Let the train take the strain- she had echoed that advertising hype,
originally linked to British Rail, as she parked her car at Keighley
She was preparing to meet a friend at The Tourist Information Office
in Haworth. They would have coffee in one of the pseudo-authentic
shoppes on either side of the steep hill, which is the backbone of the
Maybe then she would bring herself to show Anna the photocopy of the
letter which had been troubling her so greatly. Afterwards they might
walk round the museum which drew the literary faithful from all over the
world. Then she could catch the train back to Keighley and retrieve her
car, before returning to Harrogate.
The rail journey would not take long. It was the nostalgic, comforting
element which attracted her. The Worth Valley Line, with its steam
locomotives and Victorian stations, which had featured in televised films,
such as The Railway Children, had been on her bucket list of attractions
to be visited, for some time.
Once speed picked up, she felt her jangled nerves calmed by the rhythms
of the engine and snatches of verse associated with her childhood sprang
This is the Night Mail crossing the border…
Imagine rhyming ‘border’ with ‘postal order! she mused.
Standing up, she looked out of the open vent at the top of a rather grimy
She had not realised that sparks were literally flying and a smut had
entered her right eye, which began to water profusely. Perhaps she
should remove her contact lens?
Opposite, a woman sat, reading a letter. Quite small and somewhat
insignificant, she was dressed in dark clothing and seemed intent on her
Laura left her to her own devices as she was not in a mood for chit-chat
and since she was now seeing double, she dabbed her inflamed eye with
a clean tissue, which probably made things worse. She managed to
extricate the lens with some difficulty.
The woman in the corner reminded her of her own letter, with its many
ambiguities. (At least, Laura was trying to interpret some of the phrases
as charitably as she could.) However, the speck in her eye felt like a beam
and not a proverbial mote. A saline deluge would have flushed the irritant
from her eye, but she had no idea how to deal with the emotional
inflammation she was experiencing.
An objective opinion from another woman would be welcome. But did she
really want to know the truth?
Suddenly they were in a tunnel. She could have wished to remain in the
velvety comfort of darkness forever.
She stepped off into the surprisingly height between the carriage and the
platform. Someone had taken her arm. She was still having problems with
She blinked and made as if to offer a polite appreciation and found herself
staring into the solicitous face of her fellow traveller, who promptly vanished
into the crowd, before Laura could express her thanks.
She bent down to rummage in her shopping bag for her ticket and it seemed
to have fallen out onto the ground. But, on closer inspection, it was a
different colour than the one she had bought. Maybe the woman had
dropped it. She had disappeared, however, so Laura stuffed it into her
pocket, with her gloves.
She had to climb Main Street, which had been an open sewer over a century
before. A blast of cold buffeted her. She frowned at a wind turbine which
reminded her of an albatross which, if she had possessed a crossbow, she
would have shot down. The rotors, spinning round, combined with her watery
eye to create a sense of vertigo. The conservationist in her battled with her
Outraged sensibility– that was something to be buried in her subconscious, if
she was to survive. Self-pity was not to be fed, nor her creative imagination
She was too early. Always too early. So conscientious; so careful of other
people’s feelings. What good had it done her?
Anna would be late. She always was. It would be warmer to shelter in the
church than to stand on the open corner.
She passed a little shop bedecked in sheepskin rugs and commemorative
tea towels. The graveyard beckoned gloomily, with mossy slabs and desolate
cawing. The spartan parsonage overlooked the scene, with its controversial
She reached for her gloves and pulled out the piece of paper. What was it?
it was a ticket, but curiously it purported to be an entrance ticket for The
Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851.
Puzzled, Laura put it in her handbag and set off to check on Anna. There she
was at their mutually agreed rendezvous, apologising profusely, as usual.
They headed for one of the tearooms- the nearest one.
Nothing in it, I’d say, re-assured Anna. Too casual; too chatty. She just
sounds insecure and desperate to me.
Laura felt relieved of a huge weight on her chest. They even visited the
museum and as she studied the contents of the glass cases, wondering
at the doll-like kid gloves, the tiny waisted dresses and yellowed bonnets,
she felt that same sense of disassociation from reality that she had felt
during her drive from Harrogate that
She resolved to destroy the letter when she went home. She didn’t want
some future literary critic to get their hands on her correspondence and
to publish some speculative theory about her personal life.
They paused at the family portrait by Branwell Bronte. Why had he felt
such utter self-deprecation? Why had he felt the need to erase his own
Anna couldn’t fathom why anyone could lack self-confidence. Laura made
Then they came across the portrait of Charlotte and the written
explanantion of her trip to Brussels with the subsequent broken-hearted
return to Haworth and the realisation that her infatuation with M Heger was
not- could not– be reciprocated. All he could offer her was sincere friendship.
Laura was riveted by the eyes in the portrait. A chill far colder than the one
she had felt outside gripped her heart.
That quizzical smile seemed directed to her personally. She knew, with a
confidence that she did not yet feel regarding the letter in her handbag, that
the passenger in the compartment had been none other than Charlotte
The letter that she had been perusing so intently must have been the hurtful
reply from her employer. Laura felt as if she had been touched by a native of
Dreamland, as Charlotte herself would have put it.
There was gentleness and empathy in the eyes. Laura continued to read of
the novelist’s survival and marriage to the curate- the unremarkable curate,
who turned out to have some recommendations after all.
Life for her too would go on. She would survive her own fantasies and lay
her own ghosts.
There aren’t any spectres- except in your own imagination, Charlotte seemed
I still don’t understand Branwell, Anna remarked.
I do, replied Laura. He just thought of himself as a figment of his own
imagination. And why wouldn’t a young man of sensibility, if he inhabited
as confined a place as this?
Pilgrimage over! Anna stated in her pragmatic fashion. It is too spooky
in here. Let’s go and buy some fudge.
Laura thought that her friend sounded like a computer game. She
wasn’t going to show Anna the ticket, but she was reminded of the
century that she must continue to inhabit.
Thank you, Charlotte, she whispered and, dropping the ticket into a
donation box, she stepped out of the time warp and into the rest of