in and dangerously leaning out of the train shut the door with a loud crash.
‘Oh dear!’ she said, and with a small nervous laugh, ‘that was rather dangerous.’
The overcoat that had been flapping in her face rearranged its self into the conventional attire of a young man.
‘Yah!’ he said ‘why are trains always on time when it would be far more convenient if they were a couple of minutes late?’
He was about to sit down when he felt a strong tug at his coat.
‘Yes?’ he queried, turning to look at Linda.
‘Yes?’ queried Linda.
‘You tugged at my coat!’
‘Why on earth should I do that?’ asked Linda hugging her book close to herself.
‘I don't know’ he said and raised his eyebrows.
Linda examined the coat, ‘your coat is stuck in the door."
‘Oh!’ he said and looked quite disappointed, ‘I'll have to open the carriage door and...’
‘You'll do no such thing; that would be positively dangerous!’
The train was now travelling at a fast speed. With some difficulty the young man took off his coat.
‘Here, use it to cover your knees,’ he said ‘and I'll reclaim it when we get to London. At least it will keep it off this dirty floor.’
‘Oh I couldn't possibly...’
‘Yes you could!’ And he place part of the coat over her knees. It was cold outside and the heating on the train was frugal, so the coat would be helpful. The pockets felt very heavy.
‘What on earth have you got in the pockets?’ Linda asked, much to her own surprise.
‘Two silver candlesticks, a silver cigarette box and a silver sauce boat in the poachers’ pockets on the inside!’
‘How....! How unusual.’ said Linda, and she looked at him carefully; ‘wouldn't it have been easier to put them all in a case?’
‘Yes, but too obvious - I don't want anyone to know that I am carrying them.’
‘Oh!’ Linda had a strong feeling of apprehension, safer to bury herself in her book, real drama very seldom imposed itself on her well-ordered life and she liked it that way. She opened her book again.
‘I took them this morning from the Grange in Upper Compton!’
Linda looked up. She hoped that she had not heard what she thought that she had definitely heard. She felt the colour of her face turn from a healthy pale pink to an embarrassed red. She took off her glasses.
‘I took them early this morning from the Grange!’
‘Don't be silly! If you did you certainly would not tell me!’
‘Why on earth not? - Why - what would you do about it?’
‘Why pull the emergency cord just above my head.’
‘But I could stop you before your hand had got halfway there.’
‘I could scream and shout for help!’
‘Are your knees getting warm?’ he said, deftly changing the subject. She looked again at his face, full of grins and eyes that were alive.
‘Your teasing me?’ she said, ‘I always believe what people say; I don't like being teased?’
‘Look I’ll be honest with you.’
‘I do hate it when people say that.’
‘Don’t you want me to be?’
‘Yes, of course, but when people say that I always wondered what they have not been honest about!’
‘But what I said is true - I did take them from the Grange, but not take as in stolen but take as in carrying. I am carrying them hidden so that they won't be stolen! The Grange is my home. Does all that make sense?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ said Linda closing her book.
‘I'm sorry,’ said the young man ‘but I found the thought of being a thief exciting. My names Humphrey Kew, my friends call me Den. Can we be friends?’
Sherlock Holmes suddenly seemed uninteresting. She felt all males were inherently chauvinistic and not to be trusted. She was glad that there was a corridor running the length of the carriage she was in. If he became difficult she could shout.
‘Why are you carrying all those valuables hidden in your coat?’ she asked.
‘Valuations, parents want to know what the items are worth - I have an appointment at eleven at Sotheby’s, with Mr. Princetown of the silver department to put some prices on them for insurance purposes.’
‘Oh!’ said Linda, a thought flashed into her mind and then receded, the thought that the explanation was just a bit too detailed
‘Oh!’ she said again. She knew that in all the best detective stories fibs were best told with as much truth in them as possible to make them convincing.
‘Isn’t it silly that Upper Compton is below Lower Compton?’ Humphrey questioned.
‘But it isn’t!’
‘Last time I looked on the map it was at least three miles south of Lower Compton.’
‘Yes, I know!’
‘But you just said that that it wasn’t below Lower Compton.’
‘Our ancestors were not concerned with which village was Northern most. Lower Compton is in a valley whereas Upper Compton is built on a hill; so is higher, hence Upper!’
‘Oh – alright clever clogs!’
‘As a librarian I come across lots of useless information.’
Humphrey, call me Den, chatted on for the rest of the journey.
The landscape and time flashed by and the train quickly arrived in London.
‘Must rush,’ said Humphrey as the train drew into the station. He opened the door to release his overcoat; put the overcoat on, and disappeared into the crowd surging through the ticket barrier.
Linda was placing her glasses in their case when she saw something sparkle on the floor. She bent down and picked up a brooch, it was a fine piece of jewelry, it looked like a diamond and ruby encrusted pheasant. Humphrey hadn’t mentioned it. It must have dropped out of his coat.
‘Oh dear!’ exclaimed Linda. She gathered up her book, still unread, and her handbag now containing the broach. She left the carriage and walked along the platform. She was glad to see that there was a bank of telephones in the station concourse. She asked directory enquiries for the telephone number for Sotheby's and phoned through.
‘Can I speak to Mr.Princetown?’ Linda queried.
‘There's no one of that name here!’ was the reply.
‘From your silver department?’
‘Sorry - no one of that name in the silver department!’
‘Well a Mr. Humphry Kew has an appointment to see someone in your company this morning at eleven and I need to get in touch with him. It's important.’
‘One minute please,’ there was a pause. Linda could hear the rustle of paper and some muffled voices.
‘Hello - no, sorry, no one of that name has an appointment here today!"
‘Oh well, thank you!" Linda slowly put down the phone. She felt fully justified in her view that all males were inherently chauvinistic and not to be trusted.
She left the brooch at the Lost Property desk along with her name and address.
Linda walked out into the torrential rain of a very wet London.
How she wished that crime would stay within the covers of a good read.