By the time they reached the train station, the rain was pouring down heavily. Nearly thirty minutes late, they had to rush all the way to the platform. By now, the wild-eyed cabbie was in a rather foul mood, hissing and muttering under his breath something about schedules and sentimental rubbish. But as luck would have it, they had arrived just in the nick of time. Apparently the train's departure had been delayed due to the conductor's involvement in a rather heated argument with one of the first-class passengers. The two men were arguing so loudly that a small crowd of onlookers had gathered round. Through the crowd, Mindy could see a tall slender man in a mud brown business suit waving his hands about and shouting over something to do with the lack of wine selections available on the menu. Suddenly, a great crash came from somewhere behind. Tyler and Garret began laughing uncontrollably as, apparently, the cabbie had lost his footing and toppled over a trolley and was now fumbling back and forth in an effort to gain his footing.
"Blast it all!” he spat and kicked the trolley as hard as he could, injuring his foot in the process. “OUCH!" Finally, after a moment of hopping around on one foot, he turned on the Dunkle children. "This is why I hate working with children! You can just carry your own bags then! I'm off!" He then turned and stomped off into the crowd, hunched over like an angry bear on its hind legs. Still giggling over the silly spectacle, they quickly fetched up their cases and climbed onto the train. Just as Garret hoisted the last bag into the car the train whistle sounded off and the train made a sharp thump forward. Together, they stood in the middle of the corridor. They had never been on a train before and had no idea what to do next. There had always been an adult around to guide their every move. Someone to tell them when to eat and when to sleep, when to speak and when they should remain quiet. But they were alone now. There was no mother, no Miss Dorrey, there was not even a grumpy old cabbie.
"Isn't someone going to take our bags," Garret said, dropping his suitcase.
"I don't think so," Mindy replied. "Perhaps we should see if there's an open compartment."
"What if they’re all full up," Tyler moaned. "What if we have to spend the night out here."
"Don't be stupid," Garret said, "we wouldn't have tickets if there wasn't any room for us."
"Oh no! The tickets," Mindy exclaimed, dropping her suitcase and patting her dress pockets. "The cabbie had our tickets."
"Oh that's just great! What are we gonna' do?" Garret cried. "They'll throw us off the train and we'll be stranded in the middle of nowhere, or worse... jail."
"I don't wanna' go to jail,” Tyler cried. “C'mon quick, we've gotta' hide!" But at that very moment the carriage door slid open and in stepped a large, beefy man with a thick grey bristly mustache and small beady eyes. He was dressed in a long black coat with two rows of silver buttons and he had on a thin, brimmed black cap. To their horror, it was the conductor. Another man, slender and tall, dressed in a dark brown business suit came through after him; the first-class passenger. They still seemed to be arguing. Half way into the hall the conductor stopped and turned back to face the man.
"Look sir, as I already told you, if you got a problem with the menu, take it up with the cook. Now would you please leave me be." He turned back and spotted the three children still standing frozen in place. "There you are," he said, looking very cross. "I saw you lot gettin' on just before we left. I'll be havin' your tickets now."
Tyler ran to hide behind Mindy and Garret could only stare at the floor. Finally, Mindy took a step forward, Tyler was clutching tightly to the hem of her dress.
"I'm sorry, sir," she said, nervously. "But we haven't got tickets."
The conductor's chest puffed up as he took in a deep breath and he glared down over them with one eyebrow raised.
"And I suppose you haven't any means to purchase tickets, have you."
"No, sir," Mindy replied. "We haven't any money."
Garret dropped down on his knees and grabbed hold of the conductor’s coat, "Please don't make us go to jail. We had tickets. This is all that stupid cabbies fault. If he hadn't tripped--"
"That's enough lad," said the conductor. "No one's going to jail, but without tickets you'll have to be off at the next stop, I'm sorry but I don't make the rules."
"But, sir," Mindy pleaded, "we'll have no way to get home. There must be something we can do."
However, before he could respond, the man in the brown suit shoved himself between Mindy and the conductor and helped Garret back onto his feet.
"How dare you," man in the brown suit said. "Scaring these children half to death? Threatening jail, and to abandon them with no hope of getting home? I ought to have you horse whipped."
"I've had just about enough outta' you," the conductor bellowed. "I don't make the rules I just enforce them."
"But you have a heart or am I being too optimistic," the man in the brown suit opened his coat pocket and retrieved a money clip. "Right, this should cover it I think." Mindy stared in awe as he shoved several crisp looking bills into the conductor’s hand. "You will take my new friends along with their luggage up to my carriage and what's more, if you should cause them any more grief this evening I can personally guarantee that it will be you getting off at the next stop! Now, I should have a word with that cook." With that, he stomped off down the hall and vanished through the door.
For a long moment the conductor stood motionless, starring down at the children and looking completely stunned. Then, with a little shake as if coming out of a daydream, he began to pick up the suitcases. Mindy felt as though she had already been enough of a bother and decided to carry her own. They moved through corridor after corridor until finally they reached the first class cabin. This door was not made of metal like the others. It was a finely polished oak and the edges were trimmed in heavy gold bordering. When the door slid open, the children could hardly believe their own eyes. It was like stepping into a tiny palace. The floor was covered in thick green carpeting and there was a large extravagant chandelier that stretched out from the corners of the room and came together in the middle of the ceiling just above a fancy round oak table. The couches and chairs were lined with dark red velvet, matching the lavish draperies to perfection. Mindy thought it was the most beautiful room she had ever seen in her life. But she also felt that this was exactly the kind of place were adults did not want children to be. Tyler certainly wasted no time making himself right at home. He ran across the room and found a spot on one of the couches near a window. He kicked off his shoes and spread out across the cushion, burying his face into a fluffy throw pillow. Garret was more interested in the chessboard on the end table next to Tyler's couch. He had never seen anything so wonderful. The pieces were carved out of onyx and white marble, and the board was made of black and silver glass. Someone had already started a game, and it was blacks move.
