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Travelling with a Reformer
by [?]

‘That was a good stroke of diplomacy–three good strokes of diplomacy, in fact.’

‘That? That wasn’t diplomacy. You are quite in the wrong. Diplomacy is a wholly different thing. One cannot apply it to that sort; they would not understand it. No, that was not diplomacy; it was force.’

‘Now that you mention it, I–yes, I think perhaps you are right.’

‘Right? Of course I am right. It was just force.’

‘I think, myself, it had the outside aspect of it. Do you often have to reform people in that way?’

‘Far from it. It hardly ever happens. Not oftener than once in half a year, at the outside.’

‘Those men will get well?’

‘Get well? Why, certainly they will. They are not in any danger. I know how to hit and where to hit. You noticed that I did not hit them under the jaw. That would have killed them.’

I believed that. I remarked–rather wittily, as I thought–that he had been a lamb all day, but now had all of a sudden developed into a ram– battering-ram; but with dulcet frankness and simplicity he said no, a battering-ram was quite a different thing, and not in use now. This was maddening, and I came near bursting out and saying he had no more appreciation of wit than a jackass–in fact, I had it right on my tongue, but did not say it, knowing there was no hurry and I could say it just as well some other time over the telephone.

We started to Boston the next afternoon. The smoking compartment in the parlour-car was full, and he went into the regular smoker. Across the aisle in the front seat sat a meek, farmer-looking old man with a sickly pallor in his face, and he was holding the door open with his foot to get the air. Presently a big brakeman came rushing through, and when he got to the door he stopped, gave the farmer an ugly scowl, then wrenched the door to with such energy as to almost snatch the old man’s boot off. Then on he plunged about his business. Several passengers laughed, and the old gentleman looked pathetically shamed and grieved.

After a little the conductor passed along, and the Major stopped him and asked him a question in his habitually courteous way:

‘Conductor, where does one report the misconduct of a brakeman? Does one report to you?’

‘You can report him at New Haven if you want to. What has he been doing?’

The Major told the story. The conductor seemed amused. He said, with just a touch of sarcasm in his bland tones:

‘As I understand you, the brakeman didn’t say anything?’

‘No, he didn’t say anything.’

‘But he scowled, you say?’


‘And snatched the door loose in a rough way?’


‘That’s the whole business, is it?’

‘Yes, that is the whole of it.’

The conductor smiled pleasantly, and said:

‘Well, if you want to report him, all right, but I don’t quite make out what it’s going to amount to. You’ll say–as I understand you–that the brakeman insulted this old gentleman. They’ll ask you what he said. You’ll say he didn’t say anything at all. I reckon they’ll say, How are you going to make out an insult when you acknowledge yourself that he didn’t say a word?’

There was a murmur of applause at the conductor’s compact reasoning, and it gave him pleasure–you could see it in his face. But the Major was not disturbed. He said:

‘There–now you have touched upon a crying defect in the complaint system. The railway officials–as the public think and as you also seem to think–are not aware that there are any insults except spoken ones. So nobody goes to headquarters and reports insults of manner, insults of gesture, look, and so forth; and yet these are sometimes harder to bear than any words. They are bitter hard to bear because there is nothing tangible to take hold of; and the insulter can always say, if called before the railway officials, that he never dreamed of intending any offence. It seems to me that the officials ought to specially and urgently request the public to report unworded affronts and incivilities.’