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It had seen like a good idea at the time. Well, either a good idea or a last desperate roll of the dice when the Eastern Eagles Line was on the point of losing its franchise to operate trains and be gobbled up by one of its larger rivals, though that was a phrase that implied it had any smaller rivals, which it didn’t.

Of course, as the Creative Coordinator (who, credit where it’s due, thought the job title was pretentious herself!) Abigail Michaels, whom everyone called Abbey, yes, spelt like the monastery, pointed out, they would have to be careful how they presented it. Doing anything that could be construed as misleading advertising, or malicious, or whatever, would be the final nail in the coffin and they wouldn’t even leave the railway stage honourably but in a miasma of rancour and ridicule. At the absolute worst people must think it was a gimmick, and emerge from it convinced they’d certainly had their money’s worth.

“But we can most certainly only do it for one day,” Finance Manager Brian Hope, who did his best to live up to his name (Hope, not Brian) but was also realistic said, scratching his head. Brian was one of the few people who actually did shake his head when he was thinking things over.

They reached a few decisions at that Board Meeting they had in the café on the station of a seaside town where they supposed the headquarters of the Eastern Eagles Line was, though it didn’t officially bear that name.

The Promotions Project Team Leader Vivienne Lawson, who doubled up as taker of minutes, noted it thus:

  1. The Project will be titled A Train in Time.
  2. It will run from the first service at 06.30 hours on the 1st of April until 22.00 hours on the same day.
  3. The word April will feature prominently on all posters, brochures, internet information and other means of communication, but the word Fool will not be used.
  4. IMPORTANT. At no stage and in no manner will the impression be given, either explicitly or implicitly that actual time travel will be involved or enabled.
  5. A grant of £25 will be made available to all staff required or requested to wear period costume, but expenses above and beyond that cannot be met by the company.

Abbey was delighted to finally have the chance to see to something that really did involve a degree of artistic talent and license, though she did wonder in the wee small hours if perhaps she had lost her touch since art school, or perhaps she didn’t have that great a touch in the first place, which was why she ended up working for the Eastern Eagles Line and not as an illustrator, or even for an illustrator. She also discovered she wasn’t particularly good at drawing trains, which proved something of a disadvantage, though Messrs Google and Getty were very useful in such matters, and there was nothing wrong with composites and collages, though there was always that bothersome business of copyright.

It was also tricky to decide quite how much train was to be included, and how much there was to be the mere suggestion. For the Train in Time they called Victorian Voyage (which they tended to think was a bit lame, but they had decided on alliterative titles and it was preferable to Victorian Values), which had the added advantage of saving costs by incorporating a Railway Museum, not their own, but one of a rival line that proved generous, then an old fashioned steam train in its full billowing and rattling glory (though of course you had to imagine the rattling on the poster) would feature, though print that was as small as they could get away with stressed that the journey itself would not be on a steam train. But when it came to the Tudor Transfer, which included a visit to a stately hall, well, there had been something of a clash on that, with opinions divided as to whether they should go for full out anachronism and have a train – a modern Eastern Eagles one even, or at least as near to modern as the Eastern Eagles could manage, cutting a swathe through a Tudor landscape, even though it would be almost 300 years before trains were invented, despite that very interesting episode of Ancient Aliens. But others said there should be no such cuckoo in the nest. In the end they decided on the middle ground, or as Brian put it, the third rail. There would be no in your face train, let alone one in their blue and yellow (or as they were supposed to call it, royal and gold) company colours, but over a curl of smoke on the horizon was permissible, and it was entirely up to the observer whether they thought it was a paradoxical locomotive or some stalwart peasant roasting boar over a spit. Though come to think of it, a stalwart peasant’s budget wouldn’t run to boar. They wondered about small print stating that there had been no trains at the time, but decided that went beyond being legal, decent, honest and truthful, and strayed into treating people like idiots. They had decided not to go any further back than the Tudors, despite the temptation or Roman Railway. The other two journeys on offer were Cavalier Cruise (Brian, who was inclined to be pedantic, pointed out that technically you could only cruise on a boat and not a train, unless you got into another definition of the word entirely) but he was over-ruled, though there was small print about it not including a boat ride and Wartime Ways, the war in question being World War 1 and a platform re-enactment that, they hoped, would manage to be tasteful and make people think, but not dwell too heavily on the horrors of the trenches.

With a couple of curmudgeonly exceptions who thought it was stuff and nonsense, the employees enthusiastically embraced the idea, thinking that if the line was going to fold, it might as well at least go out on a high. They also showed quite remarkable ingenuity and improvisation when it came to costumes, and most came out with change from their £25 allowance, though some of the Cavaliers did grouse about the cost of theatrical wigs, even if you only hired them, and muttered that Roundhead Routes might have been preferable.

