“THE TUNNEL IS COLLAPSING BEHIND US!” Emerson screamed from inside the tight confines of the locomotive where seven of the ten involved in the caper crowded together. Rock and debris pelted down on the train as it sped for the opening in the side of the mountain. “STEP ON IT CLEETUS!”
“I GOTS THIS BUGGER FLAT OUT AS FAST AS SHE’LL GO!” Cleetus hollered back as the train chugged on, somehow managing to keep just ahead of the collapsing tunnel.
“Em!” said Junie close to his ear. “First the church collapsed and now this. What do you think caused it?”
Emerson shook his head, as confused by the sudden violence of events as anyone.
“Do you think Daisy, Maude and Father Vorpal made it out in time?” Junie asked, referring to their plan to meet the others at the railway crossing an hour southeast of Falun.
Suddenly, a rock the size of a cannonball smashed down upon the roof of the locomotive with enough of a jolt to make everyone jump.
“I SEE THE OPENING!” Petra pointed excitedly. “GO, GO, GO!”
A minute later, the train shot from the tunnel and sped along the ridge carved into the side of the mountain. It couldn’t have been more than a matter of seconds before the passageway behind them completely collapsed. Debris spewed from mouth of the tunnel and dust filled the air as tons of rubble slid down the steep slope, all the way to the pass far below where it effectively blocked-up the only highway in and out of Falun.
“Hell yeah, I’ll take the coal,” Cleetus said in response to Emerson’s offer. The gang had regrouped with Father Vorpal, Daisy and Maude Ibbs at the east/west, north/south rail crossing an hour east of Falun. “I ain’t one ta turn down no free carload a coal. But that don’t mean I ain’t takin’ my share of the gold too.”
“I guess I could have Walden uncouple one of the cars for you,” Emerson conceded.
“A single car!” Cleetus snorted. “The way I figure, three full cars between Daisy, Maudie ‘n me be more ‘n fair. Accordin’ ta my math, that be one each. Unless a course ye be sayin’ ye don’t appreciate what we done.” Cleetus glared.
Emerson ran his fingers through his hair and glanced over at the train. “Plus this,” added Cleetus, bringing Emerson’s attention back to him. “I believe ye be needin’ someone ta maintain the story that this here train was seen headin’ north ta Bumpside. We got’s us kin all along this train line, see, ready ta swear an oath that that be jest where we seen it go. Thing is, some of the kin may need a little incentive, see.”
“But three whole cars Cleetus?” complained Emerson, though he was beginning to realize he had little option. “That seems like a lot.”
“It do, but Pa ‘n me be puttin’ together another dowry fer Daisy,” Cleetus explained. “Gonna hafta be a good ‘un this time.”
“And my Pa be still mighty sore on account a you runnin’ off with that robot girl. He figgers ye owe ‘im big,” added Maude Ibbs, crossing her arms and staring at Emerson.
As if to encourage Emerson’s decision making process, the North Fells farmer added, “One more thing b’y. If I ain’t mistaken, I believe I be yer only source of leaf – ‘n if I don’t get me the gold that’s my due, heck…” Cleetus cleared his throat then turned to spit. ”… I might not be liquid enough to plant no crops this spring, if ye be catchin’ what I’m sayin’.”
Emerson nodded. “Deal.”
“Th-three cars!” Emerson’s sputter had little effect on Father Vorpal’s most practiced poker face.
“You do realize, Mr. Lighthouse, that the gold will be sold and the money donated to the Falunian Church of the Builder as a charitable donation to help rebuild the church they so tragically lost.”
“But I had nothing to do with that.”
“Quite to the contrary,” Father Vorpal allowed himself a slight smirk. “I’m sure by now the investigation is concluding that the collapse of the church and the tunnel cave-in which blocked the road in and out of Falun was the result of an overactive horta chasing no less than a dozen strategically placed thumpers. If you didn’t have anything to do with that then you should have. You would not have gotten away otherwise.”
“But three cars…”
“Mr. Lighthouse, need I go back to Falun and assist in the investigation?” warned Father Vorpal, who began to shake his head most solemnly. “And I was so looking forward to spending some time in New Babbage for the purpose of soliciting funds for the rebuilding project. After all, two cars will only get them started but it will hardly cover the entire cost of rebuilding such an elaborate structure.”
