The Height of Absurdity: The Train 2.2

9 February, 2016 by katelaity

Knight of the White Hart by Kathryn Marlow  - 500Tansy lifted his arm and pointed to the elbow with his other hand. ‘There is a spot there at the back of the joint. Put your finger there and flex the elbow twelve times. If you have applied the pressure correctly, the song will depart at once. Indeed you will find it difficult to recall to mind ever again without actually hearing it.’

‘How curious. I must remember that. Where ever did you learn it?’

‘My mother, who was much plagued by that phenomenon as well, discovered it quite by accident over a whist game one night when she happened to collide with a tray of sandwiches whilst attempting to rise from the table. In such ways are discoveries born, though it was a shame to lose the sandwiches I am sure.’

‘Great discoveries always come at a sacrifice, I suppose.’

At last we boarded the heavily laden carriage and made our way to Victoria. The crowds around the station pullulated in the usual manner but Tansy’s coachman seemed equal to the task. I have always found that one might make a good picture of a man by the servants he kept and young Popkin was only growing in my estimation in leaps and bounds—particularly when I lamented my own poor situation. I made a vow to remedy it upon my return, for I was no longer young enough to get away with such foolishness and it was time to take more care with the keeping of my house. I supposed that one day I must marry and what sort of a burden would I be to a fine young lady if I could not keep a servant more than three months?

I put away these morbid thoughts as we negotiated the press of people on the concourse. For all the greatness of the city, at any time there seemed to always be a huge number of its citizens hoping to get away. Tansy spotted our track number and led the entourage in that direction with all confidence. I struggled to keep to his pace and marveled what he might do on the field of battle should be ever be called forth. I had always read of the Napoleonic wars with great interest, often imagining myself to be taking part in the struggle. Seeing Tansy in action, however, I suspected that I might made a poor lieutenant to his general. It is a good man who recognises his better without resentment—or so I consoled myself that day.

We reached the designated track and the bevvy of servants bustled all our luggage aboard, then Tansy and I took our places in the carriage. It would take some time to get to distant Cornwall, but I looked forward to the journey as a schoolboy might to any foolish expedition, though as a schoolboy myself I had never had to travel far enough to require much in the way of adventure, though we often imagined ourselves explorers of distant realms.

This time, however, I could lay some claim to the title of adventurer though few would consider measuring the height of absurdity to be in the same league as finding the source of the Nile or wandering the icy desert of Antarctica. None the less, in my small way I experienced a surge of excitement and had to restrain myself from bouncing in my seat as we pulled away from the station.

Tansy busied himself for a moment measuring a few things within the carriage, which for the moment we had to ourselves. Soon we picked up fellow travellers in the western towns and greeted them with a polite indifference as one is wont to do in rail carriages. There are few characters more repellent to a modern soul than the endlessly chattering rail passenger, who drones on about everything and nothing without apparent need to draw breath, consider a response or indeed refresh the tongue with anything approaching thought. Then there are those who unwrap and eat the most appalling food stuffs, indifferent to the noses of their forced companions that wrinkle at strong spices or an abundance of onions and have no respite but to leave themselves and head off to the smoking car or the dining car for relief.

And then there’s the newspaper rattler, who folds and refolds his paper, muttering to himself as he does so, burbling about some tedious business merger or some debate in the house or simply the way his greengrocer has changed his stock and put him quite out. I find it most astounding how people do not regard the fact that they are shut up in what amounts to a small room for an extended period of time and their actions, sounds and indeed smells are experienced by all their cellmates in more or less equal degree. How one can acknowledge that truth and still proceed without a thought—or worse, despite that thought—perplexes me. Surely politeness is the glue which holds a decent society together. It seems so little to be required to offer and yet seems a price beyond spending for so many people.


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