Authors: Marjorie Moore
Patricia had missed her only chance.
Patricia stared at the letter in her hands in shocked disbelief. In a few emotion-filled words, Seymour had declared his love for her
the one thing for which she had never quite ceased to hope.
But the letter was months old
and Seymour was now engaged to the delightful Maimie.
Patricia let her mind roam back to the wonderful two days she
d spent with Seymour
a brief interlude that changed her life; a love that had slipped through her fingers!
“No, miss, as I says before, there ain’t no more trains to Lun’on tonight.” The porter turned deliberately away as if to add force to his words, or perhaps he was unwilling to be witness to t
e tragic expression in the soft brown eyes turned questioningly toward him; soft brown eyes half hidden by the brim of a shabby, rain-soaked hat, and a pale oval face whose chin and scarlet drooping mouth were buried in the upturned collar of a mackintosh. The slight, almost childish figure, gripping an overfilled suitcase in one hand, alone on the rain-soaked platform, made a forlorn picture, well in keeping with the station’s depressing surroundings. Pentham station, never busy at the best of times, was, on that evening, more deserted than ever. The dim lamps cast eerie shadows on the glistening platform that boasted no protection from the persistent drizzle of rain which, like a curtain, cut off from the rest of the world this remote station and its lonely occupant.
ricia Dare watched the porter’s burly form disappear, with something approaching panic. Somehow his presence had given her confidence, had made her feel less lonely, but there had been nothing more to say, his words had been final, there was no train to London tonight ... no train an
where; only expresses whistling their way through the station as if it were not there, disregarding it as if it were beneath contempt ... a small, unimportant stopping place in which the world of express trains had no interest. A shiver of cold—or was it fear?—ran through Patricia as she drew her mackintosh more closely round her. She couldn’t remain here any longer; the porter would think her crazy
She must go somewhere; she certainly couldn’t spend the night standing irresolutely on a station platform in the pouring rain. Patricia’s eyes turned toward the waiting room. That didn’t look very inviting either, yet how could she pass the long hours until morning? Of course, she could return home, but even as the thought presented itself, Patricia thrust it from her mind. Unconsciously her fingers tightened on the handle of her suitcase until the knuckles of her ungloved hand whitened. Return home ignominiously, after her hurried flight? No, she would never do that! This quarrel with her stepmother had been final; there wasn’t going to be any patching up. It had cost her a tremendous effort to pack her belongings, to walk from her father’s house, to make up her mind to lead her own life, to earn her own living—to become, in short, independent and free. If she returned now, it would be the end; she’d never pluck up courage again. Patricia’s lips hardened. She’d taken this step, and nothing, nothing would make her go back now. She set her heavy case on the platform while she debated the possibilities. Remaining at the station was obviously out of the question. She could stay at the village hotel, the only one of which Pentham boasted, but the thought offered Patricia little comfort. At best it was a poor sort of place, and one into which she had never, during all the years of her residence in the village, dared enter. As the vicar’s daughter she would readily be recognized, and Patricia shuddered at the thought of all the local gossip such an action would cause. It would anger her father too and she didn’t want to do that.
The sound of voices caused Patricia to peer with interest through the shadowy darkness. Had her father come for her
had he followed her to the station? Was her escape to be but a hopeless dream? Despair filled her heart. Why, oh, why, hadn’t there been a train? Just ten minutes too late; by that small fraction of time her decision had been frustrated. No, that wasn’t her father. Patricia’s natural confidence reasserted itself at the discovery, and a smile curved her lips. There certainly wasn’t any resemblance between her parent’s stocky figure and the tall form of the man who had by now drawn nearer and was talking to the station master. Unconsciously Patricia strained her ears to hear the conversation. It was not with any desire to learn this stranger’s business, but she was vaguely conscious of a feeling of comradeship. Surely he must have made a mistake, too; probably he’d also hoped to get a connection to London.
