Illustration is Public Domain – 1 January 1870

Short story first published in ACES ‘The Terrier’ Magazine in the Summer 2017 edition.

Rural Encounter

‘… my family are of opinion that Mr. Micawber should quit London, and exert his talents in the country.’ – Mrs Micawber from ‘David Copperfield’ by Charles Dickens.

***

The small country station was crowded. Two gentlemen stood towards the end of the platform waiting as the steam train came to a halt.  Dressed in top hats and morning coats they looked the very image of prosperous Victorian businessmen.  The younger man stepped forward and twisted the carriage handle to open the door, then stepped back to allow an attractive young woman to enter, followed by his companion.  He pulled the carriage door shut behind them and sat down facing the woman.

‘A fine day for it, Micawber,’ said the young man.

‘Indeed it is, Copperfield’ his older companion replied. ‘I’m so glad we supported this railway.  On a fine day like this you just know that it’s going to be an outstanding success.’

Micawber observed the young woman as she listened to their conversation. He noted her modern garb and that she traveled alone.  He also noted from her unreserved glances that she seemed quite taken with his companion.

Without invitation the young woman spoke.  ‘I’m sorry but I couldn’t help over-hearing. Are you connected with this railway?’  She was looking at Copperfield so he had to reply.

‘Yes we do. This railway is important. It’s a lifeline to this rural community.’

Micawber supported him. ‘This railway represents survival and jobs for the isolated settlements along the line.  Farmers, tradesmen and visitors all rely upon it.  However, it needs financial support from the community to keep it going. I’ve often said – Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.’

‘I’ve seen the posters and I think that I’d like to help.  Would that be possible?’

‘Certainly, my dear,’ said Micawber, removing his top hat and reaching inside it. From the lining of the headband he carefully withdrew a single printed sheet. ‘Allow me to present you with this pamphlet. It explains in a little more detail how you can help.

The young woman took the item, thanked him and started to read it.  The train pulled into the next station and the two gentlemen rose to leave the carriage.

‘We must take our leave of you,’ said Micawber. ‘Unless you care to join us for some refreshments and to continue your journey on the next train? There will be another one along in half an hour.’ Micawber had also noted that his usually-reticent young friend seemed similarly taken with the young woman. ‘During that time my companion can answer any questions that you may have.’

She glanced again at Copperfield. ‘Yes, please, I’d like to know more’ and stood up to join them.

Copperfield helped her down from the carriage. ‘We are from the Council’s Estates team. The Council has granted a lease on part of the track and has made grants and helped to set up the Trust to restore and run the railway. We handled the property negotiations and, as a result, have since become volunteers in our free time to help the Trust at fundraising events like this.’

A group of Japanese tourists rushed along the platform, cameras raised, clicking in the direction of Copperfield and Micawber as they stood on the platform.

Copperfield smiled at the young woman and offered his arm.  ‘For the moment, I have to stay in character but after we’ve posed for the tourists, we’ll take tea in the refreshment room. I’ll explain how you can join the Railway Preservation Trust and then you can volunteer to take part in these Dickensian Steam Gathering Days and other such events with us to help raise funds to keep this line open, if you so wish.’

‘Well, well, well,’ thought Micawber, handing out leaflets to the tourists, ‘I’ve never heard him talk as much.’ He smiled as he watched them walk along the platform together in front of him. ‘A Town Hall full of young women that he never connects with but put him in a costume, give him a character and he pulls a cracker on his first outing … result happiness.’

***

©David Lewis Pogson 2017

Note: The idea for this story was based on an amalgam of events. One summer meeting of ACES North West Branch was held at Carnforth Station (the home of ‘Brief Encounter’ – the ultimate love story). Another summer meeting of ACES North West Branch was held at Bury Transport Museum where we had a ride along a restored section of line which had been transferred to the Railway Preservation Trust from Bury Council to extend the East Lancs Railway. Finally I visited Ulverston Dickensian Christmas Festival where the whole town dresses in Victorian costume and is truly a sight to behold. 

 

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