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A ROMANCE OF THE LINE


As the train moved slowly out of the station, the Writer of Stories
looked up wearily from the illustrated pages of the magazines and
weeklies on his lap to the illustrated advertisements on the walls
of the station sliding past his carriage windows. It was getting
to be monotonous. For a while he had been hopefully interested in
the bustle of the departing trains, and looked up from his
comfortable and early invested position to the later comers with
that sense of superiority common to travelers; had watched the
conventional leave-takings--always feebly prolonged to the
uneasiness of both parties--and contrasted it with the impassive
business promptitude of the railway officials; but it was the old
experience repeated. Falling back on the illustrated advertisements
again, he wondered if their perpetual recurrence at every station
would not at last bring to the tired traveler the loathing of
satiety; whether the passenger in railway carriages, continually
offered Somebody's oats, inks, washing blue, candles, and soap,
apparently as a necessary equipment for a few hours' journey, would
not there and thereafter forever ignore the use of these articles,
or recoil from that particular quality. Or, as an unbiased
observer, he wondered if, on the other hand, impressible passengers,
after passing three or four stations, had ever leaped from the train
and refused to proceed further until they were supplied with one or
more of those articles. Had he ever known any one who confided to
him in a moment of expansiveness that he had dated his use of
Somebody's soap to an advertisement persistently borne upon him
through the medium of a railway carriage window? No! Would he not
have connected that man with that other certifying individual who
always appends a name and address singularly obscure and
unconvincing, yet who, at some supreme moment, recommends Somebody's
pills to a dying friend,--afflicted with a similar address,--which
restore him to life and undying obscurity. Yet these pictorial and
literary appeals must have a potency independent of the wares they
advertise, or they wouldn't be there.

Perhaps he was the more sensitive to this monotony as he was just
then seeking change and novelty in order to write a new story. He
was not looking for material,--his subjects were usually the same,--
he was merely hoping for that relaxation and diversion which
should freshen and fit him for later concentration. Still, he had
often heard of the odd circumstances to which his craft were
sometimes indebted for suggestion. The invasion of an eccentric-
looking individual--probably an innocent tradesman into a railway
carriage had given the hint for "A Night with a Lunatic;" a
nervously excited and belated passenger had once unconsciously sat
for an escaped forger; the picking up of a forgotten novel in the
rack, with passages marked in pencil, had afforded the plot of a
love story; or the germ of a romance had been found in an obscure
news paragraph which, under less listless moments, would have
passed unread. On the other hand, he recalled these inconvenient
and inconsistent moments from which the so-called "inspiration"
sprang, the utter incongruity of time and place in some brilliant
conception, and wondered if sheer vacuity of mind were really so
favorable.

Going back to his magazine again, he began to get mildly interested
in a story. Turning the page, however, he was confronted by a
pictorial advertising leaflet inserted between the pages, yet so
artistic in character that it might have been easily mistaken for
an illustration of the story he was reading, and perhaps was not
more remote or obscure in reference than many he had known. But
the next moment he recognized with despair that it was only a
smaller copy of one he had seen on the hoarding at the last
station. He threw the leaflet aside, but the flavor of the story
was gone. The peerless detergent of the advertisement had erased
it from the tablets of his memory. He leaned back in his seat
again, and lazily watched the flying suburbs. Here were the usual
promising open spaces and patches of green, quickly succeeded again
by solid blocks of houses whose rear windows gave directly upon the
line, yet seldom showed an inquisitive face--even of a wondering
child. It was a strange revelation of the depressing effects of
familiarity. Expresses might thunder by, goods trains drag their
slow length along, shunting trains pipe all day beneath their
windows, but the tenants heeded them not. Here, too, was the
junction, with its labyrinthine interlacing of tracks that dazed
the tired brain; the overburdened telegraph posts, that looked as
if they really could not stand another wire; the long lines of
empty, homeless, and deserted trains in sidings that had seen
better days; the idle trains, with staring vacant windows, which
were eventually seized by a pert engine hissing, "Come along, will
you?" and departed with a discontented grunt from every individual
carriage coupling; the racing trains, that suddenly appeared
parallel with one's carriage windows, begot false hopes of a
challenge of speed, and then, without warning, drew contemptuously
and, superciliously away; the swift eclipse of everything in a
tunneled bridge; the long, slithering passage of an "up" express,
and then the flash of a station, incoherent and unintelligible with
pictorial advertisements again.

He closed his eyes to concentrate his thought, and by degrees a
pleasant languor stole over him. The train had by this time
attained that rate of speed which gave it a slight swing and roll
on curves and switches not unlike the rocking of a cradle. Once or
twice he opened his eyes sleepily upon the waltzing trees in the
double planes of distance, and again closed them. Then, in one of
these slight oscillations, he felt himself ridiculously slipping
into slumber, and awoke with some indignation. Another station was
passed, in which process the pictorial advertisements on the
hoardings and the pictures in his lap seemed to have become jumbled
up, confused, and to dance before him, and then suddenly and
strangely, without warning, the train stopped short--at ANOTHER
station. And then he arose, and--what five minutes before he never
conceived of doing--gathered his papers and slipped from the
carriage to the platform. When I say "he" I mean, of course, the
Writer of Stories; yet the man who slipped out was half his age and
a different-looking person.




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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