A Snowfall of Silver - Laura Wood


It is possible that the pantaloons were a mistake.

I realize this now, as I take in the interested glances from some of my fellow rail passengers and head down the swaying corridor towards the compartment marked on my ticket. When I got dressed earlier this evening (by candlelight, so as not to wake Midge and Pa, and – I will admit – for the sense of atmosphere), the costume had seemed like such an appropriate choice for a young girl, running away from home to seek glory and fame in the bustling metropolis.

It consists of a scruffy waistcoat over an oversized shirt that once belonged to Pa, a flat cap pulled low over my eyes with all of my hair tucked up underneath it, a pair of long, badly darned socks, and, of course, the pantaloons. (Strictly speaking, they’re a pair of ladies’ Victorian athletic bloomers that I picked up at the village jumble, but with some very minor alterations they do an admirable job at passing for ragamuffin apparel.) I was particularly satisfied with the dirty fingernails and the artful smudge on my right cheek – it’s the little touches that make all the difference.

Looking in the mirror at home in the dingy candlelight I had been pleased with my efforts, and yet now I feel less confident. My intention had been to lurk in the shadows, blending effortlessly into my surroundings, but instead I seem out of place on the night train, soon to be making its way from Penzance to London. The other passengers are wearing very ordinary travelling clothes, their faces pale moons in the lamplight – not a smudged cheek to be seen.

I finally reach my compartment, and slide open the door. With a sigh of relief, I find that I have it to myself. I make myself comfortable, slumping down into one of the seats and pulling the cap a little lower over my forehead, shadowing my eyes and giving me a feeling of being very discreet – an important feeling for any fugitive.

The train begins to move faster now, the percussive sounds of the wheels against the rails building rhythmically as it gathers speed, and I glance out of the window as Penzance melts away. The world rushes alongside me, draped in an inky darkness that turns the familiar face of the Cornish landscape into a stranger. I shiver, delighted. Here I am, on an intrepid adventure into the unknown. It seems almost impossible to believe, but the gentle swaying of the train is real, the faded green seats are real, the miles slipping quietly away like a silk ribbon running through my fingers are really, deliciously real. Oh, at last, this is living!

I reach for the worn old duffle bag (another of Pa’s possessions that I have made off with; it’s a good thing he’s such an even-tempered sort of man, with all this felonious activity taking place) and open it, extracting a slightly squashed jam sandwich, wrapped in waxy brown paper. I made it before I left home, creeping into the pantry to raid Midge’s stores.

Midge is my mother. Her name is Mary, but everyone calls her Midge. I think she got the name because she’s very tiny – “a dot”, Pa calls her sometimes when he sweeps her up into a big bear hug. Anyway, Midge is an absolutely incredible cook, and her ginger jam sandwiched between two thick slices of home-made bread and butter is a feast that any worldly traveller might be proud of.

After polishing off the sandwich in several hungry bites, and some more staring into the impenetrable abyss beyond the windowpane, it’s not long until my eyes begin to feel heavy. I suppose there’s only so much staring into the impenetrable abyss that one person can handle. The adrenaline created by my dramatic flight into the night is rapidly leaving my system, and, despite my best efforts to stay awake, my head begins to nod.

It must be after midnight by now, and the train is not due to arrive in to London until seven o’clock in the morning. I settle back into my third class seat, resting my head against the lumpy cushion. I didn’t have the money for a sleeping compartment, and anyway, it feels a lot more authentic to travel this way, as if I am a true vagabond. If I wasn’t so law-abiding I’d have tried to stow away, but this is the next best thing. I wrap my arms around my bag,

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