"Come, you be off!" the Station-master roughly accosted the poor old man. "You be off, and make way for your betters! This way, my Lady!" he added in a perfectly different tone. "If your Ladyship will take a seat, the train will be up in a few minutes." The cringing servility of his manner was due, no doubt, to the address legible on the pile of luggage, which announced their owner to be "Lady Muriel Orme, passenger to Elveston, via Fayfield Junction."
As I watched the old man slowly rise to his feet, and hobble a few paces down the platform, the lines came to my lips:-
"From sackcloth couch the Monk arose, With toil his stiffen'd limbs he rear'd; A hundred years had flung their snows On his thin locks and floating beard."
[Image...'Come, you be off!']
But the lady scarcely noticed the little incident. After one glance at the 'banished man,' who stood tremulously leaning on his stick, she turned to me. "This is not an American rocking-chair, by any means! Yet may I say," slightly changing her place, so as to make room for me beside her, "may I say, in Hamlet's words, 'Rest, rest--'" she broke off with a silvery laugh.
"--perturbed Spirit!"' I finished the sentence for her. "Yes, that describes a railway-traveler exactly! And here is an instance of it," I added, as the tiny local train drew up alongside the platform, and the porters bustled about, opening carriage-doors--one of them helping the poor old man to hoist himself into a third-class carriage, while another of them obsequiously conducted the lady and myself into a first-class.
She paused, before following him, to watch the progress of the other passenger. "Poor old man!" she said. "How weak and ill he looks! It was a shame to let him be turned away like that. I'm very sorry--" At this moment it dawned on me that these words were not addressed to me, but that she was unconsciously thinking aloud. I moved away a few steps, and waited to follow her into the carriage, where I resumed the conversation.
"Shakespeare must have traveled by rail, if only in a dream: 'perturbed Spirit' is such a happy phrase."
"'Perturbed' referring, no doubt," she rejoined, "to the sensational booklets peculiar to the Rail. If Steam has done nothing else, it has at least added a whole new Species to English Literature!"
"No doubt of it," I echoed. "The true origin of all our medical books--and all our cookery-books--"
"No, no!" she broke in merrily. "I didn't mean our Literature! We are quite abnormal. But the booklets--the little thrilling romances, where the Murder comes at page fifteen, and the Wedding at page forty --surely they are due to Steam?"
"And when we travel by Electricity if I may venture to develop your theory we shall have leaflets instead of booklets, and the Murder and the Wedding will come on the same page."
"A development worthy of Darwin!", the lady exclaimed enthusiastically. "Only you reverse his theory. Instead of developing a mouse into an elephant, you would develop an elephant into a mouse!" But here we plunged into a tunnel, and I leaned back and closed my eyes for a moment, trying to recall a few of the incidents of my recent dream.
"I thought I saw--" I murmured sleepily: and then the phrase insisted on conjugating itself, and ran into "you thought you saw--he thought he saw--" and then it suddenly went off into a song:--
"He thought he saw an Elephant, That practised on a fife: He looked again, and found it was A letter from his wife. 'At length I realise,' he said, "The bitterness of Life!'"
And what a wild being it was who sang these wild words! A Gardener he seemed to be yet surely a mad one, by the way he brandished his rake--madder, by the way he broke, ever and anon, into a frantic jig--maddest of all, by the shriek in which he brought out the last words of the stanza!
It was so far a description of himself that he had the feet of an Elephant: but the rest of him was skin and bone: and the wisps of loose straw, that bristled all about him, suggested that he had been originally stuffed with it, and that nearly all the stuffing had come out.