‘He’s an interesting character.’

‘I assume that the driver and fireman of both locomotives died in the crash,’ said Colbeck, sadly.

‘Those on the footplate of the ballast train were killed outright. The driver of the express must also be dead because he’s buried beneath his engine. Until a crane arrives, we can’t dig him out.’

‘What about his fireman?’

‘John Heddle was more fortunate,’ said Ridgeon. ‘He jumped from the footplate before the collision took place. He sustained a nasty head injury during the fall and was still very dazed when I spoke to him, but at least he survived and will be able to give us confirmation.’

‘Confirmation?’ echoed Colbeck.

‘Yes – of what actually happened. The general feeling among the passengers is that the express went too fast around a bend and jumped off the track. In short, the driver was at fault.’

‘That’s a rather hasty verdict to bring in, Captain Ridgeon. It’s very unfair to blame the driver before all the evidence has been gathered, especially as he’s not alive to defend himself.’

‘I’m not sure that he has a defence.’

‘There are recommended speeds for every stretch of the track.’

‘Everyone I’ve spoken to says the same thing,’ argued Ridgeon. ‘The speed was excessive. They were there, Inspector. These people were in the Brighton Express at the time.’

‘That’s precisely the reason I’d doubt their word,’ said Colbeck. ‘Oh, I’m sure they gave an honest opinion and I’m not criticising them in any way. But all the passengers have been through a terrible experience. They’ll be in a state of shock. You have to allow for a degree of exaggeration.’

‘I talk to survivors of accidents all the time,’ Ridgeon told him, eyes blazing, ‘and I know how to get the truth out of them. I won’t have you casting aspersions upon my methods.’

‘I’m not doing so, Captain Ridgeon.’

‘Well, it sounds to me as if you are.’

‘I’d merely point out that there are no bends of any significance on this stretch of line. Indeed, on the whole journey from London to Brighton, you won’t find dangerous curves or problematical gradients.’

Ridgeon stuck out a challenging chin. ‘Are you trying to teach me my job, Inspector?’

‘No, sir,’ said Colbeck, trying to smooth his ruffled feathers with an emollient smile. ‘I simply think that it would be unwise to rush to judgement when you’re not in full possession of the facts.’

‘I’ve garnered rather more of them than you.’

‘That’s not in dispute.’

‘Then have the grace to bow to my superior expertise.’

‘I’ll be interested to read your report,’ said Colbeck, meeting his stern gaze without flinching. ‘Meanwhile, I’d be grateful for the names of the two drivers and the fireman who died.’

‘Why?’ asked Ridgeon.

‘Because, over the years, I’ve become acquainted with many people who work on the railway,’ came the reply. ‘I’ve been summoned twice before by the LB&SCR and got to know a number of their staff.’

Ridgeon consulted the pad he was holding. ‘The driver of the ballast train was Edmund Liversedge and his fireman was Timothy Parke.’ He glanced up at Colbeck who shook his head. ‘The driver of the other locomotive, presumed dead, was in charge of the Brighton Express for the first time, another factor that I have to take into account. Inexperience on the footplate can be fatal.’

‘What was the man’s name, sir?’

‘Frank Pike.’ He saw Colbeck heave a sigh. ‘You know him?’

‘I knew him quite well at one time,’ said Colbeck, coming to a decision and taking a step backward. ‘If you’ll excuse us, Captain Ridgeon, the sergeant and I will get back to London at once. I’ll take upon myself the duty of informing Mrs Pike of the death of her husband. It’s the least I can do for her.’

‘There’s nothing to keep you here, Inspector. The investigation is in safe hands and will not need to involve the Detective Department in any shape or form.’ He flicked a hand. ‘Good day to you.’

‘Oh, we’ll be back first thing tomorrow,’ said Colbeck, resenting the curt dismissal. ‘I want to make a closer examination of the site.’ He gave a disarming smile. ‘You’ll be amazed how different things can look in daylight.’


The Round House was a vast and intricate structure of wrought iron and brick, built to accommodate the turntable used by trains belonging to the London and North Western Railway. Situated in Chalk Farm Road, it was always filled with clamour and action. Since its erection in 1847, it had attracted many visitors but few of them were female and fewer still were as handsome as Madeleine Andrews. In effect, she was a human turntable, making the head of every man there veer round sharply when she entered.

Many engine drivers had taken their young sons to view the interior of the Round House. Caleb Andrews, a short, wiry man whose fringe beard was speckled with grey, was the only one who had taken a daughter armed with a sketch pad. Taller than her father, Madeleine was an alert, intelligent, spirited young woman who had taken over the running of their Camden house when her mother died. Andrews was known at work for his acid tongue and trenchant opinions but his daughter had tamed him at home, coping easily with his shifting moods and taking the edge off his irascibility.

‘There you are, Maddy,’ he said, raising his voice over the din and making a sweeping gesture. ‘What do you think of it?’

She gave a shrug. ‘It’s magnificent,’ she agreed, running her eye over the interior. ‘It’s like an industrial cathedral. It’s even bigger than it looks from outside.’

‘Bigger and noisier – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve driven on to that turntable. It must be hundreds.’

‘Do you think anyone would mind if I made a few sketches?’

‘They wouldn’t dare to mind,’ said Andrews, distributing a warning glare around the circle of railwaymen. ‘Any daughter of mine has special privileges.’

‘Does that mean I can stand on the footplate while an engine is being turned?’ she teased.

He laughed. ‘Even I can’t arrange that for you, Maddy.’

Fiercely proud of her, Andrews stood there with arms akimbo as she began her first quick sketch. Her interest in locomotives was not a casual one. Having discovered an artistic talent, Madeleine had developed it to the point where it had become a source of income. Prints of her railway scenes had been bought by several people. What she had never drawn before, however, was a turntable in action. That was why she had asked her father to take her to the Round House.

Aware of the attention she was getting, she kept her head down and worked swiftly. It was left to Andrews to explain what she was doing and to boast about her modest success as an artist. Any talent she possessed, he was keen to point out, must have been inherited from him. While he chatted to his friends, Madeleine was sketching the locomotive that had just been driven on to the turntable before being swung round so that it could leave frontward. A simple, necessary, mechanical action was carried out with relative ease then the locomotive left with a series of short, sharp puffs of smoke.

Madeleine’s pencil danced over the paper and she scribbled some notes beside each lightning sketch. When she turned her attention to the structure itself, she craned her neck to look up at the domed roof. It was inspiring. The fact that the whole place was bathed in evening shadows somehow made the scene more magical and evocative. She was so absorbed in her work that she did not notice the man who came into the building and spoke earnestly to her father. After his jocular conversation with the others, Andrews was now tense and concerned, plying the newcomer with questions until he had extracted every last detail from him.

On their walk home through the gathering gloom, Madeleine noticed the radical change in her father’s manner. Instead of talking incessantly, as he usually did, he lapsed into a brooding silence.

‘Is anything wrong, Father?’ she asked.

‘I’m afraid that it is.’

She was worried. ‘You’re not in trouble for taking me there, are you? I’d hate to think that I made things awkward for you.’

‘It’s nothing like that, Maddy,’ he told her with an affectionate squeeze of her arm. ‘In fact, it’s nothing

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