A Railway Story


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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM JESSIE LANSDEL

A Railway Story

September 10th 1874

 It was on the chilly platform at Norwich railway station that I first saw him. I was awaiting the arrival of the 9.30 pm express to Great Yarmouth where I would be spending a long,  tedious, week-end with relatives and I was feeling grumpy and out-of- sorts at the prospect.  The September weather hadn’t helped to alleviate my pessimistic outlook either. It had rained earlier leaving a miasma of cold and damp compelling me to pull the collar of my overcoat up towards my chin and stamp my feet as I peered along the platform hoping for a glimpse of my train. And it was then that I noticed him.

He stood a little closer to the edge of the platform than me, so all I could see was that he was young, tall and fair. Every so often he rubbed his gloved hands together as people do when they are cold or indeed, anxious. He, too had pulled the collar of his smart fawn overcoat up, partially obscuring his face. But I could still see the lock of hair which fell across his brow, and a longish, straight nose above the collar’s edge.

I guessed he was travelling alone as I’d not seen him look at, much less speak with, anyone else nearby. I hoped he would alight at Yarmouth, though God knows why; as I couldn’t exactly rush up to him and introduce myself, or tell him how I’d admired him at Norwich. Apart from the fact he’d probably think I was stark mad, I’d probably get myself arrested. Two years hard labour and social ostracization was not a happy thought.

Finally, the 21:30 clanked and puffed its way into the station and, amidst clouds of steam,  crowds of passengers who’d disembarked and those waiting to board, I lost sight of him. I made my way to the carriage, found a vacant seat and made myself as comfortable as possible; my thoughts still on the young man as the whistle blew, a flag waved, and with a lurching rattle the train moved slowly from the platform and out of the station.

I was disappointed that he had not chosen my carriage and I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t see him again. I hoped I was wrong; I’d never felt so drawn to anyone as I had to him. All I could reasonably hope for now was that his destination was Yarmouth and, from there Fate would take a hand. I had sighed inwardly; some hope.

I wasn’t to know then that I would be seeing him again much sooner than expected, and in the most dreadful of circumstances.

I guessed that we were barely fifteen minutes out of Norwich and I had just taken a book from my portmanteau to help while away the journey. There was no warning, only the banshee scream of the locomotive’s whistle, then the most deafening thudding crash I have ever heard in my life. The world was turned upside down as carriages were thrown from the rails, to land as ours had on their side. Women and children screamed and wailed in terror, others were struck dumb with shock.

Most were lucky in my carriage and we managed to escape the wreckage by climbing, with some difficulty, through a window on the upside. Those who were deemed too badly injured to move were left in situ to wait for more experienced hands to administer to their needs.

But no one could have prepared me for the scenes I witnessed once free from the wreck. The trains had smashed into each other with such terrific force that they and the following carriages had formed into a huge and ghastly pyramid. Other coaches were squashed almost beyond recognition; whilst some had been forced from the rails and down the embankment.

It was raining heavily now and through my own fog of confusion and shock, I could hear, above the moans and cries of the injured, the hissing of steam as the deluge fell upon the dying fires of the doomed locomotives.

I began to walk, or rather stagger, along the muddy embankment amidst scenes of absolute carnage. People lay where they had been thrown or had managed to crawl, some still moving and crying piteously. Others ominously still.

A little further on, I saw, lying propped up against the bank, a man. He was still very much alive and, anxious to be of assistance I picked my way over to where he lay.

And dear God, it was him. The young man from the station. His face was bleeding and his fair hair was matted with blood and dirt, but it was unmistakably him.

He looked me full in the face as I knelt down next to him, “It’s you”, he said. And winced with pain as he spoke.

“You saw me, at the station?” I was surprised as I hadn’t noticed him look my way once while I had been gazing admiringly at him.

“Yes, I did, of course I did” he groaned as he shifted slightly, “But…oh God, my leg, it hurts”.

“You’ve probably broken it” I said, ” try and keep still until help arrives”.

Despite the wet and the cold, I removed my own overcoat, rolled it into a bundle and placed it behind his head. It was all I could think to do under the circumstances. He smiled up at me, “Thank you, that feels much better..er, I don’t know your name”.

“George”, I said, “George Lennard”.

“I’m Robert”, he said with a grimace of pain, “Robert Ashmore”.

