THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE EXPRESS TRAIN. Two or three of us had lounged out of the club one night, into Stanley’s office, to find out the news coming in by telegraph, which the sleeping town would not hear until the paper would be out tomorrow. .Stanley was editor of the “ Courier.” He was scribbling away at driving speed, his hat on, an unlighted cigar in h's mouth. “ You’re at it late, Ben.” “Accident. Sixty lives lost,” without looking up. We seized the long white slips which lay coiled over the table, and read the despatch. “ Tut, tut !” “ Infamous 1” “ Nobody te blame, of course.” “ I tell you the officers of a road where such an accident is possible should be tried for murder 1” cried Ferrers. Stanley gave his copy to the boy, and lighted his cigar. “ I think you’re wrong Ferrers. Instead of being startled at such casualities, I never travel on a railway that I am not amazed at the security of them. Just think of it. Thousands of trains running yearly on each, with but a minute to spare between safety and destruction, the safety of these trains depending on conductors, telegraph clerks, brakes-men, men of every grade of intellect, their brains subject to every kinds of moods and disease and tempers. The engineer takes a glass of liquor ; the conductor sets his watch half a minute too fast ; the signalman falls asleep, and the train is dashed into ruin ! It is not the accident that is to be wondered at; it is the escape that is miraculous !” We all had dropped into scats by this time. The night was young, and one after another told some story of adventure and danger. Presently Stanley said “ There was an accident which occurred on the Banister road a few years ago, which made me feel as I do in the matter. I happened to be an eye-witness to the whole affair.” “What was it, Ben?” “ It’s rather a long story ” “No matter. Go oh. You can’t go home until your proof comes in.” “ No. Well, to make you understand, about five years ago I had a bad break-down—night-work, hack writing, and poor pay. You know how fast it wears out the machine. The doctor talked of diseases of the gray matter of the brain, Ac., and prescribed, instead of medicine, absolute rest and change of scene. I would have swallowed all the nostrums in a drug shop rather than have left the office for a week.
* ‘ ‘ I’ll take country board and send in my work,’ I said. “ ‘ No ; you must drop office and work utterly out of your life for a month at least. Talk and think of planting potatoes, or embroidery—anything but newspapers and politics. ’ “ Well, I obeyed. I started on a pedestrian tour. Finally I brought up, footsore and bored beyond bearing, in Stockhunt. While there, I fell intp the habit of lounging about the railway station, studying the constructions of the engines, and making friends with the men.
“ The man with whom I always fraternize most readily is the skilled mechanic. He has a degree of common sense—a store of certain facts which your young doctor or politicial is apt to lack. ‘ ‘ Besides, he is absolutely sure of his social standing ground, and has a grave self-respect which teaches him to respect you. “ The professional lad just started on his career is uneasy, not sure of his position ; he tries to climb perpetually. “ I tell you this to explain my intimacy with many of the officials of the road, especially with an engineer named Blakeley. “ This man attracted me first by his ability to give me the information I wanted in a few direct, sharp words. Like most reticent men, he knew the weight and value of words. I soon became personally much interested in him. He was about forty, his hair streaked with gray, and with a grave, worn face, which hinted at a youth of great hardships, and much suffering. “ However, Blakely had found his way to the brighter land at last. Three years before he had married a bright, cheerful
woman. They had one child —a boy. He had work and goed wages, and was, I found, high in the confidence of the company. One one occasion, having a Sunday off, he took me up to where his wife and boy lived. He was an exceptionally silent man, but when with them was garrulous and light-hearted as a boy. “ In his eyes Jane was the wisest and fairest of women, and the boy a wonder of intellect. One great source of trouble to him was, as I found, that he was able to go home but once in three weeks. It was necessary for the child’s health to keep them in the country air, and indeed he could not afford to have them elsewhere ; but this separated him from them almost wholly. “Jane was in the habit of coming with Charley down to a certain point of the road every day, that Blakeley might see them as he dashed by. “ And when I found out this habit, it occurred to me that I could give Blakeley a great pleasure. How often have I reproached myself for my meditating kindness since ! “ January 25th was the child’s birthday. I proposed to Mrs. Blakeley that she and Charley should board the train which her husband drove, unknown to him, and run up to Harridge, where he had the night off. “ There was to be a little supper. Charley was to appear in a new suit. Of course the whole affair was at my expense —a mere trifle, but an affair of grandeur and distinction which fairly took Jane’s breath. “ She was a most innocent, happy creature ; one of those women who are wives and mothers in the cradle. When Blakeley found her she was a thin, pale little tailoress, a machine to turn out badly - made shoddy clothes. But three years of marriage and petting of Charley had made her rosy, and plump, and pretty. “ The little Highland suit was bought complete, to the tiny dirk and feather, and very pretty the little fellow looked in it. “ I wrote down to order a supper to be ready at eight, Jane and the boy were to go aboard the train at Shore, a queer little hill village near which they lived. Blakeley ran the train from Stockhunt down to Hedge that day. “His wife being in the train before he took charge of the engine, of course he would see and know nothing of her until we landed at Harridge at seven. “I had intended to go down in the smoking carriage as usual, but another fancy, suggested I suppose by the originator of all evil, seized me. “ Ho need to laugh. “ My fancy, diabolic or not. was to go down on the engine with Blakeley. I hunted up the fireman, and talked to him for an hour. Then I went to the engineer. Blakeley,” I said, ‘Jones, (the fireman) wants to-night off. ’ “‘Off! Oh, no doubt! /He’s taking to drink, is Jones. He must have been drinking when he talked of that. It’s impossible.’ “I explained to Blakeley that Jones lad a -kir wifp.nra sweetheart or some-
had bribed him to give it to mo. The fact was that in my idleness and the overworked state of my brain I craved excitement as a confirmed drunkard does liquor. “Blakeley, I saw, was angry and exceedingly annoyed.
