1 March, 2016 by katelaity
The gentleman sighed as if the memory haunted him still. ‘It was rather unexpected for they were leaving for Liverpool from which the repaired ship would set out for the new world with a portion of passengers and cargo. What do you think but a large squid attacked it from below—’
‘In Liverpool?!’ Tansy asked with considerable shock.
‘Not only that, but in the alarm of the sinking—for sink it did with huge holes made by the deep sea creature which must have been disoriented in order to find itself swimming up the Mersey—’
‘Not to mention hungry too,’ I murmured, but the fellow ignored my comment and went on.
‘But it also caught fire due to the panic of those onboard who had been in the midst of a cigar exchange, a practice the sailors had gotten into from their frequent trips to the Caribbean. Alarmed by the giant squid’s attack they apparently left their cigars smouldering whilst escaping to safer ground. Unfortunately, the Chinese fireworks were stored very near by…’
‘Good heavens!’ said Tansy.
‘If we’d have been there, our task might be over,’ I said under my breath but I do not think that Tansy heard me and the other gentleman clearly ignored my editorializing. Or so I thought until he surprised me.
‘What task is that?’ He regarded me with a baleful eye as if I might be planning some nefarious deed.
‘We have been charged with a solemn task,’ Tansy said, sitting up a little more in his seat to convey the gravity of the situation. His posture of course was always perfect but as he had been leaning forward to attend well to the other fellow’s tale, he had shifted ever so slightly in his seat. Now amending that position he appeared the very height of propriety, which only seemed right for such an esoteric undertaking as ours. ‘We are to accurately measure the height of absurdity. We have one year to accomplish the task.’
The gentleman looked astounded at our audacity. ‘A year? The very height of it? Can’t be done, I assure you.’
‘Why ever not?’
He blustered. ‘Why, it’s an abstraction. You can’t measure a pure abstraction.’
‘Have you ever tried?’ I put in. Let him wiggle out of that one.
The gentleman frowned. ‘I lacked the proper instrument to do so.’
‘Ah, but we do not. In fact there is probably not a finer instrument in all the world for the task. Am I not right, my friend.’
Tansy nodded. ‘Far be it from me to toot my own horn, but I have to say on the behalf of the artist there is no finer instrument in all the world.’ He held forth the tape measurer with a proud satisfaction, but the gentleman opposite refused to touch the thing.
‘I am not going risk my sanity and safety by dealing with such an object,’ he chuffed to us. ‘Do you forget my cautionary tale so quickly?’
‘No, but sir, you cannot cast aspersions on our expedition and then refuse to allow us to make the case for ourselves,’ Tansy insisted. ‘We must defend ourselves.’
‘You may defend yourselves but I shall never accept your dangerous journey. And I will say good day to you, sir. Good day!’ With that he rose and stalked into the corridor. We were coming up to Bristol and he departed the train there, though I thought I heard him say earlier that he was bound for Weston-super-Mare. His manner was all of haste and it seemed almost as if he were pursued by unseen hellhounds.
‘I do not think he approved of us, Popkin.’ I could not help a little smile at his retreating back, however, his leather handbag gripped as if in fear of thievery.
‘It is always a challenge to be an explorer,’ Tansy answered with equanimity and settled back into his seat once more. Things were quiet the rest of the journey. We stopped to smoke when it came time to change to the local Cornish line, but as our luggage was in the hands of Tansy’s capable servants there was very little else for us to do than to amuse ourselves observing our fellow travelers. The sheer accident of public travel brings together people that in another century might never have met. While we do have compartments and classes of carriages, it’s s surprisingly coincidental mix of people. We hoped to have more opportunities to quiz our fellows.