The viaduct had been constructed
by the Eastern Provincial Railway and ran from one green hill
to another over eight great arches supported by slender brick
piers. It was high; so high that under certain atmospheric conditions
the railway it supported was unseen in the low cloud, the rising
piers alone being visible. The city lay beneath the viaduct,
and the viaduct dwarfed the city walls and gates, the cathedral
with its tapering spires and even the parliament building with
its green copper cupolas. Why permission had been given for the
building of the railway was a mystery, unless in the last century
the city had been so gripped by the vision of commercial and
political wealth that it had allowed the Eastern Provincial Railway
Company to erect the formidable structure which at all times
of day cast its shadow over public and private buildings, churches
and houses. Perhaps the citizens, at the conception of the railway,
had been unaware of the scale of the viaduct which now transected
The railway itself had never been a financial success and its
structures and earthworks were now derelict.
The viaduct was completely redundant but it still dominated the
city. The permanent way between its parapets had long since been
taken over by nature; grasses and small trees had taken root
and had, to some extent, made the viaduct a natural part of the
landscape, as though it had been made not by man but by some
natural erosive force in cutting out the valley.
A man stood on the viaduct. He was equipped for walking, for
he wore boots, canvas trousers and jacket, and on his back he
carried a pack. He stood silently, ignoring the wind, which,
strong at this altitude, buffeted the fretted copings of the
viaducts parapets. He stood looking ahead of himself, his
gaze fixed on the vanishing perspective of the overgrown railway
line. He seemed to be unaware of the city below, though this
was hardly possible, for the day was a Sunday, the time a quarter
to eleven, and the foreshortened spires and towers of the city
churches were banging their bells, one building competing with
another until the sound that reached the thin air at the top
of the viaduct had become a steady but confused metallic clangour.
The only bell which stood alone, without compromise, by virtue
of its profound sonority, felt rather than heard, was the deepest
bourdon of the cathedral tower.
The man on the viaduct was oblivious to the sound, but stood,
staring silently ahead of himself. Then, spurred on by an indefinable
inner drive he began walking, taking his way amongst the trees
Halfway along the viaduct he met a man walking a dog. The dog,
a black labrador, little more than an active puppy, strained
at its lead.
It was inevitable that the two men would meet. For a moment it
seemed that they would pass each other without speaking. They
looked at each other without recognition. For a moment it seemed
that they did not share the same language. It was only when the
man with the dog had passed that the other called to him.
The man with the dog turned, pulling at the dogs lead,
commanding it to sit. The dog ignored his command. Sit,
you beast. He smiled at the lone man and gestured towards
the dog. Only a few months old. Theyre critical in
making a dogs character.
The other man saw all this with his grave brown eyes. The
last time I was in the terminus the railway was working; you
could go anywhere. Today I went there and found it in ruins.
When did the railway close?
The man with the dog began to laugh. Where have you been?
When indeed did it close! Ten years, I suppose, twelve, perhaps.
Look at those trees. Yet you say you arent a stranger here.
Im not a stranger; this is my city, I was born here.
I have lived all my life here.
Are you making a fool of me? How can you have lived here
and not known about all the changes? The man with the dog
might have thought that he was talking to a madman to judge by
his expression. The man he was talking to saw this also. Where
have you been all this time?
The lone man sat on the edge of the parapet, oblivious to the
terrifying drop on the other side. You can work out the
answer to that for yourself, I suppose.
And the man, so prompted, saw the close prison haircut, the thinness,
the wariness of the eyes. The man with the dog was disinclined
to meet those eyes, as though he himself were guilty of something.
He bent down in the other mans shade and slipped the lead
from the dogs collar. The dog, free, bounded away along
the viaduct until he came to a clump of bushes.
He can smell the rabbits; there are rabbits up here,
said the man who owned the dog.
The man who sat on the parapet said nothing. He stood, and looked
down at the city beneath him, the plan of its streets open to
him. Thats strange, he said. The sight of the
remote city did not appear to disturb him; another man might
have felt an uncontrollable vertigo, his grip freezing on the
worn stone. It seems strange to think of nature here, above
the city. And the trees, and this overgrown wilderness.
