Authors: Martin Armstrong
Thou blind mans marke, thou fooles selfe chosen snare
Fond fancies scum, and dregs of scattred thought
Band of all evils, cradle of causelesse care
Thou web of will, whose end is never wrought
SIR PHILIP SIDNEY
In the middle of a wide expanse of reclaimed marshland, divided, like a great patchwork quilt, into fields of every shape, size, and colour, lay the little station of Wilmore Junction. Its buildingsâthe ticket-office, parcels-office, waiting-room, refreshment-room, and the shelter supported on slim iron pillars which roofed the platformâwere all on the
platform, except for a little open-fronted wooden shelter, its walls covered with garish railway-posters and time-tables, was bare of all but gas-lamps and a large board supported on posts announcing the name of the station.
The station buildings had a spinsterish, Victorian air: it seemed as if, in the days of the Prince Consort, an exhibition had been held at Wilmore, and the exhibition buildings, not quite Swiss, not quite Chinese, nor yet wholly Sheraton, had survived to become a wayside railway station. Far along the
platform, continuing the line of the station buildings, was a bay where the branch-line trains arrived and departed. This branch-line, on leaving the station, curved away at once to the southwest, but the main line drove its long spear straight ahead into the plain until it was swallowed by distance.
A main-line train from the north had just left the station. It drew away rapidly, and the end of its van, with the red jewel of the lamp hung between the buffers, had already shrunk to half its natural size. Into the cold, sunny air of early April the engine was pouring a great shining ostrich-plume of smoke which sagged down upon the fields to the right of the line. Its huge, rolling crowns kept breaking away and floating detached along the
surface of the fields, till one by one they thinned and dissolved into clear air.
Adrian Glynde, a little thirteen-year-old boy in a grey overcoat, grey cap and stockings and bare knees, stood on the platform watching the receding train. His hands were in his coat pockets and a suitcase stood on the platform beside him. The porter who had been on the platform when the train arrived and had lifted down his bag for him, had vanished into the parcels-office and there was not another soul in sight. The station was empty of all but silence and sunshine and cold air.
The train, drawing its undulating plume after it, had shrunk already to the size of a very small toy. Adrian, watching it vanish, felt a little lonely. There had been an old lady in the carriage with him, an old lady with a round rosy face and round horn-rimmed spectacles. She had begun talking to him even before the train had started. At first he had been shy, answering her only in monosyllables and all the while looking out of the window at the bookstall and the people who hovered about it like bees, bought a paper, and drifted away again. But at last he had found himself talking to her without embarrassment, and long before the train reached Wilmore they had become great friends. And now she was gone, vanished abruptly out of his life, and he felt a little ache at his heart as he relapsed into his habitual loneliness.
All his brief life he had been a lonely little boy. In nineteen hundred and fifteen, when he was only seven years old, his father had been killed in the war, and thereafter he had seen little of his mother. Though in his heart he longed for her, he had always been half afraid of her, for life with her had been a series of alarming mysteries, tempestuous scenes between her and his father which he himself could not understand. The only thing of which he had been sure was that they were
always his mother's fault. It was always she who started them, and he knew that she did so not for any real reason but because she gave way to a kind of mad wilfulness. He knew that it was her fault not only because he adored his father and felt that he could do no wrong, but also because his mother's behaviour to him was just the same. At one moment she would be petting him and lavishing on him the endearments for which he still hungered; at the next she would be repulsing him, scolding him for some sin of which he was wholly unconscious. He had soon given up trying to understand her and had got into the way of accepting her love, not as a thing to be relied on, but as a blessed and unlooked-for treat, and her hate as an affliction which could not be explained or averted. His father's face during those harrowing scenes still haunted him. Its expression would suddenly and heart-rendingly change, all the colour and life would die out of it and he would grow alarmingly pale, as if he were suffering from a terrible headache. On these occasions Adrian had longed passionately to rush to him and comfort him, but the sinister mystery of the situation had set an impassable barrier between them and he could only gaze at his father in an agony of helpless sympathy.
He often dreamed of his mother, of her tantalising tenderness which delighted him and led him on, only to disappoint him before his heart was satisfied; but most of all he yearned for those rare and rapturous times when his mother went away on some visit and he spent all the time from tea to bed-time with his father, and then, for a treat, was put to bed not in his own little bed in the nursery, but in his father's and mother's bed, where in the morning he would awake to find his father there beside him and they would have long delightful conversations before it was time to get up.
