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Authors: Kristel Thornell

On the Blue Train

BOOK: On the Blue Train
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Kristel Thornell was born in Sydney in 1975. She has also lived in Italy, Mexico, Canada, Finland and the United States, where she is now based.
Night Street
, which was published by Allen & Unwin in 2010, co-won the 2009
Australian
/Vogel's Literary Award and won the Dobbie Literary Award, the Barbara Ramsden Award, and the University of Rochester's Andrew Eiseman Award. It was shortlisted for the Glenda Adams Award and the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction. Thornell was named one of the Best Young Australian Novelists by
The Sydney Morning Herald
in 2011.

First published in 2016

Copyright © Kristel Thornell 2016

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian
Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to the Copyright Agency (Australia) under the Act.

Allen & Unwin

83 Alexander Street

Crows Nest NSW 2065

Australia

Phone:
(61 2) 8425 0100

Email:
[email protected]

Web:
www.allenandunwin.com

Cataloguing-in-Publication details are available from the National Library of Australia

www.trove.nla.gov.au

ISBN 9781760293109

eISBN 9781952535017

Set by Bookhouse, Sydney

Cover design: Emily O'Neill

Cover photography: Lee Avison / Trevillion Images

Contents

1 SECOND DAY, 4 DECEMBER 1926

2 SECOND DAY, EVENING

3 THIRD DAY

4 IN THE WINTER GARDEN BALLROOM

5 TORMENT ME NO MORE

6 FOURTH DAY

7 TWILIGHT SLEEP

8 THE MISSING WOMAN

9 FOURTH DAY, AFTERNOON

10 THE BLUE HOUR

11 SIXTH DAY

12 SIXTH DAY, EVENING

13 SAN CARLO WHARF

14 AUGUST 1926 TORQUAY

15 A VERY ELUSIVE PERSON

16 BRAIN FAG AND DEBILITY

17 SEVENTH AND EIGHTH DAYS

18 1922 TSS AENEAS

19 SAUDADE

20 TENTH DAY

21 WHAT HARRY TOLD TERESA

22 TENTH DAY, AFTERNOON

23 TENTH DAY, EVENING

24 NIGHT-TIME VISITATION

25 LAMENT OF THE NYMPH

26 FIRST DAY BERKSHIRE

27 TWELFTH DAY

28 1914 TORQUAY

29 TWELFTH DAY, EVENING

30 CONUNDRUM

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

1

SECOND DAY, 4 DECEMBER 1926

Harrods like the
Titanic
on a grey sea of winter daylight and nothing for it but to go aboard. Only she couldn't budge, couldn't even recall what she needed to purchase. The last hours had been simple. Now she was emptied and dopey again, her limbs dull, everything woolly. A woolly gentleman was holding open the door. Had he noticed her soiled shoes? A lady brushed past Agatha, all polish and ease. She was slim, dark-haired and piquant in an uncommonly well-tailored magenta dress.

A foppish young man at her side drawled, ‘Teresa, darling, I'll see you in half an hour.' It was clear that he wasn't her husband.

Teresa wasn't terribly young, Agatha thought, but she had not surrendered to age. She gave him a farewell peck and was so magnetic, heading for the open door, that Agatha with
relief was able to follow her through it. And she continued to trail Teresa, the two women sauntering among covetable merchandise, Agatha pausing when the other paused and even, after a while, trying some of her gestures, which were wonderfully collected and free of anxiety. They stroked pairs of kid gloves, eyed hats with chin tilted. The gap between them was closing.

Until at last—they were each holding a copy of the same white silk shawl specked with silver—their eyes met. They didn't smile but regarded one another candidly before turning away.

It wouldn't have been seemly to go on following Teresa, so Agatha rested her bags from the Army and Navy Stores on the floor and fished in her handbag as if for a shopping list. She chanced on the ring with the loose setting that an age ago she'd meant to have fixed. Surely this wasn't the purpose of her visit to Harrods? It wasn't a pressing task, though there was always a sense of rightness about seeing to repairs. When she looked up, Teresa with her magenta glamour was gone.

