The Return (Part One)

January 11, 1897
Edith Bowen

I never believed the fantasy would last forever. There were no tears in my eyes as I stood on the platform beside my packed bags. Mr. Stark had felt it best if we were not seen together and so his coach had left me on the steps of the station. The holiday had been a wonderful escape from the dreary reality of my life and even with it over, I have no regrets.

The wait was not long and the train pulled into the station only a few minutes after I arrived. It was a beautiful sight and one I have never given much attention to before. The cool black metal of the engine, the intricate turning of the wheels on their rails pulling the train forward, the puff of white steam floating above, and the shrill of the whistle, made it all complete. Fantasy and reality collide and it is time to return.

Mr. Stark had paid my ticket for first class over my less than sincere objections. I feel only a small twinge of guilt which outshined by the excitement of a new experience I never expected to enjoy. All said, I enjoyed the luxury, but could never shake the feeling I did not belong. Perhaps it is true we are born to our stations in life. I know my place and I do not hate it. That is something different at least, from the girl who first arrived at Primrose College more than three years ago.

I cannot help but compare then against now. The holiday was my first real trip away and back since I arrived all that time ago. My first thoughts then had been to run away, now I would run to Carrington Manor because while not quite home it is as close as I know. The familiar sounds and smells inside the walls cannot be said to be missed but their remains a nostalgia for them.

Most of all it is the exciting reality that my time here is soon to come to an end which is in itself a fantasy now becoming a reality. When I first arrived at Primrose I was full of anger and hate at the cruelty of this life and the world surrounding it. I never dreamed of a future, I did not believe there was any place in which I belonged, but I have changed. The world around me has changed and life may still be cruel but it is not only such. It is the tender moments, like this holiday, which temper the cruelty with something more, something better, and make this life worth living.

Stepping off the train, I saw the gathering of my fellow Primrose Girls immediately. I straightened my back, gathered my bags, breathed a puff of icy air and set myself to join them. The gathering was less than what had left, but that has always been the case after the holidays. Primrose is not for every girl and every girl is not for Primrose. Without a proper train station to the school, I expected the return would be somewhat less on average than normal but then those who would return this time, would belong.

I greeted the girls with a smile. Several gave me curious looks, especially Margaret Spooner who was strangely missing her escort, Edgar. I suppose it is to be expected, as those who have known me the longest are aware I have no place to go for the holidays and more so know that I have not means to travel in luxury. I changed the subject before questions were asked because I do not know if I am strong enough to keep secret that which must be kept.

“Where is Mr. Carrington?” I asked.

“That is the question of the day.” Emma replied.

Margaret’s roommate has a way of being in everybody’s business. I should have expected she would be the one to answer my question but I had hoped for someone, anyone else. Foolish of me I suppose.

“Has no one seen him?” I asked a little louder.

“No one. Not even the station manager knows anything.” Emma said.

I looked around to see a few nods of confirmation between those girls who were paying attention. Several others were gathered around in a tighter circle and seemed much more interested in something other than our transportation back to school.

Margaret caught me eye looking toward the group and she gave me a crooked smile as she stepped to my side.

“Penelope.” She said simply.

It was not much of an explanation as they go, but for those of us who know Miss Sumter, her name is quite often synonymous with trouble. I nodded to Margaret.

“What mischief is she up to this time?” I asked.

“From her moaning and carrying on it seems her holiday was simply dreadful” Margaret said.
I shook my head at Margaret’s attempt to sound like Miss Sumter as she emphasized the word ‘dreadful’.

“She does not know the meaning of the word.” I said.

“If only she knew that.” Margaret said, rolling her eyes toward the sky.

We were interrupted then, by a middle aged man who proclaimed to be the station manager.

“Good afternoon ladies. Is there someone in charge here?” He asked.

I turned to face him with my best air of authority.

“I am the senior girl here.” I said.

“Yes, very good. We have been trying to get word from Primrose College as to the whereabouts of your transportation from here. Unfortunately, we have not had any success.”

“Have you tried Carrington Manor directly?” I asked.

“No, but it is of no matter in any case. There is a storm front moving in and it would be quite impossible for you to travel through it. The town sheriff is on his way here and has secured accommodations for all of you until morning.” He said.

“Thank you, that is most considerate. Would it be possible for me to use a telephone though and attempt to contact Carrington Manor directly so they will know our situation?” I asked.

