After a long pull, we come to a station after a stretch of loneliness. Each time, it looks as if there were nothing beyond—no more habitations. And each time we come to a station.
Most of the people have left the train. And as with men driving in a gig, who get down at every public-house, so the passengers usually alight for an airing at each station. Our old fat friend stands up and tucks his shirt-tail comfortably in his trousers, which trousers all the time make one hold one’s breath, for they seem at each very moment to be just dropping right down: and he clambers out, followed by the long, brown stalk of a wife.
So the train sits comfortably for five or ten minutes, in the way the trains have. At last we hear whistles and horns, and our old fat friend running and clinging like a fat crab to the very end of the train as it sets off. At the same instant a loud shriek and a bunch of shouts from outside. We all jump up. There, down the line, is the long brown stork of a wife. She had just walked back to a house some hundred yards off, for a few words, and has now seen the train moving.
Now behold her with her hands thrown to heaven, and hear the wild shriek “Madonna!” through all the hubbub. But she picks up her two skirt-knees, and with her thin legs in grey stockings starts with a mad[Pg 133] rush after the train. In vain. The train inexorably pursues its course. Prancing, she reaches one end of the platform as we leave the other end. Then she realizes it is not going to stop for her. And then, oh horror, her long arms thrown out in wild supplication after the retreating train: then flung aloft to God: then brought down in absolute despair on her head. And this is the last sight we have of her, clutching her poor head in agony and doubling forward. She is left—she is abandoned.
The poor fat husband has been all the time on the little outside platform at the end of the carriage, holding out his hand to her and shouting frenzied scolding to her and frenzied yells for the train to stop. And the train has not stopped. And she is left—left on that God-forsaken station in the waning light.
So, his face all bright, his eyes round and bright as two stars, absolutely transfigured by dismay, chagrin, anger and distress, he comes and sits in his seat, ablaze, stiff, speechless. His face is almost beautiful in its blaze of conflicting emotions. For some time he is as if unconscious in the midst of his feelings. Then anger and resentment crop out of his consternation. He turns with a flash to the long-nosed, insidious, Phœnician-looking guard. Why couldn’t they stop the train for her! And immediately, as if someone had set[Pg 134] fire to him, off flares the guard. Heh!—the train can’t stop for every person’s convenience! The train is a train—the time-table is a time-table. What did the old woman want to take her trips down the line for? Heh! She pays the penalty for her own inconsiderateness. Had she paid for the train—heh? And the fat man all the time firing off his unheeding and unheeded answers. One minute—only one minute—if he, the conductor had told the driver! if he, the conductor, had shouted! A poor woman! Not another train! What was she going to do! Her ticket? And no money. A poor woman—Share It