Duke had been surrounded by fitters and people from the Railway Board all morning. He was tired of being inside.
“My pistons are stiff,” he groused. “I’ve seen enough of the indoors for a lifetime. I want to feel the sun on my running boards.”
“We can let you into the Yard,” agreed his Driver. “But you’ll have to stay put while we finish the safety checks. Can’t have you breaking down tomorrow on your big day.”
“What cheek!” scoffed Duke. “Are all you Drivers so impertinent these days?” But he was pleased when they released his brakes and let him steam forward out of the Shed.
The Yard was unusually crowded. Most of the little engines had been pulled from duty early for cleanup and general maintenance ahead of tomorrow’s celebrations. Skarloey, Rheneas, Peter Sam, and Sir Handel were happy to see Duke out and about.
“Oh, Granpuff!” peeped Peter Sam excitedly. “You do look splendid!”
“Much better than when they found you,” teased Sir Handel. “The Small Controller told us you were very dusty.”
“Better dusty than rusty,” said Duke. “Which is what I would have been if these crewmen had sheeted me back then. I tell you, Drivers and Firemen these days aren’t what they used to be–”
Peter Sam and Sir Handel exchanged knowing looks.
The engines carried on for some time like this until they heard a familiar beep-boop.
“Hullo!” Rusty rolled into the Yard, fresh off a final round of inspections. “Oh, Duke, it’s lovely to see you out. I don’t believe we’ve properly met, I’m Rusty!”
Duke’s eyes flicked to Rusty’s sides, then back again. “I can read,” he replied curtly. “Tell me, where is your funnel?”
Rusty’s face froze in an awkward smile. “My– Sorry?”
“Your funnel. It’s missing,” said Duke. “And why is your boiler square? Are you some sort of tram?”
“Granpuff!” peeped Sir Handel abruptly. “You can’t just ask engines why they’re square!”
“Rusty is a diesel engine,” soothed Peter Sam. “I suppose you’ve never met one before, have you?”
“I have not,” said Duke, looking Rusty up and down. “So where does your steam come out?”
The sound of stifled laughter could be heard coming from Skarloey and Rheneas’s direction.
Sir Handel flushed red and weeshed. “Enough!”
Rusty looked between Sir Handel and Duke before Peter Sam piped up.
“Rusty, why don’t you go to the washdown? You must be in need of one after all your hard work.”
Peter Sam gave Rusty a pleading look as Sir Handel and Duke started squabbling.
“Uppity youngster! Did you lose all your manners after getting sold off?”
“Talk of manners!” exclaimed Sir Handel.
“You know what, a washdown sounds like a fine idea.” Rusty beat a hasty retreat back out of the Yard.
Duncan was already at the washdown when Rusty arrived. He was dozing as his crew scrubbed down his cab and boiler. It was rare to catch Duncan with his brow unfurrowed and his mouth not turned down in a scowl. He looked oddly serene.
Rusty gave a hearty beep-boop, startling Duncan and causing him to hoot abruptly in return.
“Rusty…” replied Duncan gruffly, blinking the sleep from his eyes.
“Did you have a nice run today?”
“Och! Obviously not.” scoffed Duncan. “They give those other engines a holiday and work us to the frames. It’s shameful! Though–” he said, looking Rusty up and down. “You don’t look like you did much work at all. You’re hardly dirty.”
“Oh, it was just some routine inspection work,” said Rusty sheepishly.
Duncan raised a brow. “So why are you here?”
“Well,” Rusty’s gaze flicked downward. “I think I might have caused some trouble in the Yard.”
“Oh? You? Causin’ trouble?” Duncan was very interested now. “What did you do?”
“I don’t really know,” said Rusty. “Duke was in the Yard–”
“Tin can,” muttered Duncan.
Rusty ignored him. “He started asking me questions about me being a diesel. I guess he’s never met one before.”
“Ha! Like a new engine!” Duncan looked delighted.
“He asked me why my boiler is square and where my steam comes out.”
“Och! Some Duke’s engine!” said Duncan with offence. “Imagine being so vulgar.”
“You’ve said worse to me,” said Rusty crossly.
“Mibbe,” Duncan’s face was thoughtful now. “But only because I didnae know you back then.”
“You said I left an oil slick on the tracks. Yesterday.”
“I were only teasin’!”
“You’re full of it.” Rusty smiled and they both laughed.
“But,” Duncan’s face suddenly became serious, “if that new engine gives you trouble again–” he narrowed his eyes and let off a little steam. “You let me know.”
“Thank you, Duncan,” said Rusty with a little eye-roll. “But he really didn’t give me any trouble. I don’t think he meant it to be rude.”
“But you said there was trouble,” said Duncan, confused. “If Duke didnae upset you, what was all the fuss about?”
“He upset Peter Sam and Sir Handel! He asked if I was a tram and they all started arguing. And then Peter Sam said I should go to the washdown. I think he just wanted me out of the Yard.”
Duncan tutted in a way that reminded Rusty of Rheneas. “Honestly, the way these engines conduct themselves! Is it any wonder their Railway closed down? You have as much right to be in that Yard as any engine. Why, if I’d been there–” and he launched into a long spiel which lasted through the rest of both their washdowns and all the way back to the Shed.
When they returned, the sky had already begun to grow dark. Peter Sam and Sir Handel sat outside talking. Sir Handel whispered something to Peter Sam, and they both looked up expectantly as Rusty and Duncan drew closer.
“Good evening,” peeped Peter Sam.
“Only thing ‘good’ about it is that it’s not tomorrow yet,” replied Duncan, rolling his eyes. “But we might as well get today over with. ‘Night all.” And he steamed past the assemblage into the Shed.
“Goodnight Duncan,” called Rusty after him. “Suppose I’ll turn in as well, then.”
“About that–” cut in Peter Sam. “Sir Handel and I were talking and we– well it’s just that your spot in the Shed is right next to where Duke is going to sleep so–”
“We thought it’d be better if you switched spots with me for tonight,” finished Sir Handel. He said it as though the matter were decided.
Rusty looked between the two of them, searching for some sign they were joking and finding none.
“Just for the night!” said Peter Sam.
“Or maybe a few,” muttered Sir Handel.
“Duke can sleep next to me if he likes,” said Rusty uncertainly. “One spot’s as good as another.”
“Then you won’t mind taking mine!” said Sir Handel. He flashed a smile that wasn’t nearly as charming as he thought it was.
“We just don’t want him to bother you again,” said Peter Sam pleadingly.
Rusty suddenly felt very tired.
“Alright, fine.” Rusty reversed onto an adjacent track.
“Thank you,” whispered Peter Sam gratefully.
“Of course,” said Rusty flatly, pulling past him and into the spot in the Shed where Sir Handel usually sat. “See you two tomorrow.”
“Goodnight!” they peeped back.
With that, Rusty drifted off to sleep, brow creased and mouth turned down in a frown.
The morning started early, as it always did for the steam engines. The sun was barely up, but Duke was in as good a mood as the other engines had yet seen him.
“Looks like good weather today,” he said, pleased. “His Grace did so enjoy these sorts of mornings. ‘Nothing like the smell of a steam engine in Autumn,’ he’d say.”
“Oh, is that what he’d say, Granpuff? You never mentioned.” Sir Handel grinned and Peter Sam stifled a laugh.
“It was a morning just like this,” continued Duke, as though he hadn’t been interrupted, “that I once showed a young blue engine how to tackle the Mountain Road, and ended up having to pull him back onto the line when he went over the side.”
This time Peter Sam’s laughter was joined by a hearty guffaw from Duncan.
“Speaking of young engines,” said Duke, his eyes drifting over to where Rusty sat, still asleep. “Where is that engine’s Driver and Fireman? This is not a day for sleeping in. Wake up, little diesel!”
“Granpuff,” whispered Peter Sam, horrified. “Don’t shout! Rusty doesn’t need to wake up as early as the rest of us.”
“Rusty,” yawned Duncan, “doesnae have a cold firebox what needs four hours to heat up.” He made no attempt to hide the envy in his voice.
“I don’t understand,” said Duke. “If the coaches for the Special are late, that would never suit–”
“Oh, enough about His Grace!” peeped Sir Handel.
Duke spluttered turning bright, furious red. “Why, I never–!”
“Never managed to learn tact nor sense? I’ll say!”
“Please, let’s not argue about it!”
And the Shed erupted into a cacophony of shouts and whistles and steam.
A little voice from the far corner of the Shed rang out above the noise. The other engines fell silent as Rusty, now fully awake, glared at each of them in turn.
“What on earth are you all arguing about?” asked Rusty crossly.
“Duke didn’t quite understand that you don’t need your firebox warmed up,” quavered Peter Sam.
“We were just trying to keep things peaceable,” added Sir Handel.
“Well done,” snapped Rusty. Peter Sam and Sir Handel stood shocked!
“You said you wanted to keep Duke from bothering me, but it’s you two who’ve been more of a nuisance! Maybe if you’d asked me how I felt about it, instead of sending me out of the Yard or playing musical berths, things would be more ‘peaceable’ around here.”
Peter Sam and Sir Handel looked at one another, and then at Duke, who for his part was looking at Rusty with something resembling awe.
“If you see Driver, tell him I’m ready to leave when he is,” said Rusty tersely, before closing both eyes. “In the meantime, I would like a little more sleep. Not that anyone asked.”
The rest of the Shed sat in stunned silence for a few moments.
“This is why,” said Duncan finally, “I believe in the value of plain speakin’.”
No one had anything to say to that.
Around mid-morning, Duke arrived at Skarloey Station and took his place at the platform to await the coaches for the Special. A short while later, Rusty bustled in with the train and a suspiciously cheerful beep-boop.
“Your coaches are in place, Duke,” said Rusty brightly. “You are free to back up at your leisure!”
Duke raised an eyebrow but did not reply verbally, instead whistling thrice to signal his intent to reverse. He maneuvered carefully, stopping just shy of the train’s buffers.
“Still got it,” he murmured to himself, whistling once to signal that he was coupled up. The response honk came back louder than expected as Rusty pulled up alongside Duke at the next platform.
“That was grand,” said Rusty, grinning. “You make it look so easy, but I imagine you’re an expert at it by now, not having buffers and all.”
Duke, surprised, only cleared his throat and averted his eyes, mumbling something noncommittal to the track in front of him.
“It’s okay,” said Rusty almost pityingly. “You can talk to me.”
“The youngsters said I shouldn’t,” grumbled Duke. “Said I might offend you. I suppose they think I’m ignorant, now that they’re so worldly.” As he said this, his face fell and he looked a little sad.
“I didn’t know everything when I first came to the Railway either,” said Rusty. “I think Peter Sam and Sir Handel have been here so long, they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be new. But I really don’t mind questions. I’ll try to answer them as best I can.”
Duke looked up at Rusty. He didn’t look quite convinced.
“And then you can tell me how you manage without buffers and what it was like knowing Peter Sam and Sir Handel in the old days,” added Rusty with a wink.
Duke’s expression brightened. “Splendid! If you don’t mind my asking, what is it that makes your smoke smell so peculiar?”
Rusty laughed and told Duke all about diesel fuel and exhaust vents and start-up buttons, until it was time for him to leave.