1

A tram, a bridge and a woman in blue

The ringing in my ears is excruciating. My mouth tastes disgusting, and I’m lying on my front, the side of my face on the dirty, cobbled road. I slowly open my eyes. I can’t see anything but dust.

Grimacing, I gingerly lift my head and look around as the dust disappears, blown away in the breeze. Through the haze, I see people running in all directions. Several carriage horses struggle against their harnesses, their owners desperately trying to get them under control.

Though still muffled, my hearing is gradually returning. I hear people shouting as I struggle to my feet, my skirt covered in dirt and grit. My new employer will be furious if he sees me like this. I’ve only been working at the solicitor’s office for a month, and I need to prove to Mr Edwards (and my father) that I’m worthy of the position usually reserved for men, even now in 1910, despite the suffragette movement. I can’t be late again; it would be the third time in as many weeks.

‘What happened?’ I call out to a man sitting on the ground, blood running from a nasty gash on his head.
He looks up, dazed. ‘The tram. It ran down the hill and crashed into the railings. The horses have bolted.’ He points behind me with a bloodied hand. ‘Nobody could have survived that, miss.’

Feeling dizzy, every bone and muscle in my body aching, I turn and see one of the town’s trams on its side, the horses nowhere to be seen, their harnesses lying tangled in the road. The yellow stencilled number 12 on the front of the tram looks odd at an angle. Several men clamber onto the smashed vehicle, trying to climb into one of the broken windows, shouting to others to help. ‘Get help. Summon a doctor!’
It all comes back to me in a rush. A sudden memory of a tram racing down the hill. People running to get out of its way, women screaming, children crying out, men yelling. The terrifying noise of wood splintering, glass smashing; the tram sliding down the road on its side, crashing into carriages and carts until it races past me and into the bridge railings. I have a hazy recollection of being struck by something. Instinctively, I raise a dirty hand to my forehead and feel a large bump but, thankfully, no blood.

I grab my leather bag, scratched and covered in grit, and stumble towards the carnage. My head hurts, and the muddy smell of the river below fills my nostrils. On the side of the road, next to the broken and twisted tram is a young woman in an extraordinarily bright blue dress. So bright that it makes the rest of the scene appear black and white in contrast.

She is lying on her back, not moving. No one else seems to have noticed her as I lift my skirts and run over. A voice in my head. Holmes again. Quickly, Carrie. She needs your help.

The woman is badly injured. Her dress is covered in blood, and her leg is bent underneath her body. Her eyes are closed, and she is perfectly still, except for a gentle rise of her chest, the faint sound of a breath exhaled. I kneel in the dirt and cradle her head. ‘Stay calm. Help is on its way. Can you hear me?’ I say, taking off my shawl and pressing it firmly to her stomach where most of the blood seems to be.
I look at her face – she is so pale. A loose strand of hair curls over her face. I brush it neatly over her ear. Her eyes open, and she looks at me, puzzled. She doesn’t seem to be in pain. She grabs my arm, but there’s no strength in her grip.
‘It wasn’t an accident, miss,’ she whispers, blood dribbling from the corner of her mouth. ‘It wasn’t the driver’s fault. The tram was broken.’ She takes a breath and winces in pain.

I touch her shoulder to calm her. Blood trickling down her face from a cut on her forehead makes me feel weak. ‘Don’t worry about that now. Let me help you. My name’s Carrie. What’s your name?’
‘Rose. My name is Rose James,’ she says as her eyes flutter closed.
‘Excuse me, miss, let me through,’ says a voice behind me. A young man with a doctor’s case approaches. I move slightly to the side, leaning across, still pressing down on my shawl covering her wound.

The doctor kneels next to me and examines Rose. He places his hands on the top of her head and feels down her face and neck. He is gentle and thorough with his examination. He gently lifts the shawl I still have pressed against her stomach, but releasing the pressure suddenly brings a gush of red. The wound looks messy. He quickly presses my hands back on the shawl. ‘You did the right thing with your shawl, miss. Keep the pressure on her stomach. The wound looks quite bad. Let me have a look at her leg.’

I try to comfort Rose by holding her hand and squeezing it gently. She opens her eyes and looks at me with a frown, grimacing as she struggles to reach into her pocket. She hands me a crumpled card. ‘Speak to this man and to my husband. They know the truth.’ Without thinking, I take the card and put it in my pocket.
Before I can ask her about her husband, the doctor moves the woman’s leg, and she lets out a soft moan. Her eyes look beyond me as if she isn’t looking at me at all.
I feel useless as the young doctor puts his ear to her mouth. ‘She’s dead, miss. There’s nothing we can do for her now.’ The doctor softly takes my bloodied shawl and covers Rose’s face.

The doctor stands and picks up his case. I place Rose’s hand on her stomach and smooth her hair, straighten the shawl. She looks so peaceful. So beautiful. Over the doctor’s shoulder, I notice a big man with dark hair and a pale face. He is fiddling with a tall, wooden tripod, a camera apparatus sitting on top. He ducks under a black sheet and is out of view. Surely he isn’t taking photographs of this terrible scene? How distasteful.

The doctor breaks me from my thoughts. ‘Come on, we can’t help her.’ He stands and picks up his case. ‘You seem a sensible young lady. I need your help with the gentleman over there. I think he’s the driver.’ I look across, and sure enough, Mr Hoskins, the tram driver, is sitting against the bridge railings, his head in his hands, sobbing. A police officer stands beside him, making notes in a notebook. He bends down and says something to Mr Hoskins before walking off and talking to another bystander.