“He refused at first, but finally gave way with a grave civility, which almost made me ashamed of my boyish whim. I promised to be the prince of firemen. “ Then you’ll have to be treated as one, Mr. Santley,’ said Blakeley, curtly. ‘ I can’t talk to gentlemen aboard my engine. It’s different from here, on the platform, you’ll remember. I’ve got to order and you to obey, in there, and that’s all there’s of it.’ “ ‘ Oh, I understand, I said, thinking that it requiredlittle moral effort to obey, in the matter of shovelling coal. If 1 could have guessed what that shovelling coal was to cost me ! But all day I went about thinking of the fiery ride through the land, mounted literally on the iron; horse. ! “It was in the middle of the afternoon when the train rushed into the station. “ I caught a glimpse of Jane, with Charley, magnificent in his red and green plaid, beside her. “She nodded a dozen times and laughed, and then hid behind the window, fearing her husband should see her. Poor girl ! It was the second great holiday of her life, she had told me, the first being her wedding day. “The train stepped ten minutes. It was neither an express nor a parliamentary train, but one which stopped at the principal stations on the route —Selinsgrove, Sunbury, Ac. “ I had an old patched suit on, fit, as I supposed, for the service of coal-heaver ; but Blakeley, when I came up, eyed it and my hands sardonically. He was in no better temper, evidently, with amateur firemen than he had been in the morning. “ 1 All aboard !’ he said, gruffly. ‘ You take your place there, Mr. Santley. You’ll put in coal just as I call for it, if you please, and not to trust to your own judgment. ‘ ‘ His tone annoyed me. ‘lt cannot require much judgment to keep up a fire under a boiling pot, and not to make it too hot. Any woman can do that in her own kitchen.’ “ He made no reply, but took his place in the little square box where the greater part of his life was passed. I noticed that face was flushed, and his irritation at my fioolisli whim was surely more than the occasion required. I watched him with keen curiosity, wondering if it was possible that he could have been drinking, as he had accused poor Jones of doing.” “It strikes me as odd,” interrupted Ferrers, “ that you should have not only made an intimate companion of this fellow, Santley, but have taken so keen an interest in his tempers and drinking bouts. You would not be likely to honor any of us with such attention. ” “No. 1 have something else to do. I was absolutely idle then. Blakeley and his family for the time made up my world. As for the friendship, this was an exceptional man, both as to integrity and massive hard sense.
‘ 1 The knowledge that comes from books counts with me but for little, compared with the education given by experience and contact with facts for forty years. I was honored by the friendship of this grimy engineer. “ But the question of his sobriety that day was a serious one. A man in charge of a train with hundreds of souls aboard, I felt ought to be sober, particularly when I was shut up in the engine with him. “ Just as we started, a slipof paper was handed to him, which he read and threw down. “ ‘ Do you run this train by telegraph ?’ I asked, beginning to shovel vigorously. •“Yes. No more coal. ’ “ Isn’t that unusual V “ ‘ Yes. There are two special trains on the road this afternoon. ’ “ ‘ls it difficult to run a train by telegraph V I said presently, simply to make conversation. Staring in silence at the narrow slit in the gloomy furnace or out at | the village street, through which we slowly passed, was monotonous. ‘“No, not difficult. I simply have to obey the instructions which I receive at each station. “ ‘ But if you should happen to think the instructions not right V “ ‘ Happen to think ! I’ve no business to think at all! When the trains run by telegraph the engineers are so many machines in the hands of one controller, whc directs them all from a central point. He has the whole road under his eye. If they don’t obey to the least tittle their orders, it is destruction to the whole.’ “ ‘ You seem to think silent obedience the first and last merit in a railway man V “ ‘ Yes,’ dryly. “ I took the Hut, and was dumb. “We were out of town now. Blakeley quickened the speed cf the engine. I did not speak to him again. There was little for me to do, and I was occupied in looking out at the flying landscape. The fields were covered with a deep fall of snow, and glanced whitely by, with a strange, unreal shimmer. The air was keen and cutting. Still the ride was tame. I was disappointed. The excitement would by no means equal a dash on a spirited horse. I began to think I had little to pay for mj’’ grimy hands and face, when we slowed at the next station. One or two passengers came aboard the train. There was the inevitable old lady with bundles, alighting, and the usual squabtle about her trunk. I was craning my neck to hear, when the boy ran alongside with the telegram. “The next moment I heard a low exclamation from Blakeley. “‘ Go back,’ said he to the boy. ‘ Tell Sands -to have the message repeated. There is a mistake. ’ “ The boy dashed off, Blakeley sat waiting, coolly polishing a bit of the shining brass before him. Back came the boy. “ Had it repeated. Sands is raging at. you. Says there’s no mistake, and you’d best get on,’ thrusting the second message up. “Blakeley read it, and stood hesitating for half a minute. I shall never forget the dismay, the utter perplexity that gathered in his lean face as he looked at the telegram, and then at the long train behind him. His lips moved as if he were calculating chances, and his eye suddenly quailed, as if he saw death at the end of the calculation. “ ‘ What’s the matter ? What are you going to do V I asked. “ ‘ Obey.” [to be continued.]
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Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 79, 27 March 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 79, 27 March 1880
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