Well, it was useless to stand there idly speculating on the movements of a complete stranger when she really must brace herself to action; so, gripping her suitcase firmly, she decided to pass the night in the waiting room. After all, that was what waiting rooms were for; not, perhaps, to stay in for the night, but to serve as a shelter from the elements and to provide a place to sit until the next train arrived. With her free hand she turned the knob of the frosted-glass door and entered the bare room. She coughed as the sudden draught made the small fire smoke and quickly shut the door behind her. The interior of the room looked even more depressing than she had anticipated; wooden benches ran the length of the walls, and a few straight-backed chairs stood near the fireplace. The air smelled stale and musty, and the faded green walls were covered in moisture from the damp atmosphere
Some torn fragments of newspaper lay scattered in a corner, while under the table was a pile of orangepeel and the remains of a sandwich meal. Patricia Dare stared in dismay at the dreary aspect, but it was better to pass the night there than to walk through the pouring rain to the “George” and meet the inquisitive eyes of the many people who would certainly know her by sight. The slamming of the door caused her to swing round, and to her surprise she came face to face with the tall man whom she had seen
conversation with the station master only a few minutes earlier.
The newcomer removed his hat and approached the spot where Patricia was standing. In the yellow light from the solitary electric bulb Patricia could not help noticing the unusual blue-grey color of his eyes and the attractive way in which his dark hair waved back from his high forehead. As she glanced questioningly up at him, he spoke. “It seems that we are fellow passengers in the same distress.” He smiled disarmingly. “Will you allow me to come to your rescue?”
” Patricia faltered. “I don’t quite understand what you mean.”
“Well, the station master has been at great pains to explain to me, as no doubt he explained to you, that the last train to London has gone, and that the only way to get there tonight is to drive into Carlisle.” He paused and shook off some of the rain that was still trickling down his mackintosh. “I was going to suggest that you join me in the ramshackle old car I have engaged to take me there.”
“Oh, I’m afraid I couldn’t possibly
” Patricia’s voice trailed off. She couldn’t explain that she wasn’t prepared to spend money on such a project; still less could she tell her would-be rescuer that she wouldn’t dare accept an offer from an utter stranger. What would her father think of this proposition? She smiled to herself at the idea of his outraged respectability, but the smile only served to encourage her companion.
“Does that smile mean that you have changed your mind?” he queried.
“Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly, really not.” Patricia repeated.
“But why not? It’s ridiculous to imagine that you can stay here till dawn, and then you’ll only catch a slow tra
. I’ve hired this car, anyway, so there’s no earthly reason why you shouldn’t join me.”
Was that telling her that he wouldn’t expect her to pay, Patricia wondered. It sounded like it, and, blessing his tact, Patricia had a sudden intuition that here lay no danger; she felt convinced that his offer was made in a purely friendly spirit, and that no ulterior motive could lie behind the expression of that frank, open gaze.
Almost as though the stranger sensed her doubts, he answered her unspoken thoughts. “I
you to join me,” he said meaningly, and then continued. “And you don’t really query my honest intentions, do you?”
Patricia felt the blood creep into her cheeks at the question. He had been so near the truth that he had made her feel ashamed. He was trying to be kind and helpful, and, without rhyme or reason, she was half ready to believe that his offer was fraught with evil designs. Her freedom and independence would not be of much use to her if she were going to be frightened at every untoward incident, so with renewed confidence she answered, “Then I’d like to accept your invitation, and thank you very, very much.”
s get away from here as quickly as possible then,” the stranger said, lifting Patricia’s suitcase and holding open the door for her to pass through.
As they sat side by side in the stuffy, interior of the hired car, which creaked and groaned with age, Patricia had an opportunity to study her companion. He had taken off his mackintosh, an
looked younger t
an she had at first imagined, and he was amazingly broad shouldered and athletic. She noticed his wellshaped hands, with long slender fingers, as he filled his pipe, sitting back quietly in his corner. He appeared unperturbed by their present unusual circumstances, and would probably have been astounded if he had realized the turmoil of indecision and disquiet into which he had plunged his newly-found acquaintance.
“Hope you don’t mind my pipe, Miss—?” he queried. “I admit I ought to have asked your permission before lighting it, but you seemed enveloped in such a brown study that I did not like to disturb you before. And you must tell me your name, little stranger! I can’t go on calling you that, you know.”
“Oh, please smoke your pipe. Dad always smokes one,” Patricia explained naively. “My name’s Patricia Dare.” She hesitated, then asked, “And yours?”
