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Murder by Any Other Name

By @BrooklynNewsie

Alice Hampton

From the narrative of Jamie Lewis.

When I awoke from my nap, I half expected to be back in my house in North Carolina, either that or being shaken awake by my rowdy dormmates at Stonemeadow School for Boys. These alternatives, however pleasant the former and nasty the latter, were not the reality, and I observed that the train compartment was much the same as I had left it. There was still a fashionable young lady perched on the cocoa-colored cushioned bench across from me, though now instead of powdering her nose she was softly snoring with her mouth open. People are never as good looking in their slumber, I reflected, though without much sorrow, as I do not tend to observe pretty young women with much fascination. Next to me, rejoicefully quite a bit away, sat a tall young man still in the horrible grey uniform of my recent boarding school, who was staring out the window with a cigarette in his hand. He must have been sneaking a smoke before arriving home, as people still of boarding school age didn’t smoke in the presence of adults. Some of the boys in my own dorm had secretly indulged, but my asthma and allergies had made my first (and only) attempt to take the forbidden fruit a disaster. The things tasted horrible, I reflected. I couldn’t understand how they were such a seemingly pleasant pastime.

A loud whistle broke my reflective stupor, and the young man jumped, dropping the cylinder of tobacco on the floor. The cigarette began rolling down towards my feet, turning over and over on the carpeted floor of the train compartment. I didn’t bother to pick it up, partly because the very smoke made me a cough and partly because I had no desire to know the boy. The older pupils at the school were always rather nasty to the younger boys, and me being American and unable to smoke, I endured all sorts of torments. I risked a glance at the young man. His eyes, a cold, funny color, were burning like ice as he glared at me. I gave a nervous cough and inched toward the compartment door. Stopping at the edge of the compartment bench, I sat down and began drumming my hands on my lap.

Suddenly, I could feel the train slowing beneath my feet, which wasn’t a horrible feeling, and the soft sores across from me were drifting away. Expecting a stop, I stood up to fetch my suitcase and quickly regretted it, as my knees buckled and I collapsed back onto the seat. A loud snort came from the direction of the window. I felt every muscle in my neck stiffen, and I turned to glare at the boy. Unfortunately, the full effect of this was lost, as my ****** features wavered, and soon crumpled in a sneeze of epic proportions.

Fortunately, at that very moment, the train came to a total stop, and the young man grabbed his suitcase and stepped out of the compartment before even hearing the name of the station called. It then occurred to me that he must have made the trip many times before.

Oh, well, I thought, At least this isn’t my stop.

“Leason Abbey!” called a man, presumably the conductor, and consulting the letter with directions Aunt Sarah had sent me, I let out a slight groan at the irony of my thoughts. Bouncing off the seat, I got up and reached to get my suitcase, which the porter had placed above the seat. Unfortunately, he had done it without listening to my protests, with which I had openly expressed distress as to needing the contents of that suitcase. Popping open the brass clasps, I reached inside and drew out a plain blue book with creamy colored pages. Mom had given it to me before she died, and her note in the front screamed at me, the same note that I had attempted to make sense of and obey for over a year, the note telling me to use it to tell a story. The funny thing was, I loved to write, yet I couldn’t seem to find a story to tell, and I didn’t like feeling as if I was disappointing Mom.

I sighed plaintively, locked my suitcase, and got up from my kneeling position. With letter, notebook, and suitcase in hand, I proceeded toward the door. However, my glance fell upon the lady on the right-hand bench and had the thought that it might be prudent to wake her. After all, I wouldn’t want to miss my stop because I slept through it. There was always the risk that this wasn’t her stop, but I was willing to take that risk. So, I stopped in front of her. She was wearing a slim olive dress that matched her pumps. The way she was sitting was indeed considered ladylike, but I imagined that sitting that way for so long would give her a buzzy feeling in her feet. She certainly wasn’t someone that you would notice, looking like so many other British ladies, fashionable, yet conforming.

“Excuse me,” I said hesitantly, peering slightly downward in order to see if she was awake. When that didn’t work, I shyly rapped upon her shoulder. Her eyelids flickered, and soon a pair of bright emerald eyes were gazing peevishly at me.

“What do you want?” a heavy voice rasped, as the woman pushed herself into a sitting position and it then occurred to me that people are least attractive not only in their sleep but when they are talking. But even so, now that I could see her face, I noticed that she was pretty, having one of those faces that always seems young no matter what age the person is. Her fingers absentmindedly ran through her curly red hair, making it just slightly messy.

“It’s Leason Abbey,” I pronounced by way of explanation, scratching the back of my neck as I did so.

Her eyebrows, heavily penciled, rose.

“We’re there already?” she questioned.

“Yes,” I said, stifling a cough.

The cat-like eyes brightened. “Well! That’s my stop!” She rose to her feet. “I wouldn’t expect of an American.”

“Excuse me!” I said again, this time indignantly. Now that she had talked to me, she seemed free and spirited. Her face was alight with a glow that made her face seem almost radiant. I could almost excuse her for insulting my native country.

“Sorry,” she laughed, breaking me out of my thoughts. “You act like you’ve been in England awhile. You must get that an awful lot.”

“I do,” I admitted. “But I’m still mostly American. I’ve been at boarding school for a year.”

She shuddered. “Dreadful! I hate those stuffy old places. Mum’s sent me to live with my uncle in Leason Abbey. I’m simply dreading it.”

“I live – well, I’m going to live – with my great-aunt here,” I replied, helping her down with her suitcase.

“Well!” she laughed. “What a coincidence! I’m afraid that we don’t know each other’s names. What’s yours?”

“Jamie,” I announced, “Jamie Lewis.”

“Jamie. Does that stand for James? Solid name. I like it. I’m Alice. Alice Hampton. I’m twenty-three and simply wild!”

I wanted to say that she looked it, with her hair sticking up from rubbing against the seat, but decided it was one of those times when it’s wise to keep your lips zipped.

She picked up her scarlet handbag. “Let’s get off, shall we?” Alice led the way through the compartment door. Assuming that she still wanted to talk to me, I dutifully followed along behind.

As we marched along the train corridor, I couldn’t help feeling glad I had met Alice. She was a really remarkably nice person, one of the first I had met since coming to England. It seemed funny thinking that since I had been here for over a year. But my shy self just didn’t seem to fit in with everyone else, and not just because of my nationality. One thing I could do was listen to people, and Alice had a lot to say.

“You know,” she declared cheerfully, swinging her handbag, “you’re really quite a nice boy. Not like the other one on the train. Rather rude and really quite fresh. We talked while you were asleep. Silly boy, I’m much too old for him! I like kids, like you. They don’t act frightful and fall all over you with flowers and chocolates and such. Isn’t that great?”

I voiced my assent, and she nodded.

“You know,” she repeated, “I think I can trust you, Jamie. Do you suppose I can?” I began to affirm her belief, but she cuts me off.

“Yes… I suppose I can. You know the reason I’ve really come to live with Uncle and Auntie?”

I had a deep desire to tell her no, because she hadn’t before given me even a slight reason why, honest or no, but I kept my mouth shut.

Turning around, she bent down towards my ear (she had rather a long way to go, I’m afraid!) and whispered, “I’m going to be murdered.”

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