whatsoever to do with the LNWR. While you were drawing in there, Nat Ruggles passed on some disturbing news to me. There’s been a bad accident.’


‘On the Brighton line.’

‘What happened?’

‘According to Nat, there was a collision between two trains the other side of the Balcombe tunnel. I suppose the only consolation is that it happened in open country and not in the tunnel itself.’

‘Nor on the Ouse Viaduct,’ she noted.

‘That would have been a terrible calamity, Maddy. If the viaduct was destroyed in a crash, the line would be closed indefinitely. Nobody would be able to take an excursion train to the seaside,’ he pointed out. ‘As it is, there are bound to be deaths and serious injuries. The Brighton Express would have been going at a fair speed and you know how poor the braking system is.’ He showed a flash of temper. ‘All that those brainless engineers think about is making trains go faster and faster. It’s high time someone designed a means of stopping them.’

He fell silent again and Madeleine left him to his thoughts. She knew how upset he was at the news of any railway accidents. He was always uncomfortably reminded of how hazardous his own job was. Andrews had courted disaster on more than one occasion but always escaped it. There was a camaraderie among railwaymen that meant a tragedy on one line was mourned by every rival company. There was no gloating. With regard to the LB&SCR, Caleb Andrews had even more reason for alarm. He had many friends who worked for the company and feared that one or more of them had been involved.

When they reached the house, they let themselves in. Having met his daughter at the end of his day’s shift, Andrews was still in his working clothes. He removed his cap and slumped into a chair.

‘I’ll make some supper,’ offered Madeleine.

‘Not for me.’

‘You have to eat something, Father. You must be starving.’

‘I couldn’t touch a thing, Maddy,’ he said with a grimace. ‘I don’t think I’d be able to keep it down. Just leave me be, there’s a good girl. I have too many things on my mind.’

It was late evening when Robert Colbeck arrived at the house and he was pleased to see a light in the living room. After paying the cab driver and sending him on his way, he knocked on the door. When it was opened by Madeleine, she let out a spontaneous cry of delight.

‘Robert! What are you doing here?’

‘At the moment,’ he said with a warm smile, ‘I’m enjoying that look of surprise on your face.’ He gave her a token kiss. ‘I’m sorry to turn up on your doorstep so late, Madeleine.’

‘You’re welcome whatever time you come,’ she said, standing back so that he could step into the house. She closed the front door behind him. ‘It’s lovely to see you so unexpectedly.’

‘Good evening, Mr Andrews,’ he said, doffing his top hat.

Deep in thought, the engine driver did not even hear him.

‘You must excuse Father,’ said Madeleine in a whisper. ‘He’s been upset by news of an accident on the Brighton line. Let’s go on through to the kitchen, shall we?’

‘But it was the accident that brought me here,’ explained Colbeck. ‘As it happens, I’ve just returned from the site.’

‘What’s that?’ asked Andrews, hearing him this time and getting up instantly from his chair. ‘You know something about the crash?’

‘Yes, Mr Andrews.’

‘Tell me everything.’

‘Give Robert a proper greeting first,’ chided Madeleine.

‘This is important to me, Maddy.’

‘I appreciate that, Mr Andrews,’ said Colbeck, ‘and that’s why I came. If we could all sit down, I’ll be happy to give you the full details. I don’t think you should hear them standing up.’

‘Why not?’

‘Just do as Robert suggests, Father,’ said Madeleine.

‘Well?’ pressed Andrews as he resumed his seat.

Sitting on the sofa, Colbeck took a deep breath. ‘It was a head-on collision,’ he told them. ‘Six people were killed and dozens were badly injured.’

‘Do you know who was on the footplate at the time?’

‘Yes, Mr Andrews. The driver of the ballast train was Edmund Liversedge. His fireman was Timothy Parke.’

Andrews shook his head. ‘I don’t know either of them.’

‘Their families are being informed of their deaths, as we speak.’

‘What about the express?’

‘The fireman was the only survivor on the footplate. He managed to jump clear before the crash. His name is John Heddle.’

‘Heddle!’ repeated the other. ‘That little monkey. I remember him when he was a cleaner for the LNWR. He was always in trouble. In the end, he was sacked.’ He scratched his beard. ‘So he’s made something of himself, after all, has he? Good for him. I never thought John Heddle would become a fireman.’

‘What about the driver?’ said Madeleine.

‘It appears that he was killed instantly,’ said Colbeck.

After looking from one to the other, he lowered his voice. ‘I’m afraid that I have some distressing news for you. The driver was Frank Pike.’

Madeleine was shocked and her father turned white. Frank Pike was more than a friend of the family. Andrews had been seriously injured during the train robbery that had brought Robert Colbeck into his life. The fireman that day had been Frank Pike and Colbeck had been impressed by his loyalty and steadfastness. He had been even more impressed by Madeleine Andrews and what had begun as a meeting in disturbing circumstances had blossomed over the years into something far more than a mere friendship.

‘I felt that you ought to know as soon as possible,’ Colbeck went on. ‘It seemed to me that you and Madeleine might prefer to be there when I break the news to his wife. Mrs Pike is sure to be sitting at home, wondering why her husband has not come back from work. She’s going to need a lot of support.’

‘Then Rose will get it from us,’ promised Madeleine. ‘This will be a crushing blow. She was so proud when Frank became a driver.’

‘It’s the reason he left the LNWR,’ recalled Andrews, sorrowfully. ‘They refused to promote him. The only way he could be a driver was to move to another company so that’s what he did. Frank Pike was the best fireman I ever had,’ he said, wincing. ‘I’ll miss him dreadfully.’ His eyes flicked to Colbeck. ‘Do you know what caused the accident?’

‘No,’ replied the detective, ‘and I was very sceptical about the one theory that was put forward. It was suggested that the express train went too fast around a bend and came off the rails as a result. Is that the kind of thing you’d expect of Frank Pike?’

‘Not in a hundred years!’ said Andrews, red with anger. ‘Frank would always err on the side of safety. I should know – I taught him.’ He jumped up and struck a combative pose. ‘Who’s been spreading lies about him?’

‘It’s just a foolish idea starting to take root.’

‘It’s more than foolish – it’s an insult to Frank!’

‘Don’t shout, Father,’ said Madeleine, trying to calm him.

‘Isn’t it enough that the poor man has been killed doing his job?’ yelled Andrews. ‘Why do they have to blacken his name by claiming that the accident was his fault? It’s wrong, Maddy. It’s downright cruel, that’s what it is.’

‘I agree with you wholeheartedly, Mr Andrews,’ said Colbeck, ‘and I’m sure that Pike will be exonerated when the full truth is known. Meanwhile, however, I don’t believe you should let this idle speculation upset you and I strongly advise you against making any mention of it to his widow.’

‘That’s right,’ said Madeleine. ‘We must consider Rose’s feelings.’

Вы читаете Murder on the Brighton Express
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату