The 9.43 by Barry Pain

Story type: Literature

In the course of conversation on Saturday evening it had transpired that Eliza had never been in St. Paul’s Cathedral. “Then,” I said, “you shall go there to-morrow morning; I will take you.”

“I’m sure I’m agreeable,” said Eliza.

On the Sunday morning one or two little things had happened to put me out. At breakfast I had occasion to say that the eggs were stone-cold, and Eliza contradicted me. It was very absurd of her. As I pointed out to her, what earthly motive could I have for saying that an egg was cold if it was not? What should I gain by it? Of course she had no answer–that is, no reasonable answer. Then after breakfast I broke my boot-lace in two places. No, I was not angry. I hope I can keep my temper as well as most men. But I was in a state of mind bordering on the irritable.

* * * * *

Eliza came down-stairs, dressed for going out, asked me why I was not ready, and said we should miss the 9.43.

“Indeed!” said I. “And what, precisely, might you mean by the 9.43?”

“I mean, precisely, the train which leaves here for the city at seventeen minutes to ten.”

“One of your usual mistakes,” I replied. “The train is 9.53, and not 9.43.”

“Have you a time-table?” she asked.

“No.”

“Because if you had a time-table I could show you that you are wrong. Why, I know it’s the 9.43.”

“If I had a time-table I could show you most certainly that it is the 9.53. Not that you’d believe it, even then. You’re too obstinate, Eliza–too certain of yourself!”

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* * * * *

“Look here!” I observed, after she had argued that point at some length, “let us come back to the original subject of discussion. Which of us travels most to and from London? That is the reasonable way to settle it.”

“You do, on week-days. But you never go on Sundays, and the Sunday trains are different.”

“I am fully aware of the difference. Every day I am thrown into constant contact with the time-tables. Only last night I was looking at them at the station. As far as I know, my memory is not going.”

“No more is mine.”

“Really? A week ago I purchased and brought home six new collars. They are not marked. Why? Because you forgot them! At this very moment that I am speaking to you I am wearing an unmarked collar.”

“Yes; but I only forgot them one day.”

“Then why did you not mark them on the other days?”

“Because on the other days you forgot to bring home the marking-ink.”

“‘M, yes,” I said. “In a sense that is true. I have my own business to attend to in the city without always thinking about marking-ink. But what has that got to do with it? And why bring it in? We are not talking about marking-ink; we are talking about trains!”

She said that I began it, and of course I pointed out to her that I had done nothing of the kind.

* * * * *

We argued for some little time as to which of us had begun it, and then Eliza said, in her spiteful way–

“We are not talking about which of us began it; we are talking about trains!”

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“It’s very little use talking to you about trains. I know you’re wrong! I would stake my life, cheerfully, that it is 9.53, and not 9.43. But you’d never own you’re wrong; you’re too obstinate for that!”

“Of course I don’t own I’m wrong, because I’m not wrong! That would be silly!” she added, reflectively. “Even if it was 9.53, I shouldn’t be wrong. All I said was, that we should miss the 9.43. Well, if there is no 9.43, we cannot catch it; and what you don’t catch, you miss!”

“Absurd nonsense! If you do not catch scarlet fever, you do not say that you miss it!”

She replied: “We are not talking about scarlet fever; we are talking about trains!”

“Bah!” I exclaimed. I should have added more, but at this moment the clock on the dining-room mantelpiece struck ten.

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