The text read: ‘You must come and see this’.
That was in 2014, when Tamsyn and he had been searching for a house in a rural setting near Tamsyn’s childhood home for nearly two years. Property after property had failed to meet their exacting needs, whether by reason of location, size or simple character, so when Tamsyn’s latest find hove into view around the corner of a quiet country lane, Lambert was ready to be persuaded.
“It’s an odd shape.” Lambert commented. “Familiar, somehow.”
“It’s a railway station,” Tamsyn told him. “Not now, of course, but once. I think it’s beautiful!”
There was, Lambert conceded, something very plucky and brave about the white rendered façade of ‘Brueburn Halt’, although he would have hesitated to call it beautiful.
“No rails, they took them up years ago, but you get your very own station platform!” The estate agent enthused, standing on it, “Endless potential!” He added, failing to be specific.
“My question is why?” demanded Lambert, “Why a station, here? There isn’t a village for miles.”
“It is odd,” Tamsyn agreed “I grew up not a dozen miles from here, yet I don’t recall this station. I imagine the line was closed before I was born, so I can’t answer you, I’m afraid. Seeing it yesterday was like it was the first time, you know?”
Within its doors, Brueburn Halt was a dusty time capsule, wood cracked and peeling, festoons of wallpaper in patterns and colours long forgotten shredded from its walls. In the darkness behind its boarded windows Lambert sniffed at rising damp like a terrier, poked at plaster, winced at damp ceilings, quailed at the single foetid bathroom.
“It’ll need to be completely gutted. Are you sure you want this, Tams?”
Tamsyn floated balletically from room to room. “Yes, oh, yes! We must have it, my sweetest – we must!”
“The house has been empty for two years,” The agent, a little square man, lowered his voice confidentially, “The old lady who owned it went a tiny bit do-lally in the end; used to sit outside on the platform day and night, rain or shine. Said she was waiting for a train. A train! No rails, see? They took her into care in the end, I believe. Big white van – you know?”
“We know.” Lambert assured him. “I’ll put in an offer.” He added.
Lambert honoured his pledge to ‘gut’ Brueburn Halt. Extensions mushroomed, courtyards were paved, bathrooms proliferated like sanitary rabbits; worktops of black marble glittered in programmable lighting, windows widened, doors deepened: no swatch of expensive fabric was left unconsidered. Lambert did not lack sentimentality, though: through it all, the old station platform remained untouched.
There was more, you see, between Lambert and Tamsyn than could be defined in years, although the generally accepted twenty-five was certainly a disparity worth reckoning. A banking millionaire, Lambert took pride in his wife’s beauty and admired how approaching middle age had not dimmed the child in her; her elegance, her grace – in fact, he was obsessed by her. Tamsyn, prima ballerina for one of the world’s finest ballet ensembles was his pearl beyond price.
Loved her? No, not that. Valued her? Certainly.
At those social occasions so important to Lambert’s profession Tamsyn’s radiance would draw the rich and influential unfailingly to her flame. She raised his profile, as she would put it, above the other hippos in the wallow. When she first met him, Lambert had been rich; with her tutelage he had become very, very rich. Now, ready in his advancing years to retire, he was gratified when Tamsyn likewise expressed a wish to hang up her pointe shoes – and return to the countryside of her childhood.
It did not occur to her septuagenarian husband that Tamsyn’s retirement idyll might seek to replicate the simplicity and innocence of those formative years. He could think of her cradled in none but the most perfectly satin-lined nest. If the confines of Brueburn Halt were smaller than those to which he was accustomed, there was no reason it could not equal the sumptuousness of, say, their St. John’s Wood apartment or their summer villa at Cannes. If she showed dissent (as from time to time she did) at his lavish tastes he scarcely regarded it, even rather liked it. Financial despot that he was, he enjoyed a little combative friction – and he always won.
This is not to say Tamsyn was ungrateful. She claimed to be impressed by the refreshed appearance of ‘Brueburn’ (Lambert had dropped the ‘Halt’, thinking it inappropriate), professing enthusiasm for their shared future in this peaceful spot.
