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Going To Philadelphia
by [?]


You never know when an adventure is going to begin. But on a train is a good place to lie in wait for them. So we sat down in the smoker of the 10 A.M. Eastern Standard Time P.R.R. express to Philadelphia, in a receptive mood.

At Manhattan Transfer the brakeman went through the train, crying in a loud, clear, emphatic barytone: “Next stop for this train is North Philadelphia!”

We sat comfortably, and in that mood of secretly exhilarated mental activity which is induced by riding on a fast train. We were looking over the June Atlantic. We smiled gently to ourself at that unconscious breath of New England hauteur expressed in the publisher’s announcement, “The edition of the Atlantic is carefully restricted.” Then, meditating also on the admirable sense and skill with which the magazine is edited, and getting deep into William Archer’s magnificent article “The Great Stupidity” (which we hope all our clients will read) we became aware of outcries of anguish and suffering in the aisle near by.

At Manhattan Transfer a stout little man with a fine domy forehead and a derby hat tilted rather far aft had entered the smoker. He suddenly learned that the train did not stop at Newark. He uttered lamentation, and attacked the brakeman with grievous protest. “I heard you say, This train stops at Newark and Philadelphia,” he insisted. His cigar revolved wildly in the corner of his mouth; crystal beads burst out upon the opulent curve of his forehead. “I’ve got to meet a man in Newark and sell him a bill of goods.”

The brakeman was gentle but firm. “Here’s the conductor,” he said. “You’ll have to talk to him.”

Now this is a tribute of admiration and respect to that conductor. He came along the aisle punching tickets, holding his record slip gracefully folded round the middle finger of his punch hand, as conductors do. Like all experienced conductors he was alert, watchful, ready for any kind of human guile and stupidity, but courteous the while. The man bound for Newark ran to him and began his harangue. The frustrated merchant was angry and felt himself a man with a grievance. His voice rose in shrill tones, he waved his hands.

Then began a scene that was delightful to watch. The conductor was magnificently tactful. He ought to have been an ambassador (in fact, he reminded us of one ambassador, for his trim and slender figure, his tawny, drooping moustache, the gentle and serene tact of his bearing, were very like Mr. Henry van Dyke). He allowed the protestant to exhaust himself with reproaches, and then he began an affectionate little sermon, tender, sympathetic, but firm.

“I thought this train stopped at Newark,” the fat man kept on saying.

“You mustn’t think, you must know,” said the conductor, gazing shrewdly at him above the rims of his demi-lune spectacles. “Now, why did you get on a train without making sure where it stopped? You heard the brakeman say: ‘Newark and Philadelphia’? No; he said ‘North Philadelphia.’ Yes, I know you were in a hurry, but that wasn’t our fault, was it? Now, let me tell you something: I’ve been working for this company for twenty-five years….”

Unhappily the noise of the train prevented us from hearing the remark that followed. We were remembering a Chinese translation that we made once. It went something like this:


Whenever I travel
I ask at least three train-men
If this is the right train
For where I am going,
Even then
I hardly believe them.

But as we watched the two, the conductor gently convincing the irate passenger that he would have to abide by his mistake, and the truculent fat man gradually realizing that he was hopelessly in the wrong, a new aspect subtly came over the dialogue. We saw the stout man wither and droop. We thought he was going to die. His hat slid farther and farther upward on his dewy brow. His hands fluttered. His cigar, grievously chewed, trembled in its corner of his mouth. His fine dark eyes filled with tears.