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The Doomed Train

Dreamed Nov. 1876 by Anna Kingsford

This narrative was addressed to the friend particularly referred to in it. The dream occurred near the close of 1876, and on the eve, therefore, of the Russo-Turkish war, and was regarded by us both as having relation to a national crisis, of a moral and spiritual character, our interest in which was so profound as to be destined to dominate all our subsequent lives and work.--(Author's Note.)

I was visited last night by a dream of so strange and vivid a kind that I feel impelled to communicate it to you, not only to relieve my own mind of the impression which the recollection of it causes me, but also to give you an opportunity of finding the meaning, which I am still far too much shaken and terrified to seek for myself.

It seemed to me that you and I were two of a vast company of men and women, upon all of whom, with the exception of myself--for I was there voluntarily--sentence of death had been passed. I was sensible of the knowledge--how obtained I know not--that this terrible doom had been pronounced by the official agents of some new reign of terror. Certain I was that none of the party had really been guilty of any crime deserving of death; but that the penalty had been incurred through their connection with some regime, political, social or religious, which was doomed to utter destruction. It became known among us that the sentence was about to be carried out on a colossal scale; but we remained in absolute ignorance as to the place and method of the intended execution. Thus far my dream gave me no intimation of the horrible scene which next burst on me,--a scene which strained to their utmost tension every sense of sight, hearing and touch, in a manner unprecedented in any dream I have previously had.

It was night, dark and starless, and I found myself, together with the whole company of doomed men and women who knew that they were soon to die, but not how or where, in a railway train hurrying through the darkness to some unknown destination. I sat in a carriage quite at the rear end of the train, in a corner seat, and was leaning out of the open window, peering into the darkness, when, suddenly, a voice, which seemed to speak out of the air, said to me in a low, distinct, intense tone, the mere recollection of which makes me shudder--

"The sentence is being carried out even now. You are all of you lost. Ahead of the train is a frightful precipice of monstrous height, and at its base beats a fathomless sea. The railway ends only with the abyss. Over that will the train hurl itself into annihilation. THERE IS NO ONE ON THE ENGINE!"

At this I sprang from my seat in horror, and looked round at the faces of the persons in the carriage with me. No one of them had spoken, or had heard those awful words. The lamplight from the dome of the carriage flickered on the forms about me. I looked from one to the other, but saw no sign of alarm given by any of them. Then again the voice out of the air spoke to me--

"There is but one way to be saved. You must leap out of the train!"

In frantic haste I pushed open the carriage door and stepped out on the footboard. The train was going at a terrific pace, swaying to and fro as with the passion of its speed; and the mighty wind of its passage beat my hair about my face and tore at my garments.

Until this moment I had not thought of you, or even seemed conscious of your presence in the train. Holding tightly on to the rail by the carriage door, I began to creep along the footboard towards the engine, hoping to find a chance of dropping safely down on the line. Hand over hand I passed along in this way from one carriage to another; and as I did so I saw by the light within each carriage that the passengers had no idea of the fate upon which they were being hurried. At length, in one of the compartments, I saw you. "Come out!" I cried; "come out! Save yourself! In another minute we shall be dashed to pieces!"

You rose instantly, wrenched open the door, and stood beside me outside on the footboard. The rapidity at which we were going was now more fearful than ever. The train rocked as it fled onwards. The wind shrieked as we were carried through it. "Leap down," I cried to you; "save yourself! It is certain death to stay here. Before us is an abyss; and there is no one on the engine!"

At this you turned your face full upon me with a look of intense earnestness, and said, "No, we will not leap down. We will stop the train."

With these words you left me, and crept along the footboard towards the front of the train. Full of half-angy anxiety at what seemed to me a Quixotic act, I followed.

In one of the carriages we passed I saw my mother and eldest brother, unconscious as the rest. Presently we reached the last carriage, and saw by the lurid light of the furnace that the voice had spoken truly, and that there was no one on the engine.

You continued to move onwards. "Impossible! Impossible!" I cried; "it cannot be done. O, pray, come away!"

Then you knelt upon the footboard, and said,--"You are right. It cannot be done in that way; but we can save the train. Help me to get these irons asunder."

The engine was connected with the train by two great iron hooks and staples. By a tremendous effort, in making which I almost lost my balance, we unhooked the irons and detached the train; when, with a mighty leap as of some mad supernatural monster, the engine sped on its way alone, shooting back as it went a great flaming trail of sparks, and was lost in the darkness. We stood together on the footboard, watching in silence the gradual slackening of the speed.

When at length the train had come to a standstill, we cried to the passengers, "Saved! saved!" and then amid the confusion of opening the doors and descending and eager talking, my dream ended, leaving me shattered and palpitating with the horror of it.


Despite her Victorian prolixity, I have to respect the dreamer and her friend for their determination to change Europe's blind drift toward the eventual cataclysm of 1914; and she took the dream's advice. For the rest of her life Anna Kingsford was a constant activist for peace, feminism, worker's rights, vegetarianism, animal rights... Nor did she fail completely; her dreamwork and mystical writings strongly influenced the Order of the Golden Dawn, including Yeats, indirectly shaping the Irish Renaissance and the modern New Age, Wiccan, pacifist and animal-rights movements.

--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: politics - trains - crashes - initiative - rescue! - life-paths - dream advice in general - career advice - more Anna Kingsford - on the eve of World War II, Franz Jaegerstetter rides the Hellbound Train

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