PROMISE AT DUSK by Walter de la Mare

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“I walked slowly along the platform, past the silent, illuminated carriages, and got into No. 3399 – a ‘Second’. The number, of course, I noticed afterwards. It was cushioned in deep crimson, lit unusually clearly with oil; half a window-strap was gone, and the strings of the luggage bracket hung down in one corner – like a cockatrice’s tent.”

This is probably WDLM’s greatest ghost story. Inscrutable and never-endingly tantalising. Its frame story is about the inner story narrator’s wife having been dangerously but triumphantly ill, and somehow we connect the told inner story to that event.

“She leaned her elbows on her knees, did not look at me again, merely talked, talked on, as if to her reflection, in that dim crimson,…”
An inner story comprising a WDLM-archetypal train and a corner seat traveller or ghost, and a found gun, and a heady fragrance, and a saved suicide? It is utterly utterly haunting of the reader, should it ever be read. Even the Noah’s Ark stations play their part in the two journeys on the 3399 carriage.

“…I presently found that I hadn’t for quite some little while been following the sense of what I was reading. Back I went a page or two, and failed again.”

I confirm that, until today, I had never read the above story…

============================================

One Siding In Time – by D.F. Lewis
(published in IRON magazine in 1990)

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When I first saw her sitting opposite me in the train carriage, I wondered if I’d travelled back in time, for she was too old to be as pretty as she was. Knowing this did not make much sense, even to myself, I decided to strike up a conversation: Anything was better than all that turning in on myself, following my recent bereavement. “Had many train journeys like this one?”
I pointed to the fields held in view by the train’s delay.
She shook her head, either to indicate a negative reply to my question or to give me no illusions about her reluctance to talk at all. Maybe it was because there were no corridors on the train, no other sign of life other than the fact that there must be at least a driver somewhere towards the front. I’d in fact been the second of the two of us to get into this particular carriage. I pulled down the window and leaned out, mainly because it told me not to do so. This brought the fields into sharper focus and I could just make out the blur of a figure walking slowly along the sky-line, to where the brightness of the late afternoon had been relegated. Night was too early, hustled from bed (I laughed) by the darkening of an unseasonable storm on the other side of the train.
I turned back to my fellow passenger to see if she was now in a more talkative mood.
As the train began to move and the rain spattered the window, I thought she must have silently slipped from the carriage, rather to negotiate the tracks than remain alone with the likes of me.
Then I realised that she had indeed been alone all the time, as I smoothed down the tweed skirt, on resuming my corner seat.

***

My WDLM reviews in alphabetical order: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/11/02/my-reviews-of-walter-de-la-mare-in-alphabetical-order/

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