The Wedding Quilt – Episode 36

Frowning, Stella Foster tried to stop chewing her nails, but it wasn’t easy. If there was ever a shining example of “Mother knows best”, this was it.

Here she was, stuck on a tiny train in the middle of nowhere, and it was all her own fault. Much as she hated to admit it, that was the truth of the matter.

For weeks she had been putting off her visit to her mother’s relatives, the Burkes. No doubt they were worthy people, but they had to be real country cousins, living as they did in the wilds of Ontario.

Mother had been encouraging her to go and Stella had kept thinking of excuses to stay. Then her friend Natalie invited her to a party at their cottage on Toronto Island and she realised that she couldn’t face their old set.

Even if her brief engagement was a secret, there was bound to be talk of Russell, and she just couldn’t cope with that.

People would ask if she’d heard from him, and it would be so humiliating to admit she hadn’t received so much as a picture postcard.

It would be worse if someone else had news of her old beau. Going away was the perfect excuse not to attend.

“I’ll catch the train on Tuesday,” she told her mother. “Is my blue dress home from the cleaner’s? I hope they managed to get that ice-cream stain out.”

“You can’t leave on Tuesday,” Sarah said. “I’ll have to write to Cousin Mamie to let her know you’re on your way.”

“Don’t be silly, Mother. She knows I’m coming. It’s all been arranged for ages.”

“But not finalised. You can’t turn up there without warning. It’s not polite, even if we are family.”

“I’ll send a wire from Union Station. They’ll know in plenty of time. The trip from Toronto to Ottawa takes five hours, and then I change trains and go off into the blue for goodness knows how long after that. It’ll be all right, Mother.”

All Sarah’s arguments fell by the wayside and her daughter left home as planned.

The first part of the journey went well, even if it was wearisome travelling for that length of time. The seats were comfortable and the food in the dining car easily equalled that of a fine city restaurant.

A vicar’s wife boarded the train at Brockville, seating herself next to Stella, and an hour or so of polite conversation made the time slip by more quickly.

Finally the train steamed into Ottawa, where Stella was able to get out and stretch her legs. After the initial stress of making sure that her baggage was transferred to the northbound train she settled down again.

This time the passenger coach consisted of one long compartment with seats on either side of a central aisle. Rather like a city tram, Stella decided.

Tiny stations were dotted here and there along the line, and it seemed that many of the passengers merely travelled between one station and the next, in return for a five cent fee. After life in the city it was like being in a foreign country.

They were leaving a stop known as Purdy’s Point when the train lurched to a halt with a squeal of brakes. Stella was jolted forward, squashing her hat against the seat in front of her.

The conductor hurried down the aisle, beaming reassuring smiles at everyone he passed.

“Keep your seats, ladies and gentlemen, while I see what’s going on. It’s probably nothing to worry about. Likely just a cow on the line as usual.”

When he failed to return people began to get restless and two men went out to see what was happening. One of them returned, looking annoyed.

“The line is flooded up ahead. The dam at the bend in the river has been breached and there’s nothing to keep the water back. The bridge is washed out.”

A babble of comment greeted the announcement.

“How long before we can go ahead? Did they say?”

“Could be days; could be weeks. They’ll get a repair crew out to deal with it, but it won’t help us any.”

Stella gave a little shriek of terror.

“But what are we going to do? I can’t stay here! I have to reach my destination on time. They’ll be expecting me.”

At that point the conductor returned. Hearing Stella’s cry he patted her on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry, miss! We’ve seen it before. We can’t get through so we’ll need to transfer to another line. The detour will take a while, but we’ll have you home in the end, never you fear.”

“This wouldn’t happen in Toronto,” she muttered, but there was nothing she could do except to sit there while the train shunted slowly backwards.

She prayed nothing was coming up behind them, but she supposed that the engineer must know what he was doing and she tried to calm down.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.