In the Reserved Compartment
IN THE RESERVED COMPARTMENT.
BY W. PETT RIDGE.
(Crowded compartment, with window bearing blue label with white letters, "LADIES ONLY." Racks groan with parcels; two babies (strangers) frown distantly at each other; ladies make agreeable faces at babies, and bob hands at them winningly.)
Satisfied Matron. Yes, we are a little crowded certainly; can you move up just the least bit, dear? Wake the Scotch lady in the corner, and get her to make a little room; but of course it's so much more comfortable to be in a reserved compartment (Archly to baby opposite.) I see him. I see him, the wicked ickle baby boy. (Baby sneers, and turns his head away.) Oh! shy, shy, shy ickle man. (To proud young mother.) Wonderfully intelligent face your little baby's got.
Young Mother. Yes (impartially), it is an intelligent face, all but the nose. I don't know what to do about his nose, really. I tell his father that he certainly didn't get that from my side of the family. (To baby.) Sittee up, and show the ladies how you stand all aloney. (Baby gloomily assents to standing on his mother's lap for a moment; tumbles down instantly, and wails.) Oh, never mind, then. He shan't stand up if he doesn't want to.
Satisfied Matron (excusingly). P'r'aps the dear little thing's tired.
Young Mother. No, it isn't that. (Confidentially.) I suppose it's a subject I ought not to talk about, but it's his father's obstinate temper, if you want to know what it really means. I can see it peeping out of him, young as he is, already. He'll want a lot or correcting when he grows. (Baby screams apprehensively.) No, no; mamma won't punish her booful boy, (Soothingly.) Tourse she won't. 'Ook out of the window at the moo cows.
Satisfied Matron (Optimistically.) You'll find he'll grow out of it.
Young Mother (with doubt). I'm not so sure. What I go by is the eldest boy of a cousin of mine; and believe me or not, just as you like, but that boy is the bluest young tyrant you ever saw. Thinks nothing of answering his mother back, and only the other day——
(Recounts stirring domestic incident. Large lady, who is occupying at least two seats, brags to neighbour.)
Large Lady. Stout? Why (with hint of proud regret), I really say sometimes that I do believe I get stouter every day of my life. I have myself weighed every now and then, but it doesn't seem to make any difference. My doctor says that it's a matter of constitution, and that's about all I can get out of him.
Her Neighbour. I suppose if you were to diet yourself——
Large Lady. Oh! I don't believe in that, bless you. (Knowingly.) Oh, no! I look on it as a sin not to thoroughly enjoy your meals; seems to me like flying in the face of Providence. Of course (reasoningly), if you hadn't got them to eat it would be altogether different; but I have got them to eat, thanks be, and I look upon it as a duty to eat them, (Fans herself with "Ladies' Own.") I shall be glad of my lunch today, too. I haven't had anything excepting a few odd things since breakfast.
Her Neighbour. I knew a lady once who went to Homburg, and she——
Large Lady (definitely). If I can't get thinner without going abroad I prefer to stay as I am. I may be old-fashioned, but England's quite good enough for me. Let those go gallivanting all over the map that like it. I don't. Besides, I'm not such a believer in exercise as some people are; there's such a thing as overdoing it. (Confidently.) Catch me riding a bicycle! I think the way that some women rush about nowadays, respectable English women, too, is—well, I tell you candidly that simply to think of it throws me into a state of——
Her Neighbour. Perhaps a little gentle exercise?
Large Lady (gloomily). Make me worse very likely. It doesn't do to take everybody's advice.
Her Neighbour (with some spirit). Well, I'm sure I've no desire to force my advice upon you; you commenced the subject, and all I——
Large Lady (reminiscently). But when I was a girl, my dear—this