“A telephone? Miss, I realize you ladies are accustomed to luxuries of the like but you’ll find no such newfangled devices here. We have a telegraph office just inside and you are welcome to use it, but that is the best I can offer.” He said.

I blinked blankly at him, trying to decide if I should be angry at him or humored by him.

“A telegraph?” I mimicked, “Perhaps you are unaware good Sir, but the telegraph office in Providence burned to the ground in November. I cannot imagine how you would not know but assuming you did not, how could your telegraph office be so incompetent as to send messages to a place which does not exist?”

“I am quite certain a temporary office has been erected in Providence, Miss. In any case the matter will not be resolved this day.” He said.

It was then, conveniently timed, the sheriff arrived.

“Good afternoon.” The sheriff said.

I turned to face him.

“Are you in charge, Miss?” The sheriff said.

“Bowen.” I replied, “It would appear not.”

The sheriff nearly choked on a chuckle as he tried to suppress it.

“It seems we have a small bit of a situation as I imagine you know. We’ve been unable to determine if your transportation is in route or still in Providence. There is storm headed this way and it might well have kept them from heading out. Either way I’ve managed to secure an accommodation for you ladies for the night.” The sheriff said.

“I thank you for that but I would like to make some effort to contact Primrose College or Carrington Manor.” I said.

“That should wait until morning.” The sheriff said.

“If it must.” I said.

“I understand your frustration but there is little more to be done today.”

“Very well. When do we leave for our accommodations?”

“Is now good?”

I nodded.

“Ladies!” I said, “Gather your bags up. Our transportation is not here and we have accommodations for the night.”

My shout caught most of their attention and those who were still too engaged in other conversations were prodded by those who had heard. It took little time and we were formed in an orderly group with our bags, walking out of the station and down the street with the sheriff leading the way.

The town was barely deserving of the name, with only a few structures near the train station. Scattered on the surrounding grounds were houses and barns indicating it was little more than a farming community. Compared to Providence it was backward and uncivilized, but not long ago there was hardly anyplace that was any different.

The walk was relatively quiet except for a few moans of complaint about the unfairness of having to walk whilst carrying their own bags. Miss Sumter was the loudest of course and I mean to have a word with her about it later, but such matters can wait until the familiar surroundings of Carrington Manor.

As we approached a large barn it became clear to me, it was the sheriff’s destination. I almost wished Penelope were in charge because I can only imagine the verbal lashing she would have delivered to the sheriff. I am not quite so gifted but I did not remain silent.

“A barn?” I said.

“We don’t have anything else large enough.” The sheriff said.

From his tone it was clear he was embarrassed.

“Surely, there is some alternative.”

“You can wait on the platform back at the station.” He replied.

I glared at him. He shrugged.

“We may well freeze in there just the same.” I said.

“I’ve got plenty of blankets and we can keep a small fire to keep it warm. I know it is less than ideal but it is the best I can do.”

“Then we will endure.” I said.

He nodded.

Inside the barn I could tell the girls were fuming but surprisingly they minded their manners. We also found Miss Waters and Miss Cushing were already present inside. They looked somewhat surprised to see the rest of us.

“How did you two end up here?” I asked.

“We couldn’t ride out today with a storm coming and this was the only place in town that could provide shelter for our horses.” Miss Cushing replied.

“I see. We seem to be in the same predicament. Are you riding back to Primrose tomorrow?” I asked.

“That’s the plan.” Miss Waters said.

“Would you be kind enough to wait until we get word from Carrington Manor as to transportation for the rest of us?” I asked.

“It would be better to ride back with the group but Mr. Carrington wouldn’t allow it on the way out so I doubt he’ll be any different for the way back.” Miss Cushing said.

“We can wait a short while but if we don’t leave by noon we’ll be forced to spend another night here.” Miss Waters said.

“I would appreciate it. We may need you to carry a message through if we can’t reach anyone.”

“Why don’t you just ride back with us?” Miss Cushing asked.

“Most of these girls are not equipped to do so and none of us have a horse available.” I replied.

“Arrangements can be made if needed.” Miss Waters said, “Still, we’ll wait but if we are making the trip anyway might as well have some of you go with us.”

“We’ll decide on that when the time comes.” I said.

The girls nodded. The sound of rain and then hail echoed inside the barn. We huddled around the fire with blankets tightly wrapped around us. Sleep was elusive for most of us and the night was colder and longer for it.

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