Andrew Martin

The Last Train to Scarborough

The sixth book in the Jim Stringer series, 2009

For all the people in the Quiet Carriage


I would like to thank, in no particular order: Roy Lambeth of the Durham Mining Museum; the World Ship Society and especially Mr Roy Fenton; Drene Brennan of the Postcard Club of Great Britain; Dr E. M. Bridges of the Museum of Gas and Local History at Fakenham, Norfolk; Tony Harden of the Railway Postcard Collectors' Circle; Andrew Choong, Curator of Historic Photographs and Ships Plans at the National Maritime Museum; Mr N. E. C. Molyneux of the National Rifle Association; Adrian Scales of the Scarborough Railway Society; Sue Pravezer, QC; Clive Groome of Footplate Days and Ways; Rod Lytton, Chief Mechanical Engineer at the National Railway Museum and' Karen Baker, librarian at the Museum.

All departures from historical fact are my responsibility.


Chapter One

As I awoke the thought came to me:' Where has Scarborough got to?' and it caused me a good deal of pain. I knew I was near coal – too near. I was on it. Or was it a great black beach, for I heard waves too? There was darkness above as well as below, but not quite complete darkness above, for I could make out thin strips of light. Each thought caused me a blinding pain behind the eyes and I did not want any more to come.

I inched a little way to the left, and the coal smell was stronger. It disagreed with me powerfully, and I saw in my mind things to do with coal and burning as the nausea came on: a locomotive moving coal wagons in an empty station that ought to have been packed with holiday-makers; a man making coal-gas tar at the works on the Marine Parade at Scarborough, and evidently doing it for his own amusement, for he was the only man in the town. A storm approached across the black sea behind him.

I saw the booklet that gave directions for use of an incandescent oil lamp – it gave sunshine at night through a red shade, one hundred and twenty candles – and I saw smoke over Scarborough, and further general scenes of that sea-side town in the hour before the lamps are lit: the funicular railway closed and not working; the locked gate at the entrance to the underground aquarium and holiday palace. I figured an orchestra locked inside there along with a troupe of tumblers, and a magician who was the wonder of the age but nevertheless troubled by a leaking kettle.

I saw the harbour of the town with the boats at all angles, as though they'd been dropped in only moments before, and were still struggling to right themselves.

I saw a public house with a ship's figurehead on the front, a marine stores, the sign reading 'All Kinds of Nets Sold' lashed by waves… and nobody about. I pictured the great hotel – I could not recall its name and knew it would cost me pain to try and do so. I saw the high, windowless wall to the side, streaked with rain – the place was a prison viewed from that angle. I heard a great roaring of water on the other side of that wall. Flags flew from what might have been flagpoles at the top or might have been masts, and in my mind's eye the monstrous building slid away from the Promenade, and began bucking about on the dark sea.

These scenes were mainly without colour, but then some colour came, and it was wrong, too bright, done by hand: a red baby in a sky-blue cot set in a yellow room. That baby was on a post card – that was its trouble, and at the thought my stomach lurched fruitlessly while the head-racking pain redoubled. I moved on the coal and the same convulsion came again, only worse. My stomach was trying to do something it could not do. I thought of a short cigar taken from a cedar-wood box. It was a little dry. But what was dry? Box or cigar? At any rate the room containing the cigar was too hot, yet how could it be, for it was part of heaven? No, not quite heaven. A voice echoed in my head: 'It's turned you a bit bloody mysterious, this Paradise place.' Paradise. Somehow, a secret file was involved, a pasteboard folder containing papers that everybody looked at, and yet it was secret. I saw a jumble of razor blades, a fast-turning dial on what might have been a compass, but surely ought not to have been. My mind could hold ideas and pictures but could not make the connections between them.

I looked up again at the light strips. I raised my arm towards them, and they were a good way above the height of my hand. My arm wavered and fell; it was not long enough, and that was all about it. I was perhaps underneath the floorboards, in some species of giant coal cellar, and this notion came with a new sensation: a fearful sense of eternal falling. Some of my memories were coming back to me, and coming too fast. I closed my eyes on the great coal plain and raced down, down, down.

Chapter Two

And there in place of Scarborough was the city of York, or the outskirts thereof: our new house, 'the very last one in Thorpe- on-Ouse', as our little girl, Sylvia, used to say, the house that put off the beginning of open country. It was evening – early evening, spring coming on; a kind of green glow in the sky, and I sat in my shirt sleeves and waistcoat. They had been ploughing in the fields around the village, but I'd not seen the work carried on, for I'd passed all day in the police office in York station.

I sat on the front gate with Sylvia, and our boy Harry. They both liked to sit up high – well, it was high to them, Sylvia especially, and I had my arm around her to stop her falling, which she didn't like. Not the falling I mean, but the arm. She wanted to sit on the gate unsupported like Harry, who now pointed along the lane, saying, 'Here he comes', and old Phil Shannon, who lit the lamps in Thorpe-on-Ouse and at Acaster Malbis, was approaching on his push bike, with the long lamplighter's pole held at his side. I fancied that it was a lance, and Shannon a sort of arthritic knight on horseback. He leant alternatively left and right as he pedalled, like a moving mechanism, some species of clockwork.

'You could set your watch by him,' I said, as he came to about three hundred yards' distance from us.

'You could not,' said Harry. 'It's twenty past six. Last night he was here at five past.'

'Take your arm away, father,' said Sylvia.

I removed my arm, and we watched Shannon come on.

'He looks all-in,' said Harry.

'Well, we're the last house he does,' I said.

'I know that,' said Harry. (He was a bright boy and it seemed that he knew most things of late.)

'I think it's ever so nice of him to come all this way,' said Sylvia, who then tumbled forward onto the cinder

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