And as chaos reigned around us, there we were, introducing ourselves as we might have done in any drawing room or gentleman’s club. And in between his spasms of pain, we talked, confiding more in those moments than either of us would have dreamt of doing under normal circumstances. And I learnt as much about Robert as he did about me.

Then, as the rescue parties arrived from Norwich, he gripped my hand, saying as he did so, “You won’t leave me, George, will you? Please, stay with me”.

“No, I promise I won’t leave you, Robert. Not now”.

And I kept my word. I didn’t leave him. We are still together over a year later. Robert is fully recovered from his injuries as I am. (A cut to my head and a twisted ankle. I was very lucky)

It is not easy for either of us. We keep separate accommodation, he on one side of the city and I on the other, but we manage; and as long as our love continues I have no complaints.

Today, it is Christmas Eve 1875 and we have decided to make that same railway journey. Our plan  is to buy last minute gifts and then to visit my relatives. My feelings towards them are much more charitable these days I’m happy to say.

Now, as the train approaches the place where the accident occurred, Robert discreetly reaches for my hand. As I turn to him, I see his face, white and tense, and I smile, squeeze his hand and whisper, “Don’t be nervous, I’m here, I won’t leave you, not now”.

“Thank you, love”, he whispers back, “and…. Happy Christmas, George”.

Jessie has been penning stories since childhood. But an interest in the paranormal and a visit to Borley in Essex, the sight of the famous haunted rectory gave her the idea for a short story about the haunting which in turn made her think, what if? and awakened her interest in Gay Historical Fiction.

Jessie divides her time between Norwich and Ipswich. When not writing, she also loves photography, walking, reading, history and blogging. She is also an avid supporter of Gay Rights.

Jessie’s blog, Defying Leviticus can be found HERE

 

Advent Calendar Giveaway!

For one extremely lucky commenter, I will be giving away an app for up to £5 for either an iPod Touch, iPad or iPhone, or a £5 Amazon Book token. It’s your choice. :) –  Jessie.

The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this - just save them up for Christmas Eve.)

Which of these woods are traditionally used for white chess pieces?

(a) Mistletoe
(b) Holly
(c) Ivy

34 Responses

  1. Aw, lovely. And somehow, subtly, you set the scene for the crash because I suddenly thought of the book I just read about the first railway murder, and that was at the point they’d only just got on board.

    I love Great Yarmouth – or used to as a child. Magical place.

    • Thanks Charlie. I got the idea for this after spending a week at Brundall near where the crash happened. That’s a lovely little village. I think you’d find Yarmouth has changed a lot now. Not all for the better I fear. Some memories are best left unsullied by reality I reckon.

  2. I love stories like these, made out of real events!

  3. A little pleasant tale, nice!

  4. Awwwwwww—-quite touching! Makes me want to know more about those two, and what happened next….

    (And as an inconsequential aside…. I had a look at the close-up of the newspaper page. Wouldn’t the artists have had to work very quickly indeed, back in the day before photography was used, to keep on top of things and get the paper illustrated.)

    • I’m old enough to remember when they didn’t allow cameras in courtrooms, or in Congress, and so there were court artists who had watercolors ready for the evening news! Some of my earliest memories of news broadcasts have the paintings of the Watergate hearings.

    • Lol. Yes, I can just imagine the man with his sketch pad ripping off his drawing, handing to his assistant saying “Get that to Fleet Street by Next Week” 😀 Cheers Fred.

  5. Such a sweet story. So vivid with the crash, and making me want to know more of their stories!

  6. Super super story, Jess. and I love the illustrations.

  7. Ah, that was sweet! A long time since i’ve been to Great Yarmouth. Ah family holidays…..

  8. A great story there.

  9. Wow , this was a cute little story and I loved the pics.

  10. Great story! Please count me in. Thanks!

  11. Gosh, that was a relief. I was so expecting a sad ending so it was a pleasant surprise to find out at least the two of them ended up – happily ever after :)

  12. As usual, dear, absolutely lovely. This is one of your most beautiful pieces to date, I think!

  13. Lovely story, thanks for sharing. The start reminded me of taking the boys on the Sherringham to Holt steam line. I thought it would be a fun educational experience for the boys (they were still at primary school). I enjoyed it but they were less than impressed.

  14. Thank you for the marvelous story.

  15. Just lovely! Railways evoke so much in my mind…

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