“Oh, Lamby, we shall grow old here, together!”
And if Lambert had not caught her in this room or that within the house now and then, standing alone and quite still, her expression pensive, her eyes clouded and remote, he might have believed. Yes, she assured him, the quirkiness of the surviving station platform amused her, the open pathway of the old track bed awakened thoughts in her of long country walks with dogs, she said. Lambert raised an eyebrow – he had not considered there might be dogs.
Of course there were no dogs, no Tamsyn, either. If the idyll of retirement seduced her, Brueburnquickly palled. Party season on the Riviera beckoned, and when that bored her, London society demanded her presence. She was still, she insisted, in demand professionally. Much the same could be said of Lambert, whose declared intention to ‘retire’ presented many challenges. Brueburn languished; St. John’s Wood was so much more convenient.
“I don’t feel comfortable, there,” Tamsyn eventually confided to friends when she spoke of Brueburn. “One imagines one can relive one’s past, doesn’t one, whereas truthfully one cannot? Too much has changed.” And with a vapid sigh: “For the better, one must suppose….”
Throughout the summer of 2016 Brueburn remained shuttered and deserted. Come autumn, Lambert decided to place the old station house back on the market. One late September day he drove from London with this in mind.
Lambert arrived at ‘Brueburn’ to find its doors already opened, the climate turned on, and his music system playing a coloratura piece from Lakme, one of Tasmyn’s favoured operas. At first these things seemed to suggest – in fact they spawned the hope – that his partner had preceded him, although as far as he knew she was still in London, where she was expecting him to re-join her in a couple of days. But though he explored the much-altered station house from end to end, he found no-one. A mystery then. At length he decided Mrs Broadbent, who cleaned the house once each week, must have made these preparations for his coming. He contented himself with that tenuous explanation, poured himself a drink before venturing outside onto the old platform. Here he rested, as he had hoped to do more often, immersing himself in the sounds of rustling leaves and the drying wind of the season.
Some minutes elapsed before he saw her. Further along the platform, on an old railway bench that had escaped his notice hitherto, a girl in a printed cotton dress sat reading a paper-backed book.
Lambert approached her, though not unkindly, “Hello, young lady.” The platform was part of his private property but she might not know, after all; why should she? “What brings you here?”
Wordlessly, without lifting her eyes a moment from her book, the girl extended a hand in which she held, pinched between her forefinger and thumb, a small, green ticket.
Lambert stared at it.
“Don’t you want to clip this?” The girl asked in a thin voice.
Intrigued, Lambert took the little piece of cardboard from from her hand. It was stamped third class for Newquay, and dated September 24th, 1949. “Where did you get this?” He asked, in a tone less certain than before.
The girl inclined her head towards the house. “Ticket office. D’you want to clip it, mister?”
“No, you keep it.” Lambert passed the ticket back to her. And he found himself saying: “They’ll clip it on the train.” He stepped back, suddenly finding the intimacy of the space repelling and certain in the knowledge he was not wanted there. Leaving his intended lecture concerning trespass unsaid, he retreated to the drink he had abandoned on the platform’s edge. When he turned to look again, the girl had gone.
“Describe her to me.” The estate agent said, when he came to estimate ‘Brueburn’ for resale.
“About thirteen, brown hair, thin and quite pale. Tall, for her age, probably. I didn’t see her standing up. Cheap white cotton dress with a red print. Roses, I think.”
The agent thought for a moment, then shook his head. “Nope. I don’t know anyone like that. Local kid, though, prob’ly; I can’t know them all. Do you mind if I have a quick look around? You’ve done so much to the place…”
Instead of returning to London as he had planned, Lambert ‘phoned his partner. “Tassy darling, I’ll be staying down here for a couple more days, can you manage without me?”
Tasmyn sounded piqued. “Sweetie, you know I need to give Rory some answers. He doesn’t have backing, and I promised him you would make up any shortfall.”
“Is this about Le Corsair? It’s a classical ballet – surely he can’t be begging in the streets for finance. Why do I need to become involved?”
