The Man On The Train

A True Love Story

   
 

Sarah Byron
 
 

© Copyright 2019 by Sarah Byron    


Photo of a sunset. (c) 2002 by Richard Loller.


This story is by the mother of Valerie Byron, who is a member of our Winners Circle.  Sarah is now deceased but this fine story of her meeting with her true love will live on.

CHAPTER ONE

Sandown Drive branched off from the main Avenue comprising an estate built in 1939, occupied by young married couples rising in financial status, which was accelerated by the War. The men were professionals, in law, science, medicine, and directors of businesses, textiles being the main source of production in the County of Lancashire, England.

My husband, Lawrence, had chosen this up-and-coming community for us at the onset of World War II, having considered its close proximity to Manchester, where he had acquired a small factory to manufacture small parts for aircraft. He had a Master of Science degree from London University, which he had been unable to use during the depression period, when engineering activities were at a standstill. He had gone into business with my brother, Morrie, managing the lighting accessory warehouse while my brother was established in New York, importing china and gift items from the Potteries in Stoke-on-Trent. He entrusted Lawrence with all the responsibilities of licenses, book-keeping and the supervision of local trade. When conscription became more imminent, Lawrence bought the engineering works to keep him on “Work of National Importance”, and out of the Army.

We had made friends with two couples who had, with us, bought the last remaining houses for sale at the end of the cul-de-sac on Sandown Drive. Mary and Maurice Shevloff and Bonnie and Ted Smithies occupied the last two houses. Lawrence and I were directly opposite, on the other side, at 26 Sandown Drive, Sale, Cheshire.

Mary, Bonnie and I spent a great deal of time together during the day. My son attended a private school on the Avenue and, when the blitz strafed Manchester, the school moved to safety in a small town in North Wales. Mary had a three year old daughter, Pauline, when my Valerie was born in 1942, which gave us another interest in common. Bonnie had a daughter of sixteen from a prior marriage, but gave up custody to her former husband. Maurice had a textile business in Manchester, and Ted, formerly an insurance salesman, formed a partnership with my husband in the small arms work, leaving Lawrence freer to conduct his job in my brother’s warehouse.

In war time, opportunities for making money were many, and Lawrence took advantage of his carte blanche management of my brother’s finances to further his own venture. He started to make a lot of money.

There was a rift in our relationship when my brother, concerned for his own interests, returned to confront Lawrence as to his means of financing his own business venture. As a result, my absolute trust in him faltered, and he refused to explain or defend his actions.

His habits of ten years of marriage changed. He did not return home at the usual time, nor did he give me any reason or explanation for his return home in the early hours of the morning. It never occurred to me that he might be having an affair. Always reticent, given to few words, my innocent questions as to why he had not let me know he was not coming home at his usual hour, where he had been, were met with a stony stare and no answers.

Bonnie, too, was suffering similar treatment from Ted. During the whole of my pregnancy, and for a year after, he went his own way, ignoring my distress, and refusing to explain. It was only when I received an anonymous telephone call, informing me that my husband was having an affair with his secretary, Barbara Sant (which call I later learned was from Barbara’s own mother!) – and advising me that I would find evidence in the hotel register of the Royal George Hotel – that a confession was wrung from him. It appeared that nine months after my daughter was born, Barbara gave birth to a baby girl, Julie, named for the month of conception, July. Both had spent time together at the hotel while I was in the nursing home after my daughter was born.

Barbara, who was Bonnie’s god-child, had used Bonnie’s influence to get a job in Lawrence’s office. She was aware of the situation between us, having heard the story from Bonnie and Ted. She coveted the affluence we enjoyed and made plans to widen the rift and take Lawrence for herself.

Lawrence was not a womanizer. He professed a strict code of morality. Many of the women in our circle complained to me of his apparent rudeness, never acknowledging them when we would meet, and ignoring them entirely. He must have been deeply hurt at the loss of my hitherto patent hero worship for him. I would always champion him if any question arose in debates. “Wait until Lawrence comes home, he will know the answer,” I would proudly announce - and the raised eyebrows at my confidence in his infallibility.

Yet Mary and Maurice staunchly befriended me after my marriage ended so disastrously, despite shutting myself away in the house, hiding my humiliation. They insisted on me joining them in social activities, and Mary would phone daily, dropping by to see how I was faring. When Bonnie and Ted parted, and Nellie and Harry Druker moved into their house at No. 21, Nellie, too, would not take no for an answer, but would insist that I join her for lunch, or on shopping jaunts. I owe my true friends an everlasting debt. They saved me from suicide.

CHAPTER TWO

It was June of 1945. Nellie Druker, my neighbor, had inveigled me to accompany her on a jaunt to London. Nellie was the proverbial “alley cat” – always “in heat”. Her elderly husband, Harry, was putty in her hands. They had moved to our “highly desirable” residential neighborhood, a suburb of Manchester, England, because of Nellie’s growing reputation for cuckolding Harry, and her desire to leave behind the unsavory gossip, and start afresh in a “classier” environment. Nellie had wrung a promise from the previous owner, my friend Bonnie Smithies, whose marriage had ended disastrously, to introduce her to some of the more socially established people of our community, sometimes facetiously known as the “Cheshire Cats.”

