“I was in YORK once,” the woman said, then interrupted her own dialogue to ask, “Have you ever been to York?”
Peter and Charles stared blankly at her. She’d taken a seat across from them on the train and hadn’t stopped talking since, evidently believing the travel book on Charles’s lap to be an open invitation of some kind. Though Charles had made an effort to remain repressively polite, Peter hadn’t bothered to say anything. But Charles’s accent had set the woman off on a detailed account of her various visits to England.
She was Canadian she’d said, though Peter wasn’t entirely convinced she was telling the truth. Was that a Canadian accent? Most certainly not British, however, since (aside from the accent) any right-minded Brit would know better than to keep going on when the people seated with you failed to engage in your conversation. Peter had hardly looked at her, instead keeping his eyes turned to the window.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she asked, and then he did glance at her, if involuntarily, because he wasn’t sure whether she was still talking about York or was remarking on the passing countryside.
Charles asked the question for him. “York?”
She laughed. At least, Peter thought it was a laugh, though it sounded like a kind of yelp. “Well, yes,” she said, “but here too. Where are you going?”
The intrusive question made the muscles in Peter’s shoulders tighten. “Not York.”
“Excuse him,” said Charles, “he hasn’t slept.”
Peter threw him a glare.
“Well, no, I didn’t think so,” the woman said. “That you were going to York, I mean. I don’t know about the sleeping. But you’re going the wrong way for York. And your travel book is for Europe.” She pointed to the guide in Charles’s lap.
Observant, thought Peter, and realizing it, he sat up straighter and looked hard at the woman for the first time. She only offered a bland smile in return.
“Well,” said Charles, “I think first we’ll go—”
“Never mind,” said Peter. He scowled at their uninvited guest. “You can tell Gordon or Gamby or whoever sent you that it’s not their concern where we go so long as we don’t come back. Isn’t that right?”
Charles gaped. The woman’s smile remained fixed, though Peter was sure he detected pity in her eyes. “All right,” she said slowly, and whether it was a confirmation or merely a traveler indulging the bizarre antics of a stranger was unclear.