Ten minutes later, we pulled alongside the platform at Milf on. Arthur and Dickie immediately went into a routine inspired by the oddly-named station, until Mary pointed out there were letters missing from the sign and we were actually at Milford Junction.
We alighted from the train, along with an obviously unmarried young couple and an older man in a raincoat. The platform appeared deserted, except for the dark figure of a man coming up the steps from the crossing. As our previous mode of transport chuffed out of the station, we all turned to watch the man’s progress as he lurched along towards us, his lantern waving cheerlessly in the gloom.
Drawing level, he peered at each of us in turn, then announced in a gruff voice, “Yonder’s way out.” He held the lantern up, pointing towards a gate at the other end of the platform. “You’d better get off, now.”
“What’re you on about, you silly tart,” quipped Arthur. “We’re waiting for our connection to Chichester.”
The stationmaster’s face was a picture of gloom and he’d a voice to match. “No yer ain’t. That ‘un went ten minutes past. Next ‘un’s not til seven o’clock tomorrow mornin’.”
“Oh for fu – ”
“Watch your language, Arthur,” said Dickie, “or I’ll cut off your allowance.”
“If you do, you’ll have to sew it back on!” Said the other, quick as a flash.
Dickie guffawed. “You’re so funny you should be on the stage – the next one out of town!”
They both chortled rather unnecessarily.
The stationmaster waved his lantern again. “Well, you can’t be staying ‘ere.” He turned and started off towards the gate, just as the heavens opened. Within seconds, the platform was awash.
The old man in the Mac stepped forward. “Yes, I think we should heed this gentleman’s advice,” and pulling his collar up, he started after the grumpy advice-giver.
“Tch. Well, I’m not going anywhere in this weather,” said Mary, heading for the waiting room. The young couple scurried after her, followed by the Twins. The stationmaster, however, had turned around.
“Not allowed in there, you ain’t. No, no, no.”
“I don’t see why not, not, not,” said I and went inside, closing the door firmly behind me.
The waiting room, unsurprisingly, was in darkness, but Arthur produced a box of Swan Vestas and lit a pair of oil lamps hanging from the ceiling. “There we are my lovelies, home from home.” He and his partner pulled up a few chairs and stowed their luggage.
A queer sort of silence fell on us then, but it was short-lived – the door slammed open with a crash and the stationmaster stood in the doorway, glaring at us. As if on cue, a flash of lightening lit up his stark features, highlighting his pale skin and granite-like expression. Raising his lantern, he repeated his earlier warning: “Not allowed in ‘ere, you ain’t. No, no, no.”
“Now come along,” said Arthur patting him on the head. “Play nice.”
“I’m tellin’ yous,” Mr Grumpy continued, stepping inside. “Yous can’t say ‘ere.” I noticed the old man in the Mac was hovering behind him, as if afraid to venture inside.
I decided to utilise my natural authority. “Now look here, my good man,” I said, in a sturdy voice. “I’m Doctor Watson and my wife and I and our friends here have missed our connection through no fault of our own. If we’ve to wait until the next one, we’re jolly well going to wait right here. So you can put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
“No!” said the other, with sudden vehemence. “Stay ‘ere you cannot, and I shall tell yous for why.” He moved forward and put his lantern on the table. The Mac man came in and closed the door, apparently deciding to stay put after all.
“Know what day this is?” Said the stationmaster, peering at us in a slightly creepy way.
We all variously shook our heads in the traditional negative response.
“It’s Sunday.” He let out a low moan, then paused, as if expecting us to recoil in fear. We didn’t, so he continued. “Every Sunday, at midnight, it comes in the dark.” He moaned again, his long face doing a fair impression of Munch’s ‘The Scream’.
Mary rolled her eyes. “For God’s sake man, spit it out. What is it that comes in the dark?”
Normally I would have been unable to resist a snigger at this, but I managed to contain myself. The station master continued:
“What is it? I’ll tell ye…” He looked away to one side, as if picturing the whatever-it-was emerging out of the darkness. “There it be, steamin’ and screamin’ towards us – a terrible sight that’ll strike blind any man as sees it.”
Mary raised an eyebrow. “What, exactly?”
His mouth dropped open and he shook his head as if to utter the actual words might strike him blind too. “The Ghost Train,” he said, “that’s what.”