I follow the doctor as he strides across the road and kneels next to Mr Hoskins. The doctor gently places his hand on his arm. ‘Where does it hurt, sir?’
Mr Hoskins looks at the doctor and blinks in confusion as he notices me standing at the doctor’s side. ‘Carrie, my dear, what are you doing here?’
‘Hello, Mr Hoskins, don’t you worry about me. Let the doctor focus on you.’ Mr Hoskins drives his tram by our house, his route running through our street, heading for the town. He often waves to me if he sees me by the roadside. We are acquainted as I went to the same school as his daughter.

He turns back to the doctor. ‘My head hurts, but it’s not too bad,’ he says with a confused expression. ‘I didn’t see you onboard today, Carrie.’
‘I decided to walk, Mr Hoskins. Don’t worry about me. The doctor here will help you.’
The doctor repeats his examination procedure as he did with Rose, starting at Mr Hoskins’ head, working down his neck to his shoulders and finally his torso.
‘Everything looks fine, sir. You have a nasty gash on your head, but nothing a few stitches can’t fix. Do you feel pain anywhere else?’
‘I am aching all over, but that could be my age,’ Mr Hoskins says, winking at me and attempting a smile that turns into a grimace. I help the doctor wrap a bandage around Mr Hoskins’ head, holding it in place as the doctor ties it carefully. He puts a comforting hand on the driver’s shoulder.

‘This bandage is only temporary. You need to go to the hospital for further treatment. I don’t think you’ll be driving any trams for the time being!’
‘Thank you, doctor, and thank you, Carrie. I’m so glad you weren’t on board today. It was the most frightening experience I’ve ever endured in all my days.’
‘What happened, Mr Hoskins?’ I say.

A frown creases his forehead. ‘The damnedest thing, Carrie my dear. We were stopped at the top junction when the brake lever stuck in the holding slot. I’ve never had trouble with the braking lever before. I tried with all my strength to release the damn thing, and when it finally let go, it went with a bang.’ He pauses, rubbing his chin before continuing, ‘The noise it made must surely have been heard over the river.’

With a helping hand from the doctor, Mr Hoskins slowly gets to his feet and is led away by a nurse to a waiting hospital carriage. Several other people are already on board, some with bandaged heads, others with arms in slings.
The doors slam shut, and the carriage slowly makes its way through the crowd who are still gawping at the scene. Once clear, the carriage speeds up and heads for the hospital.

I don’t know what to do, so I sit on the kerb, my head swimming. An elderly woman in a red shawl touches my shoulder and gently pulls me to my feet.
‘Are you all right, dear?’ she asks with a concerned face, looking me up and down. I gently touch her arm.
‘I’m fine, thank you.’

I sling my bag over my shoulder and push through the expanding crowd, and notice the man with the camera ahead of me, carrying his bulky equipment over his shoulder, a heavy case in his hand.

I trudge up the hill, some paces behind the photographer, the excitement of my day ahead now gone and replaced with a miserable feeling that seems to press down on me. I think of Rose and her eyes closing, and my heart hurts. She was so young. I’ve never seen someone die before.
The streets are busy with people heading to work, shopkeepers opening up for the day, cleaning the steps outside their shops, and putting out their wares to entice customers.

I don’t notice that the photographer has stopped outside a shop until I nearly bump into him as he struggles to open the shop door, his case on the pavement beside him. His camera contraption is leant against the window, still attached atop the wooden tripod, threatening to slide and fall at any second. The photographer pushes the door open, grabs the camera and his case, and steps inside.

As I pass the shop, I glance in the window, noticing a carefully arranged collection of framed photographs featuring smiling families, their eyes eerily following me as I walk past. The sign on the door says Studio Family Portraits. Why would a Studio Photographer capture pictures of vehicles in the street? Crashed ones at that.
I continue walking up the hill, parts of the crashed tram littering the road. People rush in the opposite direction looking at me, shocked at the state of my clothes and my face, but I don’t care. I stare back, and they step aside to avoid me, hurrying to get to the crash scene. News travels fast in this town.

As I reach Samuels, the jeweller, I look up. The big clock, famous for keeping accurate time, shows half-past eight, so I might just have time to pop into the newsagents to pick up today’s edition of The Strand for my father. Since starting my job, I had promised him I’d collect his newspaper every day on the way to the office. Tuesday’s edition is special, as it features an extract from the latest Sherlock Holmes adventure. Being an avid fan, even a tram crash won’t deter me from picking up a copy. Today’s edition will include the climax of a Sherlock Holmes story. It’s all I read. No wonder I keep hearing Sherlock’s voice in my head.

I emerge from the newsagents, newly purchased newspaper folded and in my bag. My pace quickens as I realise I might be on time if I hurry. Even though the sun is out and it’s a perfect October day, it feels suddenly colder, so I push my hands deep into my pockets. In my left pocket, I feel the crumpled card Rose handed me. Taking it out and looking at it closely for the first time, I see it’s a calling card, dirty and blood-stained. The front is barely legible. Turning it over, there is a scrawl on the back in pencil:

Mr Shute, Estuary View, Church Hill – £100. Monday Night. Tram 12
Who is Mr Shute? Tram 12 was the one that crashed this morning. One hundred pounds for what? That’s more than I could hope to earn in a year! Rose told me it was no accident, she seemed so sure. Someone must have caused the crash. I intend to find out why and by whom. It’s the least I can do for poor Rose.