The train chugged slowly through the darkness, its hypnotic rhythm soothing my troubled heart. Leaning back against the cushions I blessed the chance that had given me a compartment to myself. I was in no fit state to have to smile at any stranger who might have come in.
The lights in the compartment were at their very lowest; in these dangerous days it was not wise for a train to advertise its presence by glittering like a chain of jewels laid across the land. Indeed I was surprised that there were any lights on at all – when I had crossed the country further south I had sat in a total blackout which had perfectly echoed the dark and empty void within my heart.
I looked around the compartment with a listless curiosity. I was glad there was no mirror beneath the luggage rack which might have shown my pale and careworn face, but the painting of a sunny Cotswold village seemed like a sour joke in these days of terror. I turned my head to see what picture was behind me – little sailing boats scudding along below white cliffs. That was too bitter a reminder! I closed my eyes and turned my head towards the outer darkness and longed for peaceful oblivion to replace the pain which had filled me for three long months.
Time must have passed, though I had lost track of it when I opened my eyes again to discover that the lights had indeed been turned off and we were sliding quietly through a dark and uninhabited landscape. It almost felt more like being on a boat than in a train, and my curiosity was peaked enough for me to sit up and look out of the window. However I could see nothing more than a few dim shapes which might have been hedges or copses.
smelling air flowed in and almost at the same second a lighter shade of darkness showed me the outlines of rolling hills or moorland, although above me I could still see the sparkle of the stars.
I left my seat and knelt on the floor with my arms on the edge of the open window, gazing out as if my life depended on it. Somehow I knew I must watch this dawn as I had never watched anything before – not even his dear, lost face, which I had known so well. With an effort I shrugged away the memories and focussed on what was taking place outside.
The train, which hadn’t been travelling fast, slowed still further as we ran alongside a sliver of lake or tarn, and came to a gently hissing halt. It was as if it said, “I’ll wait here, so you can see and remember everything.” I was wrapped in the stillness and silence of night’s last moments, a dark robe of peace. Then, as the outlines of the hills and the silhouettes of hedge lines and trees grew sharper, and the slopes of heather and bracken turned into patches of grey sprinkled with silver dew, I heard the burbling of the water on the shore and the distant rippling cry of a curlew.
Second by second the light in the East grew stronger and the stars faded from view. A line of rowans grew not far from the lake edge, their leaves changing from a dim half-seen grey to a lively golden-yellow; and a thrush sitting on a topmost twig, watching the dawn as intently as I was, sang his first few notes of the day. They were hesitant, muted, as if he were not quite sure this was the sun. He seemed unable to trust his eyes. I understood.
The sky was now the faintest shade of lemon yellow, and then like a reluctant riser uncovering one eye to peer over his eiderdown, the first gleam of sunlight slid over the whaleback hump of the moor and struck the treetops, turning them to gold. Song broke out all around the lake.
The thrush threw back his head and the music of his rejoicing poured out, filling the valley. The curlews bubbled up on the hill, and a lark threw himself into the sky which transformed itself to a multitude of shades of blue as he rose higher and higher. His song lifted the blind which had hidden the world, and hauled the sun into the sky.
The water echoed in molten gold the glory of the rising sun, the scarlet berries shone out like rubies on the rowans, and warmth and light reached out and touched my face like the gentle caress of loving fingers. I closed my eyes against the brilliance, but found no darkness within. I was bathed in a rosy glow, and one by one the healing tears finally made their way between my lids, and slid down my face.
“There’s still life in the world, there’s still hope,” I thought, and let the music and the light fill the dark and empty void.
Chuff! Chuff, chuff! said the engine, “Good! At last!” and in a flurry of steam hauled the train on up the tracks. I opened my eyes again to fix the hills, the lake and its trees in my memory forever, and when we had rounded the next bend and they were lost to sight, I got to my feet, pulled the window half up, lay down on the seats and slipped into a gentle and blessèd sleep.
(There I go again – beauty, light and music – they find their way into everything!)