Story type: Essay
I have not written much for publication lately, because I did not feel well, I was fatigued. I took a ride on the cars last week and it shook me up a good deal.
The train was crowded somewhat, and so I sat in a seat with a woman who got aboard at Minkin’s Siding. I noticed as we pulled out of Minkin’s Siding, that this woman raised the window so that she could bid adieu to a man in a dyed moustache. I do not know whether he was her dolce far niente, or her grandson by her second husband. I know that if he had been a relative of mine, however, I would have cheerfully concealed the fact.
She waved a little 2×6 handkerchief out of the window, said “good-bye,” allowed a fresh zephyr from Cape Sabine to come in and play a xylophone interlude on my spinal column, and then burst into a paroxysm of damp, hot tears.
I had to go into another car for a moment, and when I returned a pugilist from Chicago had my seat. When I travel I am uniformly courteous, especially to pugilists. A pugilist who has started out as an obscure boy with no money, no friends, and no one to practice on, except his wife or his mother, with no capital aside from his bare hands; a man who has had to fight his way through life, as it were, and yet who has come out of obscurity and attracted the attention of the authorities, and won the good will of those with whom he came in contact, will always find me cordial and pacific. So I allowed this self-made man with the broad, high, intellectual shoulder blades, to sit in my seat with his feet on my new and expensive traveling bag, while I sat with the tear-bedewed memento from Minkin’s Siding.
She sobbed several more times, then hove a sigh that rattled the windows in the car, and sat up. I asked her if I might sit by her side for a few miles and share her great sorrow. She looked at me askance. I did not resent it. She allowed me to take the seat, and I looked at a paper for a few moments so that she could look me over through the corners of her eyes. I also scrutinized her lineaments some.
She was dressed up considerably, and, when a woman dresses up to ride in a railway train, she advertises the fact that her intellect is beginning to totter on its throne. People who have more than one suit of clothes should not pick out the fine raiment for traveling purposes. This person was not handsomely dressed, but she had the kind of clothes that look as though they had tried to present the appearance of affluence and had failed to do so.
This leads me to say, in all seriousness, that there is nothing so sad as the sight of a man or woman who would scorn to tell a wrong story, but who will persist in wearing bogus clothes and bogus jewelry that wouldn’t fool anybody.
My seat-mate wore a cloak that had started out to bamboozle the American people with the idea that it was worth $100, but it wouldn’t mislead anyone who might be nearer than half a mile. I also discovered, that it had an air about it that would indicate that she wore it while she cooked the pancakes and fried the doughnuts. It hardly seems possible that she would do this, but the garment, I say, had that air about it.
She seemed to want to converse after awhile, and she began on the subject of literature, picking up a volume that had been left in her seat by the train boy, entitled: “Shadowed to Skowhegan and Back; or, The Child Fiend; price $2,” we drifted on pleasantly into the broad domain of letters.
Incidentally I asked her what authors she read mostly.
“O, I don’t remember the authors so much as I do the books,” said she; “I am a great reader. If I should tell you how much I have read, you wouldn’t believe it.”
I said I certainly would. I had frequently been called upon to believe things that would make the ordinary rooster quail.
If she discovered the true inwardness of this Anglo-American “Jewdesprit,” she refrained from saying anything about it.
“I read a good deal,” she continued, “and it keeps me all strung up. I weep, O so easily.” Just then she lightly laid her hand on my arm, and I could see that the tears were rising to her eyes. I felt like asking her if she had ever tried running herself through a clothes wringer every morning? I did feel that someone ought to chirk her up, so I asked her if she remembered the advice of the editor who received a letter from a young lady troubled the same way. She stated that she couldn’t explain it, but every little while, without any apparent cause, she would shed tears, and the editor asked her why she didn’t lock up the shed.
We conversed for a long time about literature, but every little while she would get me into deep water by quoting some author or work that I had never read. I never realized what a hopeless ignoramus I was till I heard about the scores of books that had made her shed the scalding, and yet that I had never, never read. When she looked at me with that far-away expression in her eyes, and with her hand resting lightly on my arm in such a way as to give the gorgeous two karat Rhinestone from Pittsburg full play, and told me how such works as “The New Made Grave; or The Twin Murderers” had cost her many and many a copious tear, I told her I was glad of it. If it be a blessed boon for the student of such books to weep at home and work up their honest perspiration into scalding tears, far be it from me to grudge that poor boon.
I hope that all who may read these lines, and who may feel that the pores of their skin are getting torpid and sluggish, owing to an inherited antipathy toward physical exertion, and who feel that they would rather work up their perspiration into woe and shed it in the shape of common red-eyed weep, will keep themselves to this poor boon. People have different ways of enjoying themselves, and I hope no one will hesitate about accepting this or any other poor boon that I do not happen to be using at the time.