“How do Verna! By ‘eck, its cold in that waiting room this morning!” An icy blast accompanies Jacob Hutton into the compartment as he settles himself opposite Verna, unbuttoning his jacket to reveal his customary navy blue dungarees. Verna chuckles, brushing imagined flecks of dust from her sackcloth apron with large, work-red hands.
“Morning Jacob! Warmer in here, I don’t doubt.”
She turns to glance at the basket beside her, lifts the blue and white cloth to check its contents and, satisfied, nods back at Jacob.
“I haven’t seen Arthur lately. Do you think he’s alright?” Jacob shakes his head, the habitual pipe in his jaw wobbling like a signalman’s flag.
“Nay, I said to my Mavis, it’s a while since Arthur came up to town, though now I come to think of it, he’s been looking peaky, so he might of come down with summat.”
“He works too hard, that’s what. He’s wearing himself out, all that digging, it must be a worry competing with all them new fangled machines they have nowadays. I saw one arriving only yesterday where that new bridge is getting built, all painted up, some digger or suchlike. Nothing stays the same, does it? Happen one day eggs will be factory made and then me and my hens will be out of a job an’ all!”
Verna, soothed by the rhythmic rumbling of the carriage, leans back to watch the passing scenery, as familiar as parlour wallpaper, the paint-bright emerald of the trees interspersed with a red and white signal box or a water tower. She catches a glimpse of station huts and a whiff of acrid smoke as the train begins to round the bend on the approach to Dentlake Junction.
“Poor old Arthur. I know how he feels. We’re none of us getting any younger, and I feel a bit worn out me self, what with getting up at crack of dawn every day. Them cows don’t milk themselves do they?”
Now she scrutinises Jacob, Verna realises that he does indeed look worn out. There are greyish patches emerging on the tip of his nose and his cheeks, his hair is more white than youthful chestnut, even his clothes have taken on a frayed and faded appearance. Worse still, on taking a closer look down at her own, solid form there are worn, shiny areas on her stockinged legs, an alarming, deep gouge in the brown, woolly sleeve of her coat.
The train grinds to a gentle halt as they pull in to Dwarfdale, where half a dozen passengers are preparing to board. Jacob gets to his feet, pulling his shabby jacket together, and opens the door to see a figure they both know, and yet almost unrecognisable in his renaissance.
“Arthur!” They shout, gladdened by the sight of him, vibrant, bright-eyed and fresh, as moments later they are lifted up and placed gently on a table amongst the paints and brushes behind the toy shop window.