“Two cars?” said Emerson, sounding slightly relieved as he scratched his head. “I thought you said three.”
“I did,” affirmed Father Vorpal. “I have certain living expenses and New Babbage is not a cheap place for a man of my needs.”
As if to encourage Emerson’s decision making process, the Falunian Father added, “The other option is that I visit my old friend Victor Mornington with a full accounting of exactly what transpired.”
Emerson nodded. “Deal.”
“I calculate Victor’s share to be three carloads,” said Malus with a smirk as he studied a series of figures on a small slate. “Of course, that doesn’t take into consideration all the expenses you charged to that little black card he lent you.”
“That only leaves two cars and I still haven’t paid Petra, or returned Lottie’s investment times ten like I promised.” Emerson ran his fingers through his hair again as he glanced back at the line cars behind them.
Junie elbowed Emerson and nodded at young Walden. Emerson winced at the thought of yet another partner.
“I don’t need no gold,” said Petra. “I’d be happy with a junkyard I had my eye on before we left, that’s all I need.”
“And as long as I have a job and a place to sleep, I’m okay,” said Walden.
“Of course, Walden,” Junie assured the young teen. “We have room for you at the Gangplank.”
“If it would help,” said Lottie after observing Emerson’s growing sense of agitation, “all I require is the return of my original investment. I would say that Emerson will have an opportunity to make up the lost profit to me in the future.”
“That does help.” Malus then did something he hadn’t done since heading out of New Babbage. He started to smile. Not the half-smile of one recalling some sort of pleasantry but a tremendous ear to ear grin of vengeful satisfaction. With a look that threatened to redefine the term smug he turned the slate of figures around for all to see.
“Translation?” Emerson asked after squinting at the near indecipherable set of white mathematical squiggles.
“After all the expenses have been paid out, you should have enough left to pay off your creditors…” Malus actually started to snicker. “That is, as long as no more bills came in while we were gone.”
“That can’t be!” Emerson exclaimed looking utterly dejected.“I wanted to tell people I am rich!”
“Come dear,” said Junie as she took his arm and tried to put a positive spin on things. “Being broke never stopped us from telling people that before.”
Emerson tipped his head to the side as Junie’s words sunk in. “Well, that is true. I can tell people whatever I want. And who wouldn’t believe Sir Sir Emerson Lighthouse, MD, PhD, DDS, LL.B, double knighted… thrice retired …er, wait no, that’s not right, we just finished another adventure. What comes after thrice… quartice?”
“If you want it to,” replied Junie.
“I love you, Miss Ginsburg.”
A smile lit up her face. “And I love you, Mr. Lighthouse.”
“Well there you go,” said Father Vorpal. “What further riches do you need?”
From the caverns deep beneath Clockhaven, Thomas’ acute hearing detected a mournful yet beautiful melody echoing faintly through the long subterranean passages. His favourite, Si un Jour, floated through the dark like a wisp of poetry.
The king of the Dunsany followed the call, up through the tunnels to the great chamber where Father had laboured in solitude for so many decades. The door was ajar, the chamber inside lit with a single candle.
Peering through the crack in the door he watched the smooth bow work of the boy who appeared lost to the sounds of his own violin. Thomas shut his eyes for a moment and let his mind swim with the boy’s complex improvisations; with great command, Malus wandered through a beautiful series of progressions creating something transcendental and ephemeral.
He looks like Father, Thomas noted after opening his eyes once more, but he is more like one of my brothers. One day he may lead as Father led. But not today.
As Thomas continued to listen, something caught his eye. A curious glass vial filled with a reddish-brown liquid sat upon Father’s desk. The Dunsany couldn’t be sure if it was an illusion, perhaps some trick of the dancing candlelight reflecting off the glass, but the liquid appeared to have a certain ebullience about it. For some inexplicable reason it filled Thomas with a sense of foreboding.
Suddenly Thomas felt as though he were intruding. The children of Dunsany were not done with this one who so much resembled Father; their day would come, but it would not be today. The old Dunsany slowly turned and made his way back through the tunnels beneath Clockhaven leaving the mournful song behind him.