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Indian Trainspacer
The Schoolgirl March 1916

"Come Beatrice. We will miss the train if we don’t hurry."

Two huge blue eyes met his as he beckoned her to follow him. Her small hands felt as safe as they tightly clasped his large freckled ones that smelled pleasantly of aromatic pipe tobacco. He gently lifted her into the dandi that was to be carried by four coolies to the station.

She looked a picture of poise and innocence though perhaps out of place in the heat of the late evening sun. The arms of the large navy blazer slid from her tiny shoulders, soft pink fingertips peeping out from beneath the wide cuffs. Two cobalt blue ribbons immaculately tied at each end complemented waist length copper red plaits, which hung down to her bottom. The pristine white blouse contrasted with the blazer and a navy tunic that hung well below her knees. On the coarse ground, the black lace-up shoes gleamed so brightly that she could see her face in them.

How excited she had been two weeks earlier when the local shoemaker had carefully measured her tiny feet, just before her sixth birthday she recollected.

You will need two pairs. She could hear her mother’s voice.

One pair on, one pair off.

So now she had one pair on. She would later realise that by the time she saw her family again, these shoes would be rubbing tightly and painfully against her toes, as she quickly outgrew them.

But for now she was so excited, oblivious of what the future held. She dutifully watched as the man instructed the coolies to load her suitcase onto the dandi. The well worn brown leather case stood only a few inches shorter than Beatrice herself.

She remembered helping pack a navy beret. For church, she had been told; thick black woollen stockings, liberty bodices and coarse white cotton knickers that buttoned underneath so she could go to the lavatory without removing them.

Two of everything; one on, one off.

The usually companionable pair settled uncomfortably in their seats; an eerie silence like a wall between them.

A feeling of panic suddenly engulfed this small child as she turned to look behind.

She saw her mother in the distance, holding her baby brother Bill in one arm, the other circling John and Peter who were desperately clinging to their mother’s billowing skirt.

camera Click here to view a photo of Nelle
with Beatrice's 3 young brothers.

The sky was filled with arms all frantically waving and in this moment, the reality of the situation hit her with such ferocity that huge tears welled up in her eyes. She felt numb as the warm, salty liquid trickled down her nose and into her mouth, pausing only to sting a small scratch made by her kitten that very morning.

Yet somehow she knew she must be brave. Goodness, hadn’t she been told this enough in the past few weeks as she was being prepared for school.

The journey to the station was only a matter of minutes but to Beatrice it might as well have been a lifetime away. She remembered being lifted down, placed on the platform with the tattered suitcase.

The coolies were dismissed, a conversation held with a strange woman, and then the man and woman strode towards her.

‘Come Beatrice. I’ll make sure you get to school all right,’

Without more ado, the woman grasped the small hand between her own spiny fingers, picked up the suitcase and marched them both to the train.

A huge lump formed in Beatrice throat, which made her feel quite sick. She fearfully looked directly at the man, her beloved father, for reassurance that this was just an outing and that she would soon return home.

But no; he simply gave her a thin smile. She fancied she could see a damp patch in the corners of his eyes, those kind eyes, only a slightly less bright blue than her own.

‘Goodbye Beatrice, be a good girl and obey the nuns,’ he called. Come home safely at Christmas.’

With that he was gone, for the moment; for the day; seemingly forever.

The six year old daughter of Ellen and Herbert mason was about to start the train journey she was to make twice a year for the next ten long years. A journey she grew to hate, a journey of necessity.

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The Story of Beatrice Mary Mason. Written by F. J. Louis | Copyright © 2009