In York Station, the gas lamps were all lit.
It was a wide, grand place. Birds would fly right through under the mighty span, and that roof kept most of the rain out too, apart from the odd little waterfall coming down through gaps in the glass.
I was on the main through platform on the ‘up’ side – number four, although it was the number one in importance, and crowded now, as ever, and with a dark shine to all the polished brass and the black enamel signs, pointing outwards like signals as you walked along: ‘Gentlemen’s Waiting Rooms First Class’, ‘Ladies’ Waiting Rooms First Class’, ‘Refreshment Rooms’, ‘Left Luggage’, ‘Station Hotel’ and ‘Teas’.
No lost-luggage place in sight, however, although I knew that York, as the head station of its territory, did boast one, and that practically any article left on any train in the county came through it.
Wondering whether it was on the ‘down’ side, I stepped on to the footbridge, into the confusion of a hundred fast-moving railway clerks, all racing home towards supper and a glass of ale. A goods train was rumbling along beneath. It was a run-through: dirty, four-coupled engine with all sorts pulled behind. I leaned out from the footbridge to take the heat and the smoke and steam from the chimney: the soft heat, and the sharpness of the smell . . . I’d heard of blokes who gave up the cigarette habit but one whiff of the smoke and they were back at it . . .
Half a dozen banana vans came towards the end, the rainwater still rolling off them, and finally the guard, leaning out of his van like a man on a boat. A telegraph boy came trotting over the bridge, and I put a hand out to stop him, thinking he’d know me as a Company man like himself but of course he didn’t, for I was in ordinary clothes. The kid pulled up sharpish all the same.
‘Any idea where Lost Luggage is, mate?’ I asked.
‘Down there, chief,’ he said.
But he was pointing to Left Luggage – the one on Platform Four.
‘No,’ I said. ‘Lost . . . Lost Luggage.’
The lad took a step back, surprised.
‘Lost Luggage is out of the station, chief,’ he said.
‘Not too far, I hope,’ I said, mindful of the teeming rain.
‘Over yonder,’ he said, putting his arm out straight in a south-easterly direction. ‘Out the main exit and turn right. What have you lost, chief? I’ll keep my eyes skinned.’
‘Oh, nothing to speak of.’