Not entirely, for Agatha discovered traces of the other woman in her own stance and walk, which remained light and fluid as she retrieved her bags, straightened her spine aristocratically and proceeded on to the jewellery department.

She wavered only when the jeweller was examining her ring. So thoroughly, his touch delicate and humane, that she wanted to cry.
She is all right
. Saying it might make it so.

He reassured her that the mending would be a straightforward matter. ‘It'll be as good as new,' he avowed.

She swallowed. ‘Good, excellent.' Her voice still wanted practice.

‘Where shall we deliver it to, miss?'

He must have studied her ring finger, a region that was his professional territory. She was taking a holiday from her wedding ring.

‘Where?'

‘Yes, miss, to what address?'

She hesitated. She was determined to get herself to Yorkshire, where she and her husband had intended to go for a little getaway, before. ‘To Harrogate.' She remembered an advertisement she had seen. ‘The Harrogate Hydro.'

‘Very good, miss. And to what name?'

Behind her a voice exclaimed, ‘Cracking!'

‘Teresa,' she said firmly. ‘Teresa . . .
Neele
. Mrs.' He would find this odd, given her bare finger.

She made her way shortly after to King's Cross, with the stealth of a spy, of a magician with his vanishing trick. For then it was all as light and silky as breathing in another's breath.

2

SECOND DAY, EVENING

It was almost seven o'clock when the stone edifice appeared finally in the taxicab's headlamps. The Harrogate Hydro was a dignified hotel, congenially discreet behind scrawls of ivy. The driver's conversation had limited itself to the unlikeliness of snow in the coming days but she had remained indifferent to the weather throughout her long journey. She climbed out, requiring no assistance with her eccentrically meagre luggage, and stood before the entrance. She was acutely thirsty. Could this place be the very thing?

Indoors, she found a hospitable fire burning, inviting armchairs, a fine grandfather clock. The lulling promise of the setting was mighty, though like tea-leaves it would take time to infuse and unfurl.

‘Good evening, madam,' a woman of a certain age greeted
her, solidly but well made and preserved, with a stolid air and a head of intricately braided dark red hair.

Concentrating, she introduced herself and declared interest in a room.

‘How long do you plan to stop with us, Mrs Neele?'

The question might have been put in a language she once knew. ‘I'm not sure yet,' she said, at length. ‘That will depend. I'm awaiting word from friends.'

‘Very good, Mrs Neele. Your luggage . . . ?'

‘Just this. You see, I've not long arrived. From . . . Cape Town. My things will be sent along.'

She signed the visitors' book dutifully,
Teresa Neele
. A wavy signature, light and silky.

Redhead now revealed herself as the proprietress and too professional for chitchat or cross-examining. Teresa was thankful. A chambermaid accompanied her in the electric elevator, one floor up.

The room and its robust, unflinching furnishings would do well. She'd be at her ease here, wouldn't she? The maid got a fire underway, and went to see about tea.

The window gave onto the drive and the road the taxi had taken, with its line of smart stone houses. The North. She had been living on the numb side of amazement, but she felt then a remote shiver of adventure. She divested herself of the barely recognisable coat purchased in London that morning—just that morning?—at the Army and Navy Stores,
along with the small case, a nightdress and a hot-water bottle. The maid returned, and departed.

Solitude and tea! Oh yes. The flames started to give off heat. She had only the clothes she wore and it was tiresome not to be able to change, yet she determined to go down to dinner like any traveller. Her memory for food was usually as faithful as her memory for conversation, but she struggled to call her last meal to mind. Something at King's Cross? Egg-and-cress sandwiches? She avoided the looking-glass on the dresser, reckoning on fatigue's shabby treatment of her face. And she'd postpone a letter to her husband until after dinner.

BOOK: On the Blue Train
8.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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