A Golden Wedding, by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
On the very spot which the railway station has usurped, with its long
slate roof, wooden signal-box, and advertisements in blue and white
enamel, I can recall a still pool shining between beds of the
flowering rush; and to this day, as I wait for the train, the whir of
a vanished water-wheel comes up the valley. Sometimes I have caught
myself gazing along the curve of the narrow-gauge in full expectation
to see a sagged and lichen-covered roof at the end of it. And
sometimes, of late, it has occurred to me that there never was such a
mill as I used to know down yonder; and that the miller, whose coat
was always powdered so fragrantly, was but a white ghost, after all.
The station-master and porters remember no such person.
But he was no ghost; for I have met him again this week, and upon the
station platform. I had started at daybreak to fish up the stream
that runs down the valley in curves roughly parallel to the railway
embankment; and coming within sight of the station, a little before
noon, I put up my tackle and strolled towards the booking-office. The
water was much too fine for sport, and it seemed worth while to break
off for a pipe and a look at the 12.26 train. Such are the simple
pleasures of a country life.
I leant my rod against the wall, and was setting down my creel, when,
glancing down the platform, I saw an old man seated on the furthest
bench. Everybody knows how a passing event, or impression, sometimes
appears but a vain echo of previous experience. Something in the lines
of this old man's figure, as he leaned forward with both hands clasped
upon his staff, gave me the sensation. "All this has happened before,"
I told myself. "He and I are playing over again some small and futile
scene in our past lives. I wonder who he is, and what is the use of
But there was something wanting in the picture to complete its
resemblance to the scene for which I searched my memory.
The man had bent further forward, and was resting his chin on his
hands and staring apathetically across the rails. Suddenly it dawned
on me that there ought to be another figure on the bench—the figure
of an old woman; and my memory ran back to the day after this railway
was opened, when this man and his wife had sat together on the
platform waiting to see the train come in—that fascinating monster
whose advent had blotted out the very foundations of the old mill and
driven its tenants to a strange home.
The mill had disappeared many months before that, but the white dust
still hung in the creases of the miller's clothes. He wore his Sunday
hat and the Sunday polish on his shoes; and his wife was arrayed in
her best Paisley shawl. She carried also a bunch of cottage flowers,
withering in her large hot hand. It was clear they had never seen a
locomotive before, and wished to show it all respect. They had taken
a smaller house in the next valley, where they attempted to live on
their savings; and had been trying vainly and pitifully to struggle
with all the little habits that had been their life for thirty-five
years, and to adapt them to new quarters. Their faces were weary,
but flushed with expectation. The man kept looking up the line, and
declaring that he heard the rumble of the engine in the distance; and
whenever he said this, his wife pulled the shawl more primly about her
shoulders, straightened her back, and nervously re-arranged her posy.
When at length the whistle screamed out, at the head of the vale, I
thought they were going to tumble off the bench. The woman went white
to the lips, and stole her disengaged hand into her husband's.
"Startlin' at first, hey?" he said, bravely winning back his
composure: "but 'tis wunnerful what control the driver has, they tell
me. They only employ the cleverest men—"
A rattle and roar drowned the rest of his words, and he blinked and
leant back, holding the woman's hand and tapping it softly as the
engine rushed down with a blast of white vapour hissing under its fore
wheels, and the carriages clanked upon each other, and the whole train
came to a standstill before us.
The station-master and porter walked down the line of carriages,
bawling out the name of the station. The driver leaned out over his
rail, and the guard, standing by the door of his van, with a green
flag under his arm, looked enquiringly at me and at the old couple on
the bench. But I had only strolled up to have a look at the new train,
and meant to resume my fishing as soon as it had passed. And the
miller sat still, holding his wife's hand.
They were staring with all their eyes—not resentfully, though face to
face with the enemy that had laid waste their habitation and swept all
comfort out of their lives; but with a simple awe. Manifestly, too,
they expected something more to happen. I saw the old woman searching
the incurious features of the few passengers, and I thought her own
features expressed some disappointment.
"This," observed the guard scornfully, pulling out his watch as he
spoke, "is what you call traffic in these parts."
The station-master was abashed, and forced a deprecatory laugh. The
guard—who was an up-country man—treated this laugh with contempt,
and blew his whistle sharply. The driver answered, and the train moved
I was gazing after it when a woeful exclamation drew my attention back
to the bench.
"Why, 'tis gone!"
"Gone?" echoed the miller's wife. "Of course 'tis gone; and of all the
dilly-dallyin' men, I must say, John, you'm the dilly-dalliest. Why
didn' you say we wanted to ride?"
"I thought, maybe, they'd have axed us. 'Twouldn' ha' been polite to
thrust oursel's forrard if they didn' want our company. Besides, I
thought they'd be here for a brave while—"
"You was always a man of excuses. You knew I'd set my heart 'pon this
I had left them to patch up their little quarrel. But the scene stuck
in my memory, and now, as I walked down the platform towards the
single figure on the bench, I wondered, amusedly, if the woman had at
length taken the ride alone, and if the procrastinating husband sat
here to welcome her back.
As I drew near, I took note of his clothes for the first time.
There was no white dust in the creases to-day. In fact, he wore the
I sat down beside him, and asked if he remembered a certain small boy
who had used to draw dace out of his mill-pond. With some difficulty
he recalled my features, and by decrees let out the story of his life
during the last ten years.
He and his wife had fought along in their new house, hiding their
discomfort from each other, and abiding the slow degrees by which
their dwelling should change into a home. But before that change was
worked, the woman fell under a paralytic stroke, and their savings, on
which they had just contrived to live, threatened to be swallowed up
by the doctor's bill. After considering long, the miller wrote off to
his only son, a mechanic in the Plymouth Dockyard, and explained the
case. This son was a man of forty or thereabouts, was married, and had
a long family. He could not afford to take the invalid into his house
for nothing; but his daughters would look after their grandmother and
she should have good medical care as well, if she came on a small
"So the only thing to be done, sir, was for my old woman to go."
"Oh, I went into the 'House.' You see, there wasn' enough for both,
I stared down the line to the spot where the mill-wheel had hummed
so pleasantly, and the compassionate sentence I was about to utter
withered up and died on my lips.
"But to-day—Oh, to-day, sir—"
"What's happening to-day?"
"She's comin' down to see me for an hour or two; an' I've got a
holiday to meet her. 'Tis our Golden Weddin', sir."
"But why are you meeting her at this station instead of Tregarrick?
She can't walk, and you have no horse and trap; whereas there's always
a 'bus at Tregarrick."
"Well, you see, sir, there's a very tidy little cottage below where
they sell ginger-beer, an' I've got a whack o' vittles in the basket
here, besides what William is bringin'—William an' his wife are
comin' down with her. They'll take her back by the last train up; an'
I thought, as 'twas so little a while, an' the benches here are so
comfortable, we'd pass our day 'pon the platform here. 'Tis within
sight o' the old home, too, or ruther o' the spot where the old home
used to be: an' though 'tis little notice she seems to take o' things,
one never can tell if poor creatures in that state hain't pleased
behind all their dazed looks. What do you think, sir?"
The whistle sounded up the valley, and mercifully prevented my answer.
I saw the woman for an instant as she was brought out of the train and
carried to the bench. She did not recognise the man she had married
fifty years before: but as we moved out of the station, he was sitting
beside her, his face transfigured with a solemn joy.