The Stranger from the Train

Submitted into Contest #27 in response to: Write a short story that takes place on a train.... view prompt


Historical Fiction Romance Drama

“Excuse me, miss.” A young man swayed as the train began to move. He clutched his carpetbag tighter and reached for balance to the seat. The woman he was addressing did not move, entirely engrossed in the book she held in her hands. “Excuse me, miss, is this seat taken?”

She looked up then, the brim of her hat lifting to show cherry lips and chocolate eyes. “Oh, no, not at all.” She smiled, then went back to her book.

He placed his carpetbag on the floor and sat down, carefully positioning one hand on the knee where the material was slightly scuffed. He looked out the window at the town that soon disappeared, leaving only miles of field and grassland, with the occasional farmhouse. The object between him and the window proved a distracting study. She was wearing a plaid traveling dress, hair tucked beneath a hat. The book she was holding, that at first he had assumed to be a novel, was lined paper filled with writing that she was deftly adding to with the pencil in her other hand.

His gaze drifted back to the fields beyond. One needed more frequent drainage ditches, the next should have been weeded better. That one needed the cow removed if anything was to grow at all.

Just then the train took a corner and the jostling increased. Once again, the train had taken hold of her pencil before she could lift it from the page, leaving a long mark scrawled down the sheet. She sighed and laid her hand on her lap.

“If you don’t mind my asking, miss, what are you writing? You seem quite diverted.”

 “I was scrawling down a few sketches. I certainly hope I was not being uncivil, sir,” she replied, a hint of worry between her eyebrows.

“Of course not. It is perfectly natural to get caught up in something one enjoys; at least I hope so, otherwise I might have been considered uncivil many times before now.”

She smiled then. “And what is it that diverts you so, sir?”

He looked back out the window. “This may sound strange, but my diversion is the fields. Row upon row of tilled earth, tiny sprouts, and full crops.” He hazarded a glance to the young woman, who was still listening openly. “Of course, when Father asks, I have been supervising the new labour.”

She could not hide the hint of a smile from her voice. “So you never get your own hands dirty?”

“If only it weren’t so difficult to get that clay out from beneath my fingernails, he would believe so.”

She drew the case out of her handbag and placed the pencil into it, giving up any hope of continuing. “As you began the conversation, sir, I suppose it would be polite for me to continue it. Where are you heading to?”

“How kind of you to dissect a simple conversation into a mathematic equation for the sake of easier understanding.” He grinned and continued, “To answer your question, my father and brother are waiting for me in London. Now, as you did with my last question, I shall turn it around. Where are you travelling to, miss?”

“As you have asked so politely, sir, I shall favour you with the information that I am also heading to London.”

“So I shall have no escape from this breaking down of simple conversation into interrogations of sentence structure and decorum?”

“If you really don’t appreciate it, sir, I shall cease.”

“By all means, continue. It is entertaining at the very least.”

“I apologize none the less, sir. My mother had instructed me to observe those principles, not to list them aloud. Do choose another topic.”

“And there you go again!”

She blushed and lowered her head, her hat concealing her face. She turned towards the window. “Perhaps I should stay silent.”

“If you don’t mind me saying so, miss, staying silent does not seem like it would follow your mother’s instructions.”

“And it would be better of me to make a fool of myself?”

He slouched in his seat and folded his arms. “Why are women so difficult?”

She did not deign to look away from the passing fields. “And why are men preferential to women who can talk in short sentences?”

“Because most women cannot stay on topic if allowed to explain.”

She swivelled in her seat, eyes wide.

He immediately raised both hands in defence. “I said most women. And you asked, miss.”

“Would you like the answer to your question, too?”

“Perhaps I do.”

“I suppose it would take too long to explain.” The sarcasm in her voice was very intentional. 

He smirked. “One thing you should add to your list of conversation etiquette is to keep your voice light and airy. The tone you just used would be frowned upon in society.”

“And what would you know of society?”

“A great deal, in fact, and if I am guess correctly, my father will have plans for me to learn a great deal more.”

She relaxed her stiff posture and glanced at him again. “From what you just said, I believe your father and my aunt would get along splendidly.”

“Perhaps we must introduce them.”

Her lips parted in a smile. “Yes, sir, we must. But then we would be forced to admit that we had met in public, with no one to introduce us, and had talked for quite some time while completely unchaperoned.”

“You are right, miss; that would be a difficult situation. Perhaps we must pretend to meet for the first time. Are you going to be participating in the Season?” 

“Yes, but only for a few weeks. Less, if I can manage it.”

“Are you not fond of society?”

“I would not know, sir. I have not had much of it.”

“Then a few weeks would not be enough to form your opinion of it.”

The blood rushed to her cheeks, but she replied steadily. “I am not participating to form an opinion, sir. I am participating to snag a rich husband.”

“Your intention sounds most mercenary.”

“In truth, sir, ’tis not my intention, but one I am going to fulfil nonetheless.” Her face was set with resolution.

He opened his mouth to reply, but then the whistle blew. The screeching of the brakes forbade any further conversation as they pulled into the station.

Everyone stood and collected their bags, jostling each other as they exited the train. The young man and woman stopped once they were out of the line of traffic and stood awkwardly.

“Might I have your name, sir?” she asked, adjusting the bag on her arm. 

His eyes twinkled. “As we have not yet been formally introduced, miss, I cannot see how that would be proper.” 

She extended her hand to him. “Until we meet again, then.”

He took her hand in his and bowed over it, bestowing a kiss on her knuckles. “Until then.” 

They parted ways. 

What happened afterwards will not be told; this is only from an observer on the train. Perhaps his father will arrange an alliance with him somewhere amongst the nobility, and her aunt will help her “snag” a rich old man. Perhaps one will be waylaid by robbers, and the other shall never see them again, and they will always live on in their memory as the stranger from the train. Perhaps they will meet and not agree as well as they had for an hour.

But perhaps— and this is my favourite scenario— perhaps they will be introduced by a mutual friend in a ballroom. He will kiss her hand, now concealed by a glove, and lead her into a dance. They will laugh and spin, trade hands and come together again, eyes sparking like the stars in the heavens above. They will go to a balcony for fresh air and resume their conversation from the train. They will, by the end of her allotted weeks, come to an agreement despite the interference of their well-meaning relations, and settle down on a farm just out of town to raise crops and children and stories. 


February 08, 2020 04:17

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Katy S.
19:16 May 18, 2020

Ooh! This is lovely! Again, I like how you describe everything so clearly, and the narration was sweet! I also enjoyed how you managed to give us the happy ending ( it's possible !) without making it unrealistic.


Keri Dyck
14:48 May 22, 2020

Thank you! It means a lot to me that you went back and found this story, and enjoyed it.


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Hallie Blatz
17:48 Feb 13, 2020

I love the dialogue!


Keri Dyck
19:03 Feb 13, 2020

Thank you! It’s probably completely unrealistic, but I needed practice. What did you think of the ending?


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