He turned to the other man. It is a constitutional walk
of yours, this viaduct?
No, it isnt; I followed the dog. Ive never
been up here before. Solid, but I had half-forgotten its presence.
Where you dont see change you take a thing for granted;
you fret over little things. I live down there
He pointed to a field of grey slates and serrated roofs, row
after row of terraced houses, not far from the spire of a church
whose weathercock revolved endlessly in the perturbing eddies
of wind which swept through the piers of the viaduct. Ive
never seen my home from any distance.
You have never been up here before, then?
Never. Except as a child, on the train. I took that for
granted. This is more difficult. Then I went where I was sent;
now I am closer to the day. He joined the released prisoner
and they both leaned on the coping of the parapet. It does
not seem safe up here. I dont know how much maintenance
The freed man laughed, briefly and involuntarily. You are
as safe up here as down there, I suppose. It would be all the
same if the thing fell.
I dont mean that. Its the height of it, and
the weight: look at the size of these stone blocks! And yet the
city beneath is so small. Why, if you threw a stone from here
you could hit the roof of any one of a dozen churches.
He paused. I never knew there were so many churches in
the city. How small and enclosed the graveyards are.
The freed man turned his back on the prospect and resumed his
seat on the parapet. I daresay you could see the prison.
I never saw its outside, and now I cannot bring myself to look.
A few miles and it will be no more. But if I were to look, now,
I could point out the very block, and the very window in that
block. Fourth row up, look, and ninth along. The window faced
the viaduct, here, and that was all that I could see. The way
the sun caught the faces of the stone. I used to look out, up
here, and I knew that the first thing I would do would be to
travel along the viaduct, away from the city. I cant stay
here. I am known too well. There was an irresolution in
his voice. Im not sure why you stand there listening
Its nothing. For want of looking at the freed
man he followed the movements of the dog with his gaze.
The viaduct was the only thing that I could see. When they
let me out the first thing I did was to go to the terminus to
leave the city. I cant stay here. He felt in his
pocket for a pipe, and brought out a small briar. It must have
been brought recently, for the bowl was new and the mouthpiece
untarnished. I wonder if all families are as proud and
as condemnatory. Me? Theyd never speak to me now. I must
get away and start again. I cant live here. A vast and
echoing place that empty train-shed is. He lit his pipe
and coughed, looking down at the glowing bowl of the pipe. It
will take me some time to get used to it again. Smoking was not
allowed. He held the pipe lightly. It seems strange
that the thing that takes our weight means nothing: those who
built it had no idea where they were. Ill tell you what
it meant to me: a place where the orders of the sky and earth
So you are going nowhere in particular.
Im leaving the city I never thought Id wish
to leave. Im halfway there now. He laughed, softly,
as though at an interior thought. This is clearly the way.
But where are you going?
The freed man shrugged his shoulders. Where am I going?
Where we all go. All the plans lie in the past. He was
aware that the other man avoided his sight. Oh, you get used
to that, he said to himself. I suppose you want to know
why I was in there.
I never asked the question.
Oh, dont protest. You wanted to. Its natural.
It is nothing to me. I must go. He smiled with a
forced geniality. That dog of mine. No more than a pup.
He looked at the clump of bushes. Come out of there!
Hes disobedient, said the freed man, smiling.
He had better not be.
The freed man stood up. Where does this track go to?
The dogs owner whistled, and the animal bounded out of
the bushes, its tongue lolling. The animals eyes were mischievous
and bright. Its owner rattled the chain of the lead. Come
here. He glanced at the other man. What did you say?
Where does the track go?
I dont know, Im no traveller, Ive had
no reason to take it, not since I was a child, and now I honestly
forget the place we went, some generality of town, some generality
of country, and we returned at night. Nothing of it stays in
the mind. I dont know. He chained the dog, and stopped
I shall find out for myself, then. The freed man
began to walk down the track. He did not look back at the owner
of the dog and he did not look down at the city. Down below the
noise of the bells had stopped, and the city was silent with
a Sunday silence.
updated 25th August 2010