Published by Dave McGee at Smashwords
Copyright 2010 Dave McGee
The old man paid the cab driver, picked up his case and disappeared into the gloom of Euston railway station. Taking a paper from the news stand, he walked to the platform and found his carriage with the ease of one who had done so many times before. But as he grasped the handle he looked up at the cavernous roof of the station, booming and creaking under the assault of the most ferocious storm, and he shuddered. As he made his way towards the welcoming warmth of his first class compartment, a voice called out behind him ‘Evening Sir Archie, dreadful weather isn’t it?’ The passenger turned ‘It certainly is Ronnie, and how are you tonight?’ ‘I’m very well, sir. Would you like your cocoa now or should I wait a wee while?’ Sir Archie mused ‘Oh, I think I’ll settle in first.’ The old politician entered the compartment and prepared for the long night ahead. The journey to Scotland was one he regularly made, and, dire weather excepted, tonight was no different. The guard whistled for departure and Sir Archie took one final look at Euston, its soaked platforms eerily reflecting the flickering gaslight. Drawing the curtains he settled back in his armchair to read the paper. ‘WAR WITH GERMANY MORE CERTAIN’ Several times he took up the paper and tried to read but he could not concentrate and in no time at all he slumped into a fitful sleep. After some time there came a rap on the door. ‘Sir, it’s your cocoa.’ The attendant entered with the steaming beverage and biscuits and set down the tray; it was done with all the ceremony appropriate to premier service aboard one of the finest trains of the London Midland and Scottish Railway. Ronnie Wilson was 21 but seemed younger. His frail body bore all the hallmarks of poverty and neglect, an impression his smart uniform was unable totally to dispel. His skin was sallow, his teeth in poor condition, but it was his eyes that were most striking- sad grey eyes sunk deep in a haunted face. Sir Archibald Mackintosh was familiar with all the staff on the sleeper trains but Ronnie was his favourite. The elderly Member of Parliament’s constituency lay to the north of Glasgow and was home to wealthy landowners and farmers. But he knew too well that within the place they called The Second City of the Empire were vast areas of poverty and wretchedness. He studied the young man for a few moments and considered how fine he might have looked had circumstances willed it. ‘How are you doing, lad?’ ‘Och, no’ bad.’ the boy replied.’ ‘You look tired.’ observed the elder. They both laughed at the obviousness of this. Ronnie’s nights belonged to the railway company. ‘Are we at Crewe yet?’ Sir Archie asked. ‘No. In about thirty minutes I think.’ ‘What time is it?’ asked the old man, his own watch packed away in his overcoat on the overhead rack. ‘Just a second sir, I’ll find out. ’Sir Archie was bemused that the attendant had no timepiece; surely the company must equip its employees with these things. Ronnie re-appeared at the door of the compartment, gasping for breath. Triumphantly he held up a small alarm clock that he’d got from the guard’s van. He showed its face to the elderly man. ‘Will there be anything else, sir?’ A polite smile and shake of the head was his answer. Alone once more the old politician looked out of the window and reflected on the debate in parliament he’d taken part in this very evening. How could anyone sleep in times like this? He glanced at the newspaper lying on the chair. Wasn’t it now clear there would be another world conflict, more terrible even than the last?