“You three'll do well to remain in this room,” the conductor said. “I'll not have you wonderin' about disturbin' the other passengers.” Without another word he thundered out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
It had been nearly three hours and still they waited for their host to return. Mindy had taken up a spot at the end of Tyler's couch. Tyler was now fast asleep, his head resting on her lap. The room was very quiet, apart from the muffled, rhythmic thumping of the train and soft patter of rain against the roof.
"Do you think he's forgotten us?" Garret said absently. He was now half finished on his third round of chess.
"I doubt it," Mindy replied, "and keep your voice down, Ty's sleeping."
"I think there's something fishy about him," Garret continued. "I mean, honestly, who goes and pays for three strangers to stay in his first-class cabin and then disappears for hours on end"
"I suspect he's just busy with some sort of business. And we're lucky he was kind enough to pay for our tickets or else we'd be stranded, remember, and right about now we’d be walking home in the rain."
"Just the same, why pay for a cabin at all if you're not even going to be in it. The whole thing smells rotten if you ask me."
"What are you on about?" Mindy asked impatiently.
"I mean, well, what if he's settin' us up?"
"Oh, don't be ridiculous. What on earth could he possibly be setting us up for?"
"It's the oldest trick in the book," Garret said, now pacing slowly back and forth while doing his best Sherlock Holmes impersonation. "First he makes us think that he's helping us out. Paying for our tickets, giving us this big fancy room and then, just when ya start thinking he's on the up'n'up, he makes off with the jewels, leaving us to take the fall. I'll even wager the cook’s in on it."
"There are no jewels, you twit."
"There's always jewels. I'll bet he has a whole stash hidden in there," Garret said, pointing to a large steamer trunk that was propped up in a corner at the far end of the room. “Shouldn’t we at least have a look?”
"Now you stop right there,” Mindy hissed. “That's enough of that. I won't have you talking about him like that. Especially not after all he’s done for us and I certainly doubt he's a jewel thief."
"International jewel thief, actually," a voice suddenly spoke. Mindy gave a start, nearly knocking Tyler from the couch. Garret whipped around to see the man in the brown suit standing in the archway, a wide grin on his face.
“Please, sir,” Mindy sputtered. “My brother didn’t mean anything. He’s, well, he’s just an idiot, you see.”
Garret made a loud snort and folded his arms as he turned back to the chessboard.
“Nonsense,” the man said, “I was rather enjoying the story.” He then crept playfully into the room like a cartoon villain and crouched down beside Garret. “Go on then, young man. How would I make off with the jewels?”
For a moment, Garret stared silently at the man’s face as if considering whether or not he should answer the question.
“Well?” the man pushed, his eyebrows raised.
“I guess,” Garret started again, rubbing his chin pensively. “If I were you, I would sew the jewels into the lining of my jacket.”
“But what if the police should be waiting for me as I got off the train?” man said as he moved the white knight in front of Garret’s pawn. “And what if they were to pat me down?”
“An excellent point,” Garret replied, moving a bishop forward to protect his pawn. “That is why I would store the jacket in a suitcase.”
“Ah, I see. But surely, if they suspect me,” the man moved his queen to the right side of his knight and continued, “who’s to say they wouldn’t also suspect my luggage.”
A large satisfied smile crossed Garret’s face as he moved his queen across the board. “And that is why you've brought us here. You’re going to use one of our suitcases. By the way, check mate.”
The man stood upright and made a whispered chuckle as he clapped his hands together. “Absolutely brilliant, a marvelous plan if I do say so myself.”
Leaving Garret to his proud moment of victory, the man turned his attention to Mindy who was still sitting on the couch, a look of horrified embarrassment on her face.
“Your brother has a wonderful imagination, little miss,” the man kept his voice low, careful not to wake Tyler.
“I suppose so, sir,” Mindy mumbled under her breath. But just then, Tyler opened his eyes lazily and looked up at the man in the brown suit.
“Who’s he?” he asked in a weak, sleepy voice.
The man smiled and arched back on his heels as he tucked his thumbs under the collar of his brown jacket. “Charles Keddington the Third, but you can call me Charlie, and it’s a pleasure to-“ but Charlie stopped short for it was then that he noticed Tyler had already fallen back to sleep.
“Hmm,” Charlie slouched. “Oh well, I guess you can tell him who I am when he wakes up. Now then, might I ask your names?”
Mindy glanced at Garret who was now shaking his head ever so slightly, as if trying to say, don’t you dare. Mindy pretended not to notice this.
“My name is Mindy Dunkle, that’s Garret and this is our little brother, Tyler.”
“Well, it is a delight to meet you all,” Charlie said, tipping an imaginary hat. Just then, a small golden bell above the door at the far end of the room gave out a tiny ring. Charlie retrieved a watch from his waistcoat. “Seven thirty already?” he noted, returning the watch to his pocket. “Would you two care to join me for dinner then?”
“Yes please,” Garret answered. “I’m starving.”
“Thank you, sir,” Mindy replied. “That sounds wonderful.”
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