I suppose I should have been amused at the thought that Bonnie, who had been the first to introduce herself to me when first I moved into that charmed circle of young married in the newly built, prestigious estate, comprising The Avenue, and Sandown Drive, in the borough of Sale, County of Cheshire, circa August 1939, should consider me as “elite”. Perhaps it was her idea of a sardonic joke to play on this brash, common little upstart (her description of Nellie) – who wanted to gain entrée to the charmed circle.

Bonnie, being childless, had to leave her home while I, with two young children, and helped by family, stayed on. Nellie was her parting gift to me.

Periodically, I would go to London, despite the air blitz, to visit my family. Nellie would press Harry to allow her to go along with me; she would stay in a popular hotel in the “West End” while I stayed with my sister, Betty, in the North London suburb where she lived with her husband and two children. This time, we were to make a stop-over in Luton, some forty miles out of London, to spend the night with another sister, Corrie, who had a ladies’ wear shop.

Nellie and I, resplendent in our fashionable travel suits, were deposited at London Road Station to start our journey to London, via Luton. Nellie was transformed, once Harry had departed; she viewed the passengers waiting to pass through the barrier, hailed a porter, and signaled him to follow as she boarded the First Class section of the train, with me in tow. We strolled through the dining car carriage, no longer serving meals, although the tables for four on one side of the aisle, and the tables for two on the other, were still used by passengers who had brought their own refreshment.

Here, porter,” called Nellie, pointing to seating for four at the end of the dining car. “This will do nicely.” She placed a generous tip in his palm after he had deposited the luggage on the overhead rack.

Nellie,” I protested, “this is a non-smoking compartment.” Knowing her to be a chain smoker, I thought she had not seen the sign. Nellie did not reply. She gave me a meaningful glance, and then moved her eyes to the table for two across the aisle. I saw luggage on the rack, and some articles on the table then, following her eyes, saw a man on the platform outside our window, pacing to and fro. Nellie had already marked her prey at the barrier, watched him board the train, and stalked him to where he had deposited his baggage. He had immediately returned to the platform and was taking some air before the train pulled out.

Nellie amazed me. She was completely amoral. Why she pursued a friendship with me, I couldn’t fathom. I was steeped in hiding my feelings in seclusion, and attempted to shut out the curious eyes of friends, relatives and acquaintances who would intrude on my humiliation. I felt I was the failure of what started out as the success story of our clique. I resisted all attempts to draw me out of myself, rejected introductions to eligible bachelors, and had no desire to expose my bruised feelings due to the shame that overwhelmed me. I certainly did not wish to be at the mercy of another potential betrayer. I could only be an audience to Nellie, watching her flirt with her succession of ‘traveling salesmen’ types, picked up in the Lyons’ chain of hotels she frequented. With hindsight, I must have been no threat to her, and a good “cover” to soothe Harry, who knew my feelings regarding men in general. He knew, from the gossip men indulged in, that I discouraged all attempts by the Lotharios in our group, who had submitted themselves as the answer to a maiden’s prayer, thinking I was fair game as a deserted, frustrated wife. All had been shown the door when they had come sneaking around the back entrance of my house, offering to console me. I learned a lot about men in those days, none of which uplifted me or restored my illusions.

Idly I watched the tall, stooped man, who was to be Nellie’s next victim, as he walked by. He was about 6’4” tall – lean, dressed in a fawn, unstylish overcoat. “Nellie,” I said, “he looks as if he’s waiting for his wife.” With some sort of secret knowledge, she shook her head. “He’s alone.” And she seemed smugly confident. Certainly, he was vastly different from her usual conquests, I thought.

The whistle blew, doors began to slam, and my interest stirred as I watched this man unhurriedly step toward the already moving train and enter. I thought he would surely miss the train, which was gathering momentum. Then, arriving at his seat, he lowered his frame into the seat, settled in, while I studied him with an undisguised surge of interest and curiosity. This man is different. I wonder – where is he going; where is he from; what does he do? He had a spiritual quality about him, an aura. I cannot remember when I felt such a compulsion to find out what was going on in another person’s mind. It was a kind of déjà vu. How was I going to get to know this man? I, who had never looked directly at any stranger, who had never engaged in conversation on a train, was feeling a strange and alien urge to do so. Nellie was already engrossed in conversation with a man who had taken a seat next to her, when the train stopped at Leicester. I walked to the toilet, outside the carriage, and stood thinking. Perhaps he would come out too. I would drop something as the train lurched. All sorts of unfamiliar strategies, and ploys I despised, entered my mind. As we left Rugby, lunch bags appeared. It was noon. Two more hours, and we would arrive at Luton, and this man would disappear forever. The man seated by Nellie left at Rugby. We brought out our packages of sandwiches, neatly wrapped in a damp, damask linen napkin. I glanced up and saw what looked like a Gordon’s gin bottle balanced on the window ledge beside the mystery man. It had cracked in the warm sun, and oozed out a whitish liquid. “It’s milk,” explained the stranger. “It was frozen, and the bottle cracked.”

My head was in a whirl. I had never heard such an accent before, except in the movies. There was a hidden merriment, a shy, quizzical expression in the grey-green eyes that met my own gaze which was confused, caught out staring. “Milk in a gin bottle?” I was even more embarrassed. “Would you care to share our sandwiches?” I rushed on – furious with myself at my gaucheness. “They’re real egg, you know?” I blundered on. Nellie chimed in, “Look, why not join us?” She motioned with her hand to the seat beside her.

I will, if you’ll let me share my sandwiches. They’re real chicken, too,” he added with a chuckle. His square face, blunt nose, sandy, fine hair, which was starting to thin, seemed to radiate a look of surprised sweetness. He gathered together his lunch, wrapped carefully and neatly, and his gin bottle of milk, which he emptied into a plastic tumbler.

Nellie introduced herself, and I followed suit, merely offering my first name. It was with surprise that we found Alan’s sandwiches were as delicious as he had claimed. He showed me a book with his name printed on a sticker inside, which intrigued me, since it showed a small map indicating the route from the local railway station to his home in Knutsford, Cheshire. We started out on a first name basis from the onset.

As the journey progressed, I became more and more impressed with Alan. He so easily parried the inquisitive questions Nellie asked, without answering them. When she asked him his profession, he replied airily “I suppose I’m a square peg in a round hole.”

In reply to her pointed questions and remarks, I was increasingly piqued by his replies. Such as “Your wife is a good cook; these sandwiches are delicious,” and his reply, “I’m forced to do my own cooking since only I know what pleases my stomach.”

I did mention diffidently that I felt I had been rude, staring as I did at him, and that I had been speculating about what manner of man he was. He asked, curiously, “What were your conclusions?” and I must have blushed. I answered, “You look as though you have suffered a great deal of pain in your life. Because of your pallor, I thought you might be a missionary on leave from some far place, like Alaska. A doctor, perhaps, like Schweitzer.” He looked at me with a strange expression – and I went on, “And because you said you never answer your phone, I thought you might be some sort of religious hermit. Does that sound odd to you?” I was becoming a little incoherent, talking what seemed to be nonsense, yet was able to babble on, “Do you believe that people have auras?” He showed no unease at the strangeness of my remarks, just a serious, yet smiling understanding of what was happening. We were meeting again after many lifetimes of separation, as if the ages between had never been.

It was as if we were the only two people on that train. Nellie was completely forgotten. She was out of her depth entirely. Her attempts at joining in the conversation were barely acknowledged, like the buzzing of a pesky insect.

He volunteered that he was recuperating from an illness. He was on his way to visit his mother, who lived at the Athenaeum Court in Piccadilly, an exclusive private residential club in London’s West End, adjoining Green Park, and close by Buckingham Palace. He was also en route to visit his Aunt Kit, who lived in Budleigh Salterton, Devon, where he would be able to rest in the peace and quiet of that ancient seaside town, where the beach has become immortalized by the painting, “The Boyhood of Raleigh.” He explained that he had given up his job because of irreconcilable differences with his father, who was a despot.

I was fascinated by this man. I asked again to look at the sticker inside the book. He brought out a duplicate from his wallet, and I pasted it on the small mirror inside my handbag.

Knutsford is only a few miles from where I live,” I confided. “We often went to the Royal George Hotel for dinner dancing in the old days. And when my son – Jack – comes home in the vacation, we take a picnic and cycle there to spend the day. Perhaps, next time, I’ll telephone you and we could have tea together?” And then, appalled at my forwardness, I went on, “But then, I can take a hint; you say you never answer your phone.”

How can I convey to anyone the metamorphosis that was taking place within me? I, who had been a creature of reserve, was now taking the initiative. I could not reconcile to this new, alive, eager young woman I had become. Yet I did not feel shame, only the knowledge that my life was about to change. That I was to be led from the darkness of despair to the light. And I was utterly at peace and at ease.

And his answer, that raised the fine hairs on the back of my neck! As I looked into his eyes, with his look of recognition and empathy, he softly said, “Ah, but I’ll know when it’s you.”

It was nearing two o’clock. Suddenly, Luton was approaching. Nellie and I gathered together our bags. Alan took my suitcase and led us both out of the train to the platform, where we were besieged by the crowds waiting to embark. Alan put the suitcase down and, oblivious of the speechless Nellie and the milling passengers, took both my hands in his. We looked at each other. I said, “Alan, I really will come. Will you really answer when I phone?” And the promise in his eyes, as he looked down, “I’ll wait for your call.”

You’d better get back to your seat, or someone will take it,” I said foolishly, and his smiling reassurance, “Don’t worry, it will be there.”

In a daze, as Nellie and I mounted the stairs to exit to the street, I said to her, “Oh Nellie, there is a man,” and her tart reply, “Sarah, you shouldn’t be allowed out on your own, you are so naïve.”

Her comment meant nothing to me. I had met someone who was going to change my life – I knew it for a certainty.

I walked on a cloud, and so started a new chapter that was to transform me. Would have I behaved differently, had I the power to foresee what was in store for me, I wonder? There was a stab of fear; yet, unheeding, I plunged headlong into an experience that was to overturn my life. It was as if I had plummeted into another dimension.

CHAPTER THREE

Early the next morning, Nellie and I traveled to London. After checking into her hotel, we decided to walk along Piccadilly before I took the Underground Northern Line at Green Park to Friern Barnet, where my oldest sister, Betty, lived. We passed the Ritz Hotel, and noted the bustle at the entrance, ushering in some Eastern potentate, and continued on toward the Park.

Just before Park Lane, I stopped abruptly, looking intently at the building to our left. My heart lurched. “Look, Nellie, there’s Athenaeum Court.” Nellie looked at me uncomprehendingly. “Isn’t that where Alan said he was going to visit his mother?” I explained. “Do you believe that?” she responded, with a touch of scorn. “Why of course, Nellie, don’t you?” “You are a fool, Sadie. You aren’t safe to be let loose in London without a keeper.”

Nettled, I retorted, “I know a good person when I see one. I’ve a good mind to leave a message for him with the receptionist.” “You are too gullible. He probably has a mistress there, and you’ll cause trouble for him.” I looked at Nellie with distaste. “I know that man is incapable of lying, Nellie. I trust his word implicitly.”

However, I did not pursue the matter, and we walked on to Green Park. There we parted, with Nellie promising to telephone me that evening.

My thoughts were occupied with re-living every moment of that journey and meeting, and with my own strange, aggressive behavior. It was so completely out of character. Surely, I thought, Nellie is not rubbing off on me?

I calculated that Alan had said he would be visiting his aunt in Devon for a month, so it would be September before I could make any move to contact him.

CHAPTER FOUR

Nellie and I returned home at the end of the week, since it was my daughter’s third birthday on July 4th. My ten year old son, Jack, was home for the summer holidays from his private prep school in the Midlands.

August passed, and early September was spent in preparing young Jack for his return to school. It was always a traumatic time for him as he hated leaving home, and was troubled and bewildered at the loss of his father who had cut himself off from us, with not even a reply to the monthly letter Jack wrote to him. He was also confused because of the change in me, since the discovery of my husband’s duplicity, after ten years of marriage. The disillusionment of learning that, during my nine months of pregnancy, my husband had been living a lie, and that it continued on for another year, after which he had been forced to confess to me that he had fathered a child with his mistress, the baby already three months old. This was a shattering blow to my pride and self image. Particularly when the “other woman” turned out to be my friend, Bonnie’s, god-daughter, a girl ten years my junior, who had importuned Bonnie to use her influence to get her a job in my husband’s office.

After confessing what he had striven to hide from me for almost two years, he was torn with the realization of what he had done. Although I offered to give him three months’ freedom to live with Barbara, his mistress, and if he still wanted to marry her, I would divorce him – the next year was destructive to my pride with the on/off, back and forth situation.

This impasse was resolved for us by Barbara becoming pregnant with a second child, and I had to resign myself to the inevitable. She was determined to get Lawrence, and was not going to allow him to provide for us. Since she lived so extravagantly, he was in bankruptcy before the first year of their marriage. This is what I knew and feared would happen. Therefore, my own worries clouded my life, and I feared for the future. How was I to keep my boy at school, and to provide for my young daughter? The alimony stopped soon after the divorce, and the upkeep of our home was becoming increasingly difficult. I had no training for a job, or a career.

It seemed that the world was collapsing around me that summer of 1945 and, after young Jack had returned to school, I felt I had reached the depths of my misery.

As September was ending, I started thinking about the episode on the train. It was still war time, and fuel was rationed for private cars. Transport was available by bus and train, and cars were permitted to be used only for the war effort, and government jobs.

One day, a business associate of my husband’s, who manufactured bicycle parts for export, paid me a visit with his wife. They were delivering a consignment of goods to Liverpool, and asked if I’d like to go along for the drive. En route, we stopped at Knutsford for lunch. I told my friends of my strange encounter, and showed them the map which I had pasted on the back of my mirror. They drove to the address, and we were impressed to see an imposing driveway, with a great, red brick, three-story house at the end. Beyond, was a little cottage, converted from the old stables, with a brass-studded Norman design on the front door.

First, we went to the main house and looked through the bay windows. They were empty, with no sign of habitation. Then we went to the cottage. There were spider webs across the door and windows. Looking in, I saw the room furnished just as Alan had described it. A red leather, upholstered window seat, a table, an electric stove, side-by-side with a gas cooker, and another oil-burning stove.

I took a rosebud from the climbing vines by the wall, wrapped a piece of notepaper from my diary around it, and scribbled a little note. “If you remember sharing your sandwiches on the train, this is to remind you I’m thinking of you, and to wish you welcome home when you return.” And signed it “Sarah” and added my phone number.

October arrived. I had phoned once or twice, but no answer. I thought, “Oh well, he really didn’t know it was me.”

Sitting alone in my comfortable living room, looking out of the diamond-paned windows onto the front garden, and across the road to Nellie’s house directly opposite, I felt as though I had reached a point of no return. I heard an anguished cry, sounds wrenched from my heart. “Oh, God, let something good happen to me.”

The phone rang and, wearily, I rose to answer it. Nellie, I thought, she’s seen me from her window. She was a good-hearted soul, even though I could not understand her restless, amoral lifestyle.

Hello,” I said, and waited. A male voice answered, “Sarah Byron?”

I was stunned for a second. My whole being was suddenly electrified. “Alan?” My voice rose to a ridiculous squeak. “Is it really you, at last?” I babbled on, almost incoherent with what seemed a direct answer to a prayer. “When did you get back?”

Around noon,” he replied.

And it’s four o’clock now. Why did you wait so long?”

This incredible conversation between two strangers – I never would have believed it possible. Only I knew (and I’m sure Alan did, too) how it could happen. We each had recognized in each other the same pain we were sharing.

I had to find out your surname before I could phone.”

I was stunned. I had only signed my first name.

How could you do that?” I asked.

Well, the most two common initials are S and B. So I started with B luckily, and matched the telephone number with the one you gave.” Alan sounded pleased.

But you need not have troubled. All you had to do was call and ask me my name.”

I had to find out how you were listed; if it had been under a man’s name, I would not have called,” he explained.

I can’t tell you what it meant to me to find your note,” he told me, after I had excused myself for coming to the house without an invitation. “I was so dreading coming back to an empty house.”

For the next two hours, we talked, trying to get to know each other, yet not really giving out any real information. Just what we liked, or disliked and, finally, I asked him when we would meet. Transportation was the problem.

I had told him that I went into Manchester three days a week to work in my brother’s wholesale warehouse. Alan said he was planning to go to his father’s business, which was only a stone’s throw away, to clear out his office and say goodbye to his co-workers. We arranged a time and day to meet for lunch.

CHAPTER FIVE

I was so happy. Never before had I felt this way. I had never dated, apart from my husband, and had always been afraid of being alone with a man. Yet I felt so sure, so elated at the prospective meeting that I could not think beyond that.

The appointed day arrived. I dressed in my favorite suit and, as I left the office, warned the manager I might not be back.

Outside, I walked towards Church Street, from where Alan had said he would be coming. There was the tall, stoop-shouldered figure walking toward me, carrying a cane. We stopped and took each other’s hands. Those hazel eyes smiled indulgently down at me.

Where would like to go for lunch?” he asked. “I’m sure you know many places, and have had many escorts to lunch.”

I foolishly protested that apart from my husband, I had never been taken to lunch, except for the time his business friend had driven me to Knutsford. I did not know what Alan’s financial status was, since he had told me he had resigned from his job.

We finally decided to go to the Midland Hotel, which was popular with the textile business people. I felt a little uneasy, since Alan was wearing a pair of well-worn flannel slacks, a grey flannel shirt, with a frayed, woolen, tartan tie. His tweed jacket had seen better days. The Midland Hotel clientele were conventionally dressed, the women of high fashion.

As we entered the French restaurant, imagine my pleasant surprise when the Maitre D’ came over to greet us, beaming at Alan, saying “How good to see you again, Mr. Alan. We have missed you. Your father has just left.”

The waiters scuttled around to show us to a secluded table for two.

How my life was changing, I thought. What surprises this man brings. How right I was in my first, instinctive feeling that this man was going to change my life.

After lunch, we left the hotel. “Do you have to go back to the office?” Alan asked. Quickly I replied that I had the afternoon free. “What would you like to do now?” – and my reply, “I’d like to see your cottage; do we have time?”

He looked surprised. Even he must have been shocked at my trust. “There’s a train in fifteen minutes, so we’ll have to step smartly.”

The station adjoined the hotel, and we found the train waiting on the platform. It must have been around three o’clock.

When we arrived at Knutsford, we walked to Keisely, the name of his home. Alan showed me around the big house, which he had been asked to vacate for the Manchester Oil Refineries to take over to house their staff, to be out of the blitz zone. And then we explored the “Cottage,” where he had stored every conceivable item that might become in short supply during the war years. I was fascinated by all the gadgets he had installed himself, including a giant water heater that simultaneously filled the two baths in record time.

Alan went into the kitchen to prepare a tray of tea. There was a knock at the door, and Alan opened it to greet an Air Force officer.

Come in, John.” And he introduced me to him. “Tell John how we met, Sarah, while I bring in another cup.”

Immediately I felt awkward and shy. I didn’t feel easy with this man. I tried to explain how we had met, but it was as though he was a schoolmaster who was listening to my excuses for playing truant. I breathed a sign of relief when Alan appeared with the tea tray. They exchanged pleasantries, John explaining he had dropped by at Isabel’s request, to bring Alan some fresh eggs from the farm.

John left soon after, and Alan asked him to thank Isabel, and send her his love.

When he had left, Alan said to me, “Tell me, what did you think of John?” I felt uneasy. I made some excuse, “I hardly know him, Alan, how can I say? Why do you ask?”

I have a reason,” Alan assured me earnestly.

Well, I didn’t like him at all.” And, at Alan’s insistence, told him there was no specific reason, just a feeling of being censured; that he made me feel unworthy – the opposite of how I felt with Alan, who made me feel safe and special.

Alan looked pleased.

Why did you ask, why is it important to you how I feel?”

That’s the man my wife left me for; they are to be married when the divorce is final.”

I was devastated with shock. “How could you receive him into your home?” I cried, with anger and disbelief. “I would have felt like killing him, let alone offer him tea!”

It was then he looked at me with such tenderness and compassion, that I felt as though I was in a “holy” presence.

He patted the seat beside him, and I came over hesitantly. He drew me onto his knee and put his arms around me.

How hurt you must be.” And a hard knot of anger and pain seemed to melt around my heart. Trying not to let the tears fall, I said, “Now that I’ve met you, the hurt has gone.”

The hours flew by. We exchanged confidences. I learned about the circumstances of Isabel’s leaving, of their continued love for each other, and that she had felt compelled to leave because of Alan’s chronic health problems, and her desire for a child, which he was not able to grant her.

This was such a new and sophisticated relationship, that I could not really understand. I wanted to learn more about life from this man. I felt my own feelings were so elementary and crude in comparison.

Then, looking at the clock, Alan said, “Oh, dear, the last train has gone.” And I felt panic. I had to get home.

We walked to the Royal George Hotel, where I knew the owner, and he arranged with the bandleader who conducted the music for dinner dancing in the restaurant, to give me a lift home. He lived in Manchester, some fifteen miles away, and Sale was halfway on his route home. I had seen miracles that day.

So ended our first meeting together, and I returned home with much to mull over.

CHAPTER SIX

Why did this man affect me so strongly? My thoughts milled around in my head that night. The two men in my life were worlds apart. Opposite sides of a coin.

In my youth, I had endowed my husband with all the qualities of idealism. I thought he would be sensitive to my needs, physically and emotionally. He took all the love, adoration and admiration I had in me to give, and was unable to give selflessly in return. I had been starved, disappointed, yet had refused to acknowledge this, even to myself. Afraid to talk about my feelings of inadequacy in our sexual relationship, for fear of being indelicate or carnal, I suppressed my frustrations, chiding myself. In the years following our parting, I would rationalize to myself, when loneliness and despair engulfed me. Suppose it were possible for him to return. Did I really want to resume an unfulfilled life? And the fact remained, he had begotten two other unfortunate children. Did I want to again endure the pain of that constant “cancer” eating at my heart. Albeit now excised, there were the scars which constantly ached, and an empty space to remind me.

For a long time, I had refused to meet eligible men my friends tried to introduce me to. I shrank from them in disgust. My friends were hurt and impatient. “Why don’t you at least try? You may grow to like them.” But I knew better. This would not happen when at first meeting no spark was lit.

I had known at once, in that short meeting on the train, that this man was one who stirred my imagination, whom I recognized with déjà vu, and with every hour I spent with him, a bond was forged that would link us forever. No matter what the outcome for better or worse, I would work out my destiny.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Naturally, my extraordinary behavior after my meeting with Alan on the train to London, and thereafter, when he contacted me on his return, was the subject of great interest. Nellie, Mary and Maurice were filled with curiosity. Nellie related the story of our train journey, and subsequent rendezvous for lunch, and they speculated about the circumstances whereby I had missed the last train home. Mary and Maurice were excited to learn Alan’s name, since it was a highly reputable firm. In fact, Mary’s younger sister, Joan, was employed in the counting house as a junior clerk.

It was with the best intentions that Mary had invited her sister to visit the night we usually gathered together for dinner. Joan willingly revealed all she knew of the heir to the flourishing, long-established textile firm of Brookfield, Aitchison & Co. She painted a romantic figure of Alan, stricken at the defection of his adored wife, Isabel – resigning his directorship because of differences with his despotic father, who ruled his employees with callous indifference to their problems. His gentleness and interest in the lowliest of employees was in sharp contrast to his father’s patent contempt.

Joan described how impressed she was when riding in the elevator with Mr. Alan and Miss Isobel. How struck she was by his look of tenderness and protectiveness as he helped her in. And the common knowledge that he had been stricken and heartbroken when the marriage had ended.

From what I had garnered of his feelings towards his wife, it was clear to me that I was out of my depth. What did I hope for – and yet, I felt I could gain so much from an association, in whatever way it developed, with this unusual man. I knew I could not draw back now – to return to the limbo of nothingness. No joy in living, no self worth, to force my eyes open each morning, my heart leaden and empty.

My friends were watching me for my reactions. I was candid in acknowledging my confusion and doubts – yet I admitted to them my feelings and desire to learn more about my newfound friend. They volunteered to support me in any way they could.

The following Friday, I found myself speeding toward the train station on winged feet. Words and music from a popular movie came to mind. As people turned to look at me, my face must have expressed such happiness. “I’m going to see him today, I’m walking on air.”

Alan met the train as it steamed into Knutsford station at noon. He was wheeling his bicycle, which he explained he used for shopping since his car had been dismantled when he joined the Army.

We strolled through the charming, old-world village, stopping at the local fishmonger to pick up lemon sole for our lunch, and then walked past the Legh Arms, the local pub. Legh Road, Alan explained, was named for Sir Piers Legh, equerry to King Edward VIII, and whose family were the original squires owning the rights of most of the land in the county. Keisley House, where Alan lived, had been their original home, and was acquired by Alan’s father as a wedding present when Alan married Isabel. As I learned more about Alan, I was more and more intrigued. Everything about him was like a fairy tale – characters from King Arthur’s Round Table. I very willingly fell under a spell.

As we entered the grounds, I expressed a wish to see the Big House. We deposited the fish in the cottage kitchen, and returned to the main house. First we explored the grounds, flanked by high walls, covered with rambling roses. He showed me the fruit trees, the vegetable garden growing all manner of herbs and fresh vegetables, which Alan ruefully admitted was becoming neglected. There was a greenhouse with tomatoes, and he plucked a few, together with sprigs of mint and new potatoes for our lunch.

We entered the house from the French windows bordering the gardens, and he immediately went to the baby grand piano in the drawing room. He played a few chords, and then picked up a tuning hammer to tighten the strings. He stroked the keys lovingly, and played a few bars, lost in the sounds he was making.


Then he led me through the house, the butler’s pantry, the huge tiled kitchen, the dining room with its refectory table, and tall, mahogany chairs, intricately carved. From the buffet sideboard he produced a bottle of sherry, a small silver salver, and two crystal glasses. We sat on the huge settee and toasted to our strange encounter on the train, and to our future, whatever it might bring.

CHAPTER EIGHT

As we slowly made our way back to the Cottage, I wondered if this was real. Was this some kind of dream?

Alan placed me in a comfortable armchair, while he set about preparing our lunch. I had no idea of the passage of time. My senses seemed sharpened, yet my body moved in slow motion. I was aware of a pungent scent of herbs pervading the kitchen. The dining nook, with its leather-backed semi-circle booth, enclosing the dining table, set with colorful table mats and napkins, appeared as if by magic. I hardly noticed his movements.

We sat down, and I was astonished at the appetizing savory bouquet from the tastefully arranged platter he set before us. White lemon sole, garnished with parsley; whirls of creamy mashed potatoes, with chopped mint; lightly steamed flowerets of cauliflower, in butter sauce; fresh warm rolls; and a goblet of white, fruity wine. I felt cherished.


The simple meal became a feast of the gods. My taste buds savored every mouthful. Alan beamed at my undisguised delight and enjoyment of the repast he had produced so effortlessly. The cottage seemed to take on an unearthly dimension. The sun’s rays filtered in and bathed the room in gold shimmering gossamer light. These moments I treasure forever, as being pure bliss and carefree happiness.

After lunch, Alan led me to a couch in his sitting room, and told me to put my feet up and rest while he looked at his mail. As I watched him by his desk, the lamp casting a glow behind his head, I felt a prickling sensation at the back of my neck. His face was so calm, serene, I thought I saw a halo around him. It brought to mind a scene from a movie currently popular, “The Enchanted Cottage.” Two young people, from entirely different backgrounds. One physically disfigured from war wounds, the other a plain young woman, who had come to care for him, in a cottage isolated from the world, and the transformation of the room as they each saw the other’s souls, the recognition of spiritual beauty and pure, selfless love.

I knew then that I was hopelessly lost. That I wanted to take away the hurt I knew he suffered. That I would show him a devotion, a loyalty, a selfless love that would surpass any other. I would ask no commitment from him, just to be allowed to know him, learn from him, and that he might, perhaps, learn to love me in return. He had made it plain that he would not risk another marriage, with his history of chronic ill-health, and his lack of a job, since his estrangement from his father. He had to consider selling his home, invest the proceeds, and find a place to live which he could afford. And I knew our backgrounds were diametrically polarized. Yet I wanted to be part of his future, in whatever form it took.

I must have dozed off and, after an hour or two, Alan awoke me with a tray of tea. “We mustn’t miss your train this time.”

I felt a weight had been lifted from my heart at my silent resolve that there was no turning back now. What would be, would be.

We walked to the station, my arm in his. The moon had risen, full and bright, in a deeply cloudless, star bright sky.


A thought struck me. “Alan, the office manager has a sick son, who is affected by the full moon. He often wanders away and doesn’t remember where he has been or what he has done. Mr. Kay will be worried tonight!” And I fell silent.

We waited on the deserted platform for the train. We had arranged to meet again the following week. Soon the train steamed in. Alan made me comfortable in the first class empty compartment. There seemed to be no other passengers on the train. I waved goodbye until our next meeting.


CHAPTER NINE

The train was a local, stopping at all stations to Manchester. I reckoned it would take 45 minutes to travel the fifteen miles to Brooklands, and then a ten minute walk home thereafter.

The next stop was Hale, and I felt apprehension at seeing a solitary figure on the platform. The train was empty, so why did he have to choose the compartment I was in? In the bright moonlight, I could see him clearly. Dark trilby hat, pulled low over his eyes. Shabby grey raincoat, army issue. An ex-serviceman, I wondered? Slightly built, medium height, thin, ferrety features, and darkening stubble on his jowls. He had darting, furtive eyes. I was sure he did not have a first-class ticket, and my uneasiness deepened. As he took the seat opposite me, I moved to the other end, and looked out of the window. No sooner had the train pulled out of the station, he crossed over and sat beside me, peering into my face, muttering “How far are you going?”

My heart seemed to swell and almost suffocate me with fear. Pictures began to flash in my mind’s eye. The sensational Sunday tabloids, the News of the World, headlines screaming “Woman’s body found on railway line, murdered.” I had visions of Alan being arrested as a suspect, since he was last seen with me on the platform. We had not seen any ticket collector on that deserted station at that time of night. He would have no alibi. My children – what would happen to them?

All these thoughts passed through my mind in a second. I sprang up in panic. He rose simultaneously, grabbing me by the shoulders. My voice was hoarse and strangled. “Don’t touch me,” and with the strength borne of desperation and fear, I pushed him away. The jolting, swaying motion in the narrow aisle aided me, as he lost his balance and fell against the seat. I darted to the door of the carriage, one hand reaching for the alarm cord, the other to open the lock. He seemed to crumble abjectly. “Don’t scream, don’t pull the cord, I won’t touch you.” The next station approached, Broadheath. As I opened the door, ready to jump out, he dashed past me and flew out and away before I could move. Two passengers entered, staring after the fleeing figure. Typical of British men, they sat down and ignored me, as I stood paralyzed with horror. I stammered, “That man, did you see him? I have had an awful experience, he tried to assault me.”

They looked uncomfortable. I stood there, wringing my hands, “What shall I do? I ought to report this to the police. But I can’t. I must get home.” The next station was Brooklands, but I hardly noticed it until the train started to move again. “Oh, I’ve missed my stop. It’s so late. . .” My voice trailed. I knew they thought me deranged. Yet they helped me out at Sale, asking if I needed help. I said I was afraid to walk home; there were no taxis to be had. Some guardian angel must have protected me that night. They offered to walk me home, about a mile distant. The walk down the secluded Avenue, which had always given me a sense of pleasure and welcoming before, assumed sinister, threatening proportions. I could not have walked home alone. These two good Samaritans escorted me to my door, and waited until my housekeeper let me in. I thanked them and hurried in. I never knew their names.

I told Bertha, the housekeeper, of my experience on the train, and she drew a hot bath for me. She helped me into my robe, and led me into the warmth of my bedroom, where she had lighted a fire. My bed was warm with an electric blanket, and she brought me a cup of hot milk, laced with brandy. I wanted to phone Alan, but realized he would be asleep. I was dazed with shock and unhappy at the anticlimax to what had been such an idyllic day. A cold fear threaded through me – was this perhaps an omen? Exhausted with so much conflicting emotion, I fell asleep.

I awoke with a feeling of apprehension and dread. I had to call Alan. With trembling voice, I told him of the man, and asked him if I should have reported the incident to the police.

He was silent for a moment, and then gently urged me to rest and not distress myself further with self reproach. When I told him I thought perhaps it was an omen - that I should not continue seeing him – and I could definitely not bring myself to travel on the train again at night – he assured me such a thing could not happen twice. I poured out my fears and misgivings. Supposing the worst had happened? What had been so beautiful and precious between us would have been sullied by the publicity and enquiries.

I wanted to be comforted, but guilt still clouded my mood. The next day, the Sunday papers reported “Broadheath pawnbroker found battered to death,” and a description of a man wanted for questioning. It was the man on the train.

My heart seemed to squeeze tightly, as if every drop of blood was draining from my body. What had I done? Was I responsible? It had been my duty to have reported the incident. The police might have caught him, and prevented that poor man’s death. Everything was wrong; this must be a warning not to play with fire. I felt physically ill.

Later, Alan phoned to inquire how I felt and, haltingly, I told him of my change of heart. Of my guilt in not going to the police, and of my cowardice in not wanting to spoil what was so good and innocent by the interpretation cynical minds would make of it.

When he told me he had been working on his car all day, re-assembling it, and testing it so that it was in good working order, I felt healed. I would no longer need to make the journey alone. Such evidence of his care and concern was balm to my heart. I did not need any further persuasion. I could not give up this new-found happiness.

The words of the Twenty-Third Psalm passed through my mind. “He restoreth my soul. . . he leads me beside still waters . . . my cup runneth over. . . “

And the meaning of the words, “Take what you want – and pay for it!” I knew there would come a reckoning, perhaps more than I could afford. Like Scarlett, I thought, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”



 
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