Echoes of a Bitter Past
Chapter 3

Copyright© 2010 by Texrep

Authors note: Steam engine drivers were placed in a category according to their experience and route knowledge. These categories were known as Links. Top link drivers usually drove the fastest and most prestigious expresses.

I was able to get to my old home very quickly, thanks to the unofficial help of the station staff at Derby who held a train for three minutes for me. I travelled with the driver in his cab, he was an old steam driver who had converted to diesels. When I mentioned the family name he was shocked.

"Your dad is Reg Gilson?"

"Yes."

"I fired for him for quite some time. I am really sorry to hear your news. I'll let the others in the Link know, if you don't mind. I am sure they will want to know."

He broke the rules and stopped the train at Saltley for me. I ran down the platform ramp to the track and crossed the myriad of lines there finding the gap in the fence that led to the terrace of houses. The house was superficially intact, but as I got closer I could see the windows staring at nothing with blind eyes like a Roman statue. There were a few people still gathered around, the firemen of course, a policeman and the neighbourhood wives, who no doubt were deciding how the fire had happened despite the informed comment of the firemen. I walked quietly and took a position across the road silently contemplating the destruction. Firemen were clearing out anything that could still harbour an ember and throwing stuff out of the glassless windows. I recognised so many items of familiar furniture piled haphazardly in the street, partially burned and blackened. Mrs. Johnson was one of the small gathering and as she talked she turned and saw me. She left the others and walked over. Enfolding me in her arms she cried in a broken voice.

"Oh Richard. This is a terrible thing. Why could it happen to such nice people? You poor boy, you must be heartbroken."

I suppose I should have been, but for the moment I was simply shocked. From Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Wilkins and the Fireman I gathered what had happened. However the fire started it would appear that dad had got mum out of the house and went back to get William. He wasn't seen again. Mum was taken to hospital where she died as a result of smoke inhalation. The fireman commented about dad.

"He must have had good lungs; he would probably have got as much smoke as your mother." Somewhere in my mind the reason came to me, a moment of logic from a brain trying to cope with the tragedy.

"He drove steam engines all his life. Drivers and Firemen get used to smoke and fumes on the footplate." He nodded.

"Yes. That would do it. He had guts as well, to go back into that." He indicated the blackened building. "It looks as if the fire started in the upstairs back room." That had been my and Williams bedroom. William had always been fascinated with matches. He would strike them, watch them burn then throw them down. There were burn marks on all our furniture. Mum and dad had made sure that the household matches were kept away from where William could find them. I supposed that somehow he had got hold of some and in all probability started the blaze. I didn't say anything about this. My brother had a wretched life with his illness; I wasn't going to condemn him to be remembered as the arsonist who killed his own family.

There was little that I or anyone for that matter could do at this moment. The Firemen would make sure that everything was dampened down and secure the house not that there was anything of value in there. The neighbours who had been evacuated were allowed to go back and I was offered so many cups of tea that if I had drunk them I would be afloat. I went back with Mrs. Johnson. I did accept her offer of tea, although I would have liked something stronger.

 
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