A Day on a Railroad

I have to admit, reading this chapter, “A Day on a Railroad” from At Home and Abroad; or, How to Behave, by Mrs. Manners (Evans & Dickerson: New York, 1854), I am not the most patient, nor comfortable 19th century railroad traveler. Left myself or in a quiet party, I am okay assuming I get comfortable, the sun is not touching me, there is fresh air and it is moderately quiet. I find it difficult to carry on a conversation at length or to sit with the sun falling on our side of the car. If off set, I can be down-right cranky.

A Day on a Railroad

“Was you ever in the cars before?”

“If I had a’been I shouldn’t be here now,” was the reply, in a nasal and querulous tone.

I was sitting before the speakers, in a fine car on the — railroad, and the above question was asked and answered, at the first station which we reached, after leaving the city of S—. I turned around to see who the persons conversing might be, for the answer of the old lady had amused me. She was a fresh arrival from the heart of New England. She had accompanied her son, who, with his family lived at the South, on this long, and to her mind, most perilous journey. A “wagon” had conveyed them to the ship, which landed them at S—-. She was not afraid at sea, for a neighbor of her’s “had been a sea-faring man for forty-odd years, and never been drownded;” but the horrid din, “the supernat’ral speed” of the cars was too much for her, and then “Miss Johnson’s brother’s wife’s son, by her first marriage, had been killed, she believed, in this very State of Georgia, on the railroad. He ‘tended the ingine, and had been throw’d off and fractioned his skull.”

These particulars, I heard her give to her questioner, a respectably-cladwoman from the interior, who was so much more at home on the outlandish vehicles, because “the road run now within a mile and a  half of her house, which used to be more  than thirty-six miles from a town.”

The old lady groaned and complained during the remainder of the day, and reproached her son for bringing her to a place which must be reached by such a mode of travelling. Sometimes the scenes between them were amusing, at other times they were annoying to the involuntary listeners. These were not all the annoyances of that day. The heat was most excessive – the dust and smoke perfectly unbearable, and the scarcity of good water a great source of discomfort to the crowded, wearied passengers. There were some small children along with us, who were foolishly supplied with candies and cakes almost incessantly, which aggravated the thirst incident to the heat and suffocation. They were greedy, dirty, cross, sleepy, and altogether very uncomfortable little associates. Two of them, however, formed an exception to these remarks. One was a lively, intelligent child, about two years old – the other a noble, though rather delicate looking lad of perhaps ten years.

“Oh papa,” said he, as he caught sight of the younger child in a remote part of the car, “how much that little boy is like my little brother Malcolm. May I go ask his mother to let him come and sit with us?”

The permission was granted, the request made and acceded to, – the little one was enchanted with the prospect of a relief from the monotony of his own seat, from which he dared not wander alone, – and all parties looked pleased. The lad, whose name was Leslie, took most tender care of the little Bertie. If the cars stopped long enough for any one to leave them, Leslie’s father carried Bertie out in his arms to give him some fresh air. Leslie himself continually pointed out every object which could interest the child.

I was pleased as I regarded him forgetting his own discomforts to please the little fellow; whenever he had a chance he bathed his face and hands in the cool water, – often giving  him a drink. He was most solicitous lest the child should eat anything which would provoke thirst; an unripe banana was thrown away, a ripe one carefully peeled, a ginger-cake put out of sight, a piece of juicy apple given, – and thus he was continually consulting the happiness of this little protégé. Not a complaint was heard from Leslie during the whole weary day. He changed his seat, preferring to have the sun in his own face rather than in the child’s; he patiently held his head when he fell asleep, and carefully protected him from the black motes which are so annoying in the cars.

I truly  believe Leslie was the happiest person in the cars that day, because he was the least selfish; he was so much occupied attending to the comfort of the little one, as to entirely forget himself, and consequently his own troubles. That was the secret of the day’s pleasure, and the kind of words and looks which all gave him who saw his unselfishness. I can answer for Berties’ mamma, that she blessed the lad in her heart, and will never forget his kindness. When we reached M—-, Leslie said – “It has been a pleasant day, papa, has it not?” The weary passengers who heard him smiled; but all acknowledged he had deserved the day should be a pleasant one to him.

Published in: on February 9, 2013 at 9:10 am  Comments (3)  

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The older lady’s comments remind me of those of the ladies in Return to Cranford when they took their trip by train! Quite appropriate and worth remembering for those of us older women who might be subjected to the railroad.

  2. The older woman’s comments sound like those of the ladies on Return to Cranford when they took their short railroad excursion! Good info for us older women who might be subjected to the railroad at some time!

  3. I really enjoyed this, Thank you!

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