The Monparnasse train wreck on October 22, 1895 causes British railway companies to worry about sabotage and terrorism. Richard Carr, a consulting engineer, is invited -- well, commanded -- to attend a meeting in Edinburgh to consider how to address the issue. To throw newspapers off the scent, those invited are told to pretend they are taking a few days holiday, so Richard brings his younger wife Amelia.
As the night train steams northwards, Richard remembers a lifetime of work and love.
The letter from the Chairman of the Board of the Great Northern Railway was exceedingly long for what was, essentially, a summons to a meeting in Edinburgh on November 1. On October 22, 1895, the combination of a train trying to make up lost time and a failure of the Westinghouse Air Brakes ended with the locomotive one hundred feet beyond the buffer and outside the front glazing of the Gare Montparnasse in Paris. A woman was killed by falling masonry. The locomotive was at a steep angle, with its front bogeys resting on the pavement while the tender was mostly inside the station building, as were the passenger carriages. There were rumours that there could have been tampering with the brakes. In the light of the ongoing competition between trains of the GNR and its North East Railway partner along the East Coast route and the London and North West Railway using the Western track, the company wanted to ensure the safety of its passengers and trains. And, of course, its profits.
I have done rather well as a consulting engineer for a variety of industrial clients, including the railways. In the light of the current competition, becoming known in the newspapers as the Race to the North, I had agreed to work only for the GNR/NER partnership. For this, my per diem fee was increased by 50%. I kept some work outside the railways. Indeed I had just been engaged by a company that exhibited at the Horseless Carriage Exhibition held in the Agricultural Show Grounds on October 15 here in Tunbridge Wells. As far as I know, this is the first exhibition of motor cars in Britain.
The summons, as I shall call it, arrived on Wednesday, October 30. To avoid alerting anyone that there were concerns of possible sabotage, the meeting would be in Edinburgh rather than London. Moreover, I was instructed that I should bring a companion so that my journey would appear to be a pleasure trip. I was to telegraph my consent as "Lunch at one acceptable" to a name and address I did not recognize.
After apprising Amelia of the letter – indeed I let her read it – I sent the telegram. The letter gave instructions about travel and accommodation with an address in London where tickets and, happily, an advance on expenses would be waiting. I put the letter away in my briefcase along with some papers I gathered relating to braking of trains and secured the lock. Not trusting that the advance would be generous, and content to indulge Amelia, I opened my strongbox and ensured my wallet and her reticule were comfortably supplied.
We informed Betty, our maid, that we would be going to Scotland for personal matters for a few days, planning to return on Tuesday night unless we telegraphed otherwise. She was to inform cook, our housekeeper Hilda, and our occasional yard man. I added that as long as the necessary house duties were complete and security maintained, they could arrange their own timetable. This news was gratefully – perhaps more than gratefully – received. Many people in my position might have more servants. I had grown up in comfortable but modest circumstances, as had Amelia. We were both imposters to the upper middle class..