“The subject matter is a little controversial. I don’t think it’s been performed here for years, which is why I want to do it.”
“What do you mean, precious; you ‘want to do it’? I thought we’d promised each other, no more leads.”
“And we had. Oh, Lamb, I have never danced Medora, it’ll be the last, I promise…”
“I think you’d better come down here. Wrap things up as soon as you can. I’m going to need some substantial persuasion.”
“Oh, dear – are you, Lamby? I shall have to do my very, very best. You’ll wait for me? You won’t go jetting off somewhere?”
To curtail a syrup of endearments, Lambert switched off his ‘phone. He was disquieted by events in the latter days of Tasmyn’s career, as it became evident that her talents were falling from favour and he was repeatedly asked to paper over the financial cracks. A full-scale classic ballet promised to be rather more than a crack. He pondered his decision to sell Brueburn afresh. Maybe this was the time to insist their mutual retirement pledges be put into action.
She was there again, the girl. He came out onto the platform expecting to see her: the same dress, the same paperback book; the same ticket?
She looked up, her intense green eyes meeting his. “You keep pestering me,” she said.
“You’re on my property,” he replied; and when she gave no response: “What’s your name?”
“I don’t know as I should tell you, old man comin’ after young girls, and that,” She retorted. “Crim’nal, that is.” She returned to her book. “I’m Janice, Janice Brathwaite. My dad’ll come after you. He’s fierce, my dad.”
“Well, Janice, you’re trespassing.”
“I’m not. I’m waitin’ for a train.”
Lambert felt as if he was struggling against something – a weight of atmosphere surrounded the girl. “There are no trains anymore, Janice; the tracks are gone, do you see? There’s no ticket office, because the station’s my house, now.”
“I’m goin’ to London.”
“Your ticket – the one you showed me yesterday – that said you were going to Newquay.”
The girl rounded on him, her voice rising to a scream. “LONDON. T’is LONDON I’M GOING!”
Lambert found himself being blown backward as if by a gale. The pressure to put distance between himself and the girl was irresistible. He turned and almost ran back to the shelter of his house with Janice’s voice screeching after him every step of the way. “LONDON! LONDON! LONDON!”
Only when he was safely indoors did he look back up the platform from a staircase window. There was no sign of the girl.
Later that evening he Googled ‘Janice Braithwaite’ on his laptop, his search returning only current Facebook references and a few genealogy hits, none of which seemed to apply to a little station called Brueburn Halt, or its long-forgotten estate. Undeterred, he found the name of the largest local newspaper and paid his way into its archives where, by refining his search to the date of Janice’s ticket, he found the news item he sought.
A tragic accident at Brueburn Station occurred yesterday, when a local man was hit by a train travelling to Newquay and Penzance. The man, who appears to have fallen from the platform, was pronounced dead at the scene. Services on the line were suspended yesterday, but are said to be running as normal this morning. The deceased was named as Norman Talbot Braithwaite. He leaves a wife and daughter. Relatives have been informed.
Lambert lay awake long into the night, more than once hearing, when the night was free of other sounds, what he thought to be the thunder of a distant train – the chuff of smoke and steam, the click-clack of carriages, the hoot of a warning whistle. When at last he slept, he dreamt of his house as once it was – ticket office, waiting rooms and platform canopy with the tracks laid afresh and gleaming with use. And when he woke he knew what he must do. As soon as he had cleared his business calls he returned to the search engine. He remained there some time.
That afternoon the girl was there, seated and reading as before. Ignoring the forbidding aura that surrounded her, he walked right up to the seat, which was a long bench, and sat down beside her.
“Hello Janice.” He said. She did not reply. “I’ve read a lot about you,” Lambert went on. “About the competitions you won. You were very good, even when you were only seven or eight years old. But that was almost seventy years ago. How old are you, Janice?”
“Thirteen. I’m thirteen.” Lambert sensed a wave of antipathy – he could describe it no other way – pushing against him. Janice was producing her ticket again. “I’m waiting for my train. I’m going to London.”
“Your ticket says Newquay.”
“Then it’s wrong. WRONG! I’m going to LONDON!”