“All my friends call me Kay, and, as we’re going to be friends, I’d like you to use that name too, then you’ll let me call you Pat, won’t you? It just suits you,” he added meditatively.
Patricia nodded assent, and was on the point of asking his surname when there was a sudden “bang” and the car jerked to a standstill. Patricia clutched her companion’s arm, and she asked anxiously, “We haven’t run over anyone, have we? That would be awful.”
Her tall acquaintance jumped from the car and stood discussing the situation with the driver. The sound of their voices reached Patricia, but she could not hear the gist of the words, although her rescuer’s well-modulated tones sounded rather annoyed. Her rescuer ... yes, that was how she would always think of him. What would she have done in that awful waiting room all night?
“I’m terribly sorry, Pat, but the engine’s gone phut; won’t move another inch.
Kay’s voice broke into her reverie. “Afraid there’s nothing for it but to walk.”
“Walk,” Patricia echoed in dismay. “But we must still be miles from Carlisle
and in the dark and wet...
she protested despairingly, with her mind on the weight of her suitcase.
illy goose! I don’t mean walk to Carlisle!” Kay laughed softly.
“The driver tells me there’s a decent small pub about a quarter of a mile along the road. You can manage that, can’t you?” he inquired quizzically. “If not, I shall have to carry you, although, light as you look, I doubt if I can cope with you
both suitcases!” he teased.
“Oh.” Patricia sighed with relief; then, suddenly appalled by the notion of staying the night at a wayside inn in the company of a stranger, she exclaimed, “I don’t think I ought
really I shall have to try to push on
“Nonsense, Pat. You can’t do anything of the sort. It’s an awful night; not raining so much now, but blowing an absolute gale. In the
morning I’ve no doubt we can get a decent conveyance and we’ll catch the first possible train.”
Patricia could find no argument to withstand the wisdom of her companion’s proposition, so, doing up her collar again, she descended on to the sodden path, Kay, had not exaggerated when he had stated that it was blowing a gale, for, as Patricia hurried to keep up beside the long strides of her escort, the wind blew across her face in icy blasts. She was grateful when they reached the protected porch of the gabled house which at first sight did not appear to be an inn, except for the painted sign swinging above the iron-studded oak door. Patricia could just distinguish the letters of the name: “The Load of Mischief.” She smiled at the quaint name, and imagined that it might once have been a coach stop, a place where sweating horses, drawing the carriages of the aristocracy, halted, to be replaced by fresh steeds.
“Don’t stand out there in the rain, Pat,” Kay’s voice urged, breaking in on her romancing. “I should have thought that you’d had quite enough damp air for one day.”
Patricia followed the tall figure inside and waited while he approached the small office to make inquiries about rooms. After a moment or two he beckoned to her. “Come and sign your name, and then we’ll go and have a drink. You must be frozen, and hungry too, if you feel at all as I do.”
As she picked up the pen, Patricia wondered what address to write. She certainly did not intend to give the Vicarage, and, as she hesitated, she glanced at the line above. London—well, that was vague enough, but was apparently sufficient.
“Come along over to the fire; it looks warm and cosy in that corner.” Kay gave some instructions to the sleepy-looking porter and, taking Patricia’s’ arm, led her across the small lounge to two deep leather armchairs drawn up to the fire. “What would you like to eat, Pat? I vote for coffee and sandwiches. How does that suit you?”
Patricia assented eagerly. Kay had been right; she had certainly been hungry, and now that she was indoors she felt unexpectedly tired. Well, that wasn’t surprising; she had had a long and exhausting day, and for the last few hours it seemed as though circumstances were conspiring to prevent her reaching her destination. Still, she didn’t mind so much, now that she was no longer alone and friendless. Kay had been marvellous, and showed himself capable of coping with the most unforeseen difficulties.
I’ve never known anyone who so often lapsed into long silences. I’m beginning to think that I must be a very boring companion.”
“Oh, no, not a bit,” Patricia protested. “I was just thinking how splendidly you’ve managed everything. I was lost in admiration, in fact,” she added ingenuously.
“I don’t seem to have done anything yet to merit your admiration. All I have achieved so far is to take you from one discomfort to another.”