Wartime Ways was to be centred on the same station as where they’d held the meeting, for largely practical meetings. They still had some of the “props” they had used for the centenary re-enactment in 2014, and though a bit of repair work was necessary, they had been in a better financial position then, and there were quality costumes and memorabilia. One of the costumes was for a VAD nurse, and just as had been the case back in 2014 there was some doubt as to the actual historical accuracy of a nurse in uniform being on that train, the costume was so authentic it was too good a chance to miss. At the original commemoration some had even thought it was a genuine historical costume. It wasn’t, but was as near as the were likely to get without borrowing things they were never going to be allowed to borrow from the likes of the Imperial War Museum. The Great Great Aunt of the owner of the Big House, as they called Alnsworth Manor (the Alnsworth family didn’t live there any more and it was open to the public for tours, but they still owned it), one Constance Melrose (no, contrary to some of the rumours, NOT Constance Mellors, and it had nothing to do with DH Lawrence fan fiction) had been a nurse at the Front, there was a good clear photo of her in uniform, and a local dressmaker (it was the kind of place where they still had dressmakers) had lovingly reproduced the costume. Though the majority of the “roles” were taken by employees of the Eastern Eagles Line, everyone agreed that they absolutely had to make an exception for this. A local girl, who was about the same age Constance had been then, maybe just a bit younger as she was on her gap year, one Lynette Carrington, bore a positively uncanny resemblance to Constance. Well, except that it wasn’t that uncanny because it was as good as certain that she was related to the Alnsworth/Melrose clan through what was still so quaintly called the Bend Sinister, and Constance was probably her several times great Aunt as well. Nowadays such things didn’t matter – did they?

Lynette had mixed feelings about it. Oh, she was going to study drama along with English at University – that had been a compromise she’d reached with her parents as her own first wish would have been to go to drama school. But she fancied herself as Hedda Gabler or Mother Courage or Cordelia, or at least playing a nice juicy role in a soap, not dressing up as a nurse like some five year old in a publicity stunt for a soon to be defunct provincial railway company, just because a hundred odd years ago a bit of what some termed hanky panky had gone on in an upstairs downstairs situation, leaving her as a clone of the girl in the picture!

Still, there had never been any real possibility of her turning down the chance. On a practical level, things weren’t entirely unproblematic. Though the facial resemblance to Constance was strong, she was taller and a little plumper, and some alterations were rendered necessary. Lynette being Lynette (and this was something she did have in common with her likely ancestor) once she had decided to commit herself to something, she flung herself into it mind, soul, and body. Well, okay, maybe not body. She had no intention of giving up pizza or wearing corsets, though she also had no wish for the costume to need letting out again. She didn’t exactly let herself be consumed by the extremes of method acting, but certainly immersed herself in the history of the time, and tried to think herself into Constance’s psyche. If she was going to do it, she was going to do it properly. It helped matters considerably that one of the “soldiers” was, coincidentally, like her not a railway employee, but the son of the owner of the Mariner’s Arms, Adam Monroe, and she fancied him something rotten.

The press wasn’t exactly out in droves to witness the departure of the Wartime Ways train, nor any of the others, but it wasn’t going to pass entirely unnoticed, and there was even someone from the local TV channel – well, actually, no, on closer inspection it transpired that it was only the local radio station, which was a shame, considering the trouble they’d gone to with the costumes, but you couldn’t have everything.

A local school band had been called up, so to speak, and they were gave a poignant, if slightly off-key rendition of Keep the Home Fires Burning, followed by a stirring, but also slightly off-key rendition of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.

And off they set, chugging through the flat and floral countryside on a train bedecked in Union Jacks (many of which parted company from it more or less immediately, as a wind had got up). Adam evidently thought he was the first person ever to have made the joke about not being able to resist a woman in uniform, and Lynette blushed endearingly and said that he needn’t try soft-soaping her. There had been talk about the train pausing at another station, where the War Memorial wasn’t far from the station, and a delegation putting a poppy wreath there, but in the end, though of course it would have been done very respectfully, they decided against it, thinking that especially as it was months off Remembrance Day, some might have deemed it cynical and distasteful even though it was of course, OF COURSE, an April Promotion, not an April Fool’s Day stunt.

We must be past that town by now, thought Lynette, looking out of the window for the first time in ages. And what she saw was still a flat landscape, stretching out as far as the eye could see. Stop imagining things, she told herself, but even as she did, her subconscious seemed to whisper that you only told yourself to stop imagining things when you were pretty sure you weren’t imagining them at all. The wind was still strong, and capricious, and the trail of steam billowed back, bearing its soot and sparks.

As Lynette knew perfectly well, they hadn’t even managed to get a proper steam train for the Victorian Values excursion, let alone this one. Why had nobody else noticed it? Why did nobody else think it was unusual?

Adam was beside her again, and took her hand, and she suddenly realised that his hand was shaking a little, though he was doing his best to be jaunty. “You will write to me, won’t you, girl?” he asked. “Promise me?”

“I promise,” she said, and it seemed that at one and the same time she was putting on the acting performance of her life and she wasn’t acting at all.

They sat holding hands for a few moments, in the silence, except it wasn’t silent. They could hear the sound of distant and not so distant guns, and other sounds that were even more terrible.

I know where we are headed, thought Lynette, but I must do my duty.

I can cope with that, if I must, and I try not to think too far ahead.

But what if we never come back, thought Lynette. Or was it Constance?

March 31, 2021 07:45

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1 comment

Corey Melin
00:15 Apr 04, 2021

Very well done. Think of classic writers as I read. Bravo


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