zingmagazine10 autumn 1999







about zing


alexis vaillant
love for sale
lutwidge finch a novel: chapter 5
evil camouflage


"They catch you in here without a first class ticket they make you pull trains in the yard."

"Do they?"

"That's what my sister says." The boy transferred his attention to his leg, which bounced senselessly against the seat. He seemed nervous.

"Have you got a ticket?" Finch asked.

"Course I have."

What is that uniform? Finch wondered. It looked vaguely...ah yes! It was livery. The Tattson colors, maroon and yellow piping, ivory buttons in the shape of small shields: the family coat-of-arms. Seeing it on a child was what had confused him.

"You got on just now, didn't you?" Finch said gently. "You are a houseboy at the Hall."

Perhaps the boy nodded, perhaps it was the motion of the train. He was guilty as sin, though. Obviously he had snuck on, not expecting to find anyone in the First Class compartment. A reasonable gamble, this far along a local line, in the middle of the week.

"They never check," the boy finally said. "Not between Spavin and Little Dipping. It's only a mile."

"Of course they don't check when there is not a paying passenger," Finch argued. "But with me here they will come. Listen!"

Sure enough, both heard the door to the adjacent compartment slide back. The boy looked up, terror quite naked now in his saucer-like gaze. The soles of his shoes were crouched next to his flattened palms on the seat's upholstery, as if he were ready to spring like a toad.

"Quick," Finch said. "In here."

Wildly, the boy looked to a large, treasure-chest-shaped trunk the older man had hauled down in preparation for getting off the train.

"There's room?"

"I imagine," Lutwidge said, fitting the key. Shirts, ten or twenty of them, rose snowily at the release of pressure. "Try not to...wrinkle anything," he finished lamely, as the boy, with the alacrity of a storybook hero escaping a diabolical trap, burrowed into the nest of starched linen and drew his legs up tight.

"I won't," his whispered promise came. "Close it up."

"Can you breathe in there?" Finch asked dubiously, already regretting not having simply bought the lad a ticket.

"Hurry!" the boy pleaded.