Gazing unseeingly after the train, he had not noticed
that it had now vanished, that not the most distant feather of its smoke brightened the fields; but discovering now that he was gazing at empty space, he turned away with a little sigh and walked towards the refreshment-room. It was already a quarter past one, and the branch-line train did not start till two o'clock. His Aunt Clara had told him to get himself some lunch at the Wilmore refreshment-room when she had written to let him know that he was not to come to her and Uncle Bob at Yarn for the holidays, but was to join them at his grandfather's.
That piece of news had made him very unhappy, for, being a homeless and parentless child, he clung desperately to his precarious anchorage in the home of his father's sister Clara. As the holidays approached he always became more and more anxious lest the hope to spend them with his aunt and uncle at Yarn should be, as it had been more than once, frustrated. And now, just a week before the school broke up, the blow had fallen. Aunt Clara had written to say that they were all three to go to his grandfather's. He had felt, as he read her letter, that his holiday was ruined.
He had never seen much of his grandfather, though he constantly heard about him from Aunt Clara and Uncle Bob, who spoke of him much and often read aloud references to him and his poetry in the newspapers. He had even discovered already that there was a reflected glory in being Oliver Glynde's grandson, for when people heard that he himself was called Glynde they would usually ask if he were related to Oliver, and would be obviously impressed when he said that he was. But the handsome, hawklike, bearded old man with the shock of white hair had always filled him with awe, even though he had always been kind. Besides, he had been looking forward to seeing Rhoda's pups, which had been born
during last holidays, and to going for long adventurous walks with Philip, the Rector's son, with whom he had become great friends at Christmas-time. Now all this was knocked on the head and he would not go to Yarn again till next summerâperhaps not even then, he thought to himself with a sinking heartâif some other unexpected plan was forced upon him.
The woman who served in the Wilmore Junction refreshment-room was roused from her knitting by approaching footsteps, and saw in the doorway a little boy with a face like a small, delicately tinted mask on which were painted thick, dark brows, long eyelashes, and a sad little Pierrot's mouth. He came up to the bar, and she put by her knitting and got up to serve him. For a moment he stood looking shyly at the glass-covered dishes of ham sandwiches, buns, and fruit, then, raising large dark grey eyes to her face, eyes whose colour and unexpected depth surprised and charmed her, he asked for a ham sandwich, a bun, and two bananas.
“Will you have them on a plate or in a bag?” she asked him.
He hesitated, and then said, to her disappointment: “In a bag, please.”
When he had received the paper bag and his change, he went out, and through the window she watched the small lonely figure walk up the platform to the seat near his suitcase, where he sat down and began to open the paper bag. If Bert had not been killed in nineteen-fourteen perhaps they would have had a dear little boy like that. But he would not have had such a sad face, she was sure of that, because they would all three have been so happy together, and even if Bert had been killed later, there would have been their brief ecstasy of married life to remember and the child to preserve for her something of Bert. Ah, if only they had not been so respectable,
had not waited till they could be married. The disgrace would have seemed nothing now compared with the marvellous happiness of having a child of his to live for. With a sigh she resumed her seat behind the glass dishes and steaming urn, and took up her knitting again.
Seated on the station bench, Adrian began to eat his ham sandwich. He was hungry and the sandwich seemed to him very good. It was pleasant to sit there in the sun, and he wished he could just go on sitting, free from the necessity of catching another train and travelling to a strange place. If only Aunt Clara and Uncle Bob would always stay at Yarn so that the holidays and the prospect of holidays could be happy and secure. Or if his mother would come home from India, take him to live with her, and be always, as she had been sometimes, cheerful and kind and loving. Or, best of all, if only his father were alive now and they could have a home together with his mother always away on one unending visit. But that idea was too heavenly to have been ever possible.
His mind busied itself again with his mother and father, and, dreaming with the half-eaten sandwich in his hand, he recalled a terrible day when his mother had broken out more violently than usual. His father in those days generally came home in time for tea at halfpast four, but on that day he had been late and Adrian and his mother had sat waiting in the drawing-room with the tea ready on the table. They waited for a quarter of an hour, twenty minutes, half an hour, and he had grown very hungry. He could see by his mother's face that she was in one of her moods, and for a long time he had not spoken to her but had glanced at her surreptitiously from time to time as she sat, with her mouth grimly set, staring at the fire. At last he had asked if they need wait for his father.
“If your father chooses to keep us waiting,” she had replied, still staring at the fire, “we must wait.” Then she had glanced at Adrian. “My poor child,” she said, “are you getting very hungry? I'm sure you are. It's simply heartless of him.”
Then with a quick, impatient gesture she had rung the bell. “Janet,” she said when the maid came, “take away the tea: it will be ruined by now.”