The walking carriage made its way through the idyllic English countryside with an alarming clanking. It was an old, creaky thing with only seven working mechanical legs that Lord D’arville had acquired at a somewhat alarming expense. It was, as Lord D’arville’s accounts manager had assured us, too big to fail. It looked exactly the right size to fail, but the three of us had boarded it just the same.
I sat as still as I could while being thrown around by something ancient and probably steam-powered and looked dead ahead: into the well-wrapped bosom of my great-aunt-Estelle. Estelle had an enormous stomach, and a bust that would dwarf Sweden, and could only keep it contained within the most unusual of attire. The most expensive tailors in the land had wrapped my aunt in something that was both the cutting edge of couture and also, very definitely, a carpet.
“I do hope the ghastly peasantry aren’t too visible today. One seldom likes to be forced to interact with hoi polloi!” Estelle opined. She laughed uproariously, her squat buttery hands waving up and down with amusement.
It. Was. Captivating. I couldn’t look away. In the way that you just couldn’t look away from a whale-carcass dropped from a great height onto unsuspecting citizenry. Her grotesque waggling arms sent little ripples of fringing in waves across the Persian-decorated ocean of her body. If you listened closely, over the rumbling of the carriage-wheels and occasional *sproing* of the fashionably uncomfortable seats, you could hear the whalebone ghosts of Aunt Estelle’s corsetry screaming.
And then suddenly, the carriage came to a screeching halt and everyone rocked sideways. I was thrown unceremoniously into the pile of cigar butts and betting slips that was Osric, Estelle’s husband and my Uncle in Law.
“What’s the matter? Are we there? Who’s dead? What’s the matter?” Osric demanded, waking with a wheezing cough. Before I could answer him, however, we were both squashed against the door by the slow-rolling, ponderous mass of Estelle, whose bulk was finally feeling the effects of the sudden stop.
I could taste Osric’s cigar-smoke on my lips. It burst from him, stirring up like a sudden colony of undiscovered-moths as he assumed gaseous form. I was grateful for the sudden space and breathing room that it afforded me as it meant I was crushed slightly less against Estelle’s expensive expanse. Still, I’m sure I breathed a bit of him in and that can’t be good for a growing boy.
Osric reformed outside the carriage, opting to clad himself in a plum coloured dressing gown, replete with pipe. He walked round to the driver’s seat, atop and afront the carriage. “Now what on Earth is the holdup this time?” He demanded.
I couldn’t see much, pressed against the window as I was, but I heard the driver’s five-word reply with the exact perfect mix of fear and excitement to stir thoughts of adventure in a fourteen year old boy.
“It’s the Clockwork Highwayman, sir.”
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