The journey from Berkshire up to the school took twelve hours, and my father and I spent most of that time in silence. As the train clattered through a landscape that became more colourless and desolate as we headed north, I tried to make sense of the emotions he would sometimes allow to flit across his stony visage. I was used to see him angry and sad, but crammed in the confines of the smoky, humid second-class carriage where we’d formed a tiny base camp made up from my trunks and valises, he allowed his defences to slip enough to show me something new.
Fear. Every time he looked at me now, he looked afraid.
I knew better than to ask where this had come from. As we stepped onto the train at Maidenhead, he had fixed me with the look I had come to recognise as the precursor to the laying down of a new law.
“There will be no conversation on this train,” he said. “There will be no idle chit-chat, no musing on the state of the country, no speculation on the marital status or love lives of those idiotic movie stars you seem to find so fascinating. I expect to hear nothing from you until I put you into the care of the staff at St. Anne’s, and at that point the only words I wish to hear from you will be “Goodbye, Father.” Do I make myself adequately clear?”
I nodded mutely. Arguments were utterly pointless when father spoke to me like that, although Lord knows I’d tried enough times. It was like running into a brick wall and, if I got him angry enough, would raise the same kind of bruises.
So, twelve hours in a train with a man who had forbidden me to speak, who had not provided me with a book, a magazine, or any kind of entertainment apart from the view from the besmeared window. After I tired of watching my father, I settled myself into a cramped corner and watched the sky cycle steadily from blue to a deep, bloody red. I was not a dreamer, and was incapable of the kind of pointless babble that had been put under embargo. It showed how little he knew of me. I contented myself with the sky, and the cheese sandwich he wordlessly handed to me at lunchtime from the brown paper bag that was his only luggage. They were scant comfort for a girl of ten who was about to be abandoned by her family, 500 miles from home.
We changed trains at Inverness in rapidly failing twilight. My father, cursing under his breath at the lack of porters, somehow managed to manhandle my baggage onto the much smaller local service that would take us through to the coast. As light relief, he enjoyed a hissed altercation with a gentleman in a tight tweed suit who tried manoeuvering himself into our carriage, in the thin gap remaining between my steamer trunk and me. It was a pointless argument really. As my father made it clear using words I’d never heard from him before, we were the only three passengers on the train.
Once we disembarked at Pitlotchery, the darkness was absolute. The gentleman in the tweed suit watched us as we waited on the platform for the charabanc to take us on the final leg of the journey. He mouthed a single word at my father, a word that twisted his face into an angry mask. His face was livid in the light flooding out of the train compartment as it pulled away. Father shook his head as the train shouldered its way into the blackness at the end of the platform.
“The thing about idiots,” he said, “is that you’ll never have to worry about looking for them. They’ll always find you.” It was the first thing he’d said to me since we’d crossed the border into Scotland.