Duck winced as the rock flew up past his face and struck his funnel at an angle. This wasn’t an altogether unusual occurrence, except this was the first time he felt cool air whistle through to the inside afterwards.
“Oh dear,” he said.
“That didn’t sound good,” said his Driver.
“It doesn’t feel good,” admitted Duck.
“We’ll take a look at it once we get back to the Shed.”
Duck hoped it wasn’t anything serious. The Summer holiday makers would be arriving soon, and the Little Western couldn’t afford to be behind schedule.
“Well that’s done it,” said his Driver. Duck frowned as he felt a pair of boots move across the top of his boiler. “Cracked perfectly right down the middle. If I hadn’t seen it myself I’d say you did it on purpose, old boy.”
“Hairline, I’m sure!” said Duck matter-of-factly. “A simple weld will square that away.”
“Not so, I’m afraid,” laughed his driver. “I can see sunlight through it.”
Duck wanted to weesh but he was wary of startling his driver, so he refrained. “Surely there’s something we can do? The summer holiday makers–” he protested.
Just then, Oliver chuffed up. “I know that’s not Duck I hear, arguing with his crew!” he said, raising an eyebrow.
“We were not, we– we were having a discussion,” said Duck carefully as his Driver clambered down off one of his tanks.
“About that gaping hole in your funnel?” teased Oliver, and laughter could be heard coming from both engines’ cabs.
“Hairline crack!” Duck spluttered. “And I don’t see what’s so funny. This will put us behind schedule unless we can find a way to fix it by tomorrow.”
“And what do you know about hair?” asked his Driver, trying and failing to stifle a chuckle.
“A lot more than most engines” chimed his Fireman. “He even went to the barber once.”
Duck was not bothered by teasing, but he was bothered by not being taken seriously. “Hilarious,” he said, in a way that indicated he didn’t think it was.
“Just go to the Steamworks,” said Oliver. “They’ll fix it.”
“And set our timetables back by hours on the first day of Summer? No, sir!” said Duck. “There must be some way to patch it up. Maybe that tape Fireman likes so well?” He looked up, hopeful.
“Oh that will be a sight,” said Oliver cheerfully. “Your tall black funnel with a great grey stripe around it.”
“Don’t you have work to be doing?” asked Duck, scrutinizing him.
“Not at the moment, no,” said Oliver, unbothered. “But I can take your next job if you’d like to go to the Steamworks now to have your funnel fixed.”
Duck glared. He didn’t like the smug look Oliver was wearing.
“No I don’t think I will, thank you,” said Duck. Oliver’s smug smile only grew.
“Suit yourself,” said Oliver, eyes looking skyward. “I do worry what the passengers might think though. S’not The Way, is it, to chuff about in obvious need of mending.”
“They’ll think I’m Useful and reliable,” dismissed Duck, “and that I don’t let a small thing like a hairline crack make them late.”
“Maybe, maybe,” supposed Oliver. “More likely they’ll see your funnel hangin’ on by a piece of tape and a prayer and wonder what sort of tin-pot Railway this is that can’t keep its engines in one piece. Then they might get to wonderin’ what other slapdash repairs you might be hidin’. If an engine’s crew’ll tape up his funnel, who knows what else they’d do. Why, you could be a deathtrap for all they’d know!”
Duck scowled, but said nothing. He could hear his crew snickering quietly in his cab.
“And then they might start askin’ themselves what a Railway that can’t even keep its engines in proper repair is doing bandyin’ about the Great Western name for,” said Oliver as gravely as he could muster without laughing.
“I see what you’re doing,” huffed Duck. He sounded tired.
“Just go get it fixed,” soothed Oliver, all traces of smugness suddenly gone. “Donald and Douglas can handle most of the Goods trains, I can take whatever’s left as well as your passengers, and Daisy and Ryan will be happy to help if need-be.”
“I just– There will be delays…”
Oliver rolled his eyes and smiled. “Have a little faith, Duck. The Little Western won’t go to pot if you leave for one day .”
“I’m not so sure,” said Duck, but he returned a weak smile. “Alright. I’ll go. Tomorrow morning,” he said firmly. “I’ll have Driver call ahead so they’ll be expecting me. With any luck I can get back before you run my Branch Line into the ground.”
“There’s a good engine,” said Oliver with an encouraging peep. “I knew you’d see sense!”