“Don’t excite yourself, girl.” Lambert told her, resisting the urge to retreat, no matter how strong it became. “Why don’t we talk about the first time you came here?”
“Nothing to say.” The full weight of Janice’s will thrust at Lambert, physically moving him away.
“You came with your Dad, didn’t you?” As if at the turn of a key, he felt Janice’s resistance suddenly stop. She got to her feet, and stood wide-eyed, staring down at him. He looked her up and down, the slight figure in her cotton dress, and he knew. He was certain. “Your Dad was taking you to school in Newquay, but you didn’t want to go to school, did you? You wanted to go to London to begin doing the thing you loved and to make a living from it – even at such a tender age you knew you could do that.”
“But he wouldn’t let you, would he? It was a spur of the moment thing. No sign of the ticket clerk, few people on the platform, the train rolling in. You were so gifted at judgement of balance it took only the slightest push, might not have seemed deliberate at all. He didn’t fall beneath those wheels, Janice, you pushed him.”
“Pushed him.” The girl repeated the words slowly, rolling them around in her head. “Pushed him.”
Satisfied, Lambert turned and walked away. That was why she returned here, he told himself. He didn’t know how often she was doomed to re-enact that dreadful day – he didn’t care. She was no more than an empty ghost to him now. When he turned around, she would be gone. And she was.
The hour had turned six when Tamsyn’s car rolled onto the forecourt of ‘Brueburn’ and its svelte, exquisitely coiffured driver emerged to Lambert’s effusive greeting. “Tams, my sweet love, you have no idea how lonely I’ve been!”
“Oh, Lamb, I’m so sorry! I had the most dreadful, dreadful drive! The traffic, my dearest! But are you well? You sounded so serious on the ‘phone.”
“Never better my sweet, never better! We have serious matters to discuss. It’s an enchanting evening, so when you have quite recovered come and join me on the platform: I’ll have your Moscow Mule dressed and ready.”
Very well, my dear, if I must. Although even the platform is somehow a little bit disturbing. One does one’s absolute best to love it here, doesn’t one? I shall be with you in a trice!”
Tasmyn’s ‘trices’ were usually on the long side, so Lambert was well prepared by the time she floated from Brueburn’s interior garbed in yards of expensive silk. “I’ve made an effort for you, darling, you see?” She shuddered. “Oh, god, this place gives me the creeps! Why on earth did we imagine we might ever live here?”
“We did not make that decision,” Lambert replied mysteriously, “We were invited and we came. You look so very beautiful tonight, my dear: if beauty were ever eternal it would find its home in you.”
“Lamby, what a sweet thing to say.” Tasmyn’s eyes squinted against the evening sun, “You didn’t tell me we had a guest?”
“Ah, the girl! You can see her too. I’m so glad, I thought I was going slightly insane. She’s our resident ghost, Tasmyn. Come and meet her – she’s quite memorable.”
“Memorable – whatever do you mean? I’m not in the mood to socialise, dearest, especially with a ghost, if that’s what she is. She looks rather too substantial, to me. Anyway, I do believe she’s coming to meet us.” Tamsyn’s eyes, wanting glasses she would never wear, narrowed. “What’s her name? She looks oddly familiar…”
“She does?” The distance between the two females was now no more than a dozen yards. Both stopped. Disbelief was reflected on each of their faces. Lambert; he had to believe. He had known that afternoon, when the girl got to her feet; now, walking and standing, her turned out hips were too obvious. “Tams, my darling, you should have told me your real name.”
There were times, Lambert had learned, when the truth defies rational explanation. He had travelled widely and seen enough to know this to be true.
“Lambert, what have you done to me?” Tasmyn’s voice pleaded. “What have you done?”
“I’ve brought you to face your past.”
No further words were spoken. The two figures stepped towards each other and embraced. And when the embrace was ended, only one very old woman stood on the platform at Brueburn Halt. As she wavered and seemed she might fall, Lambert came to her, supporting her. From her quivering fingers he took a small, green ticket.
“You won’t be needing this now.” He said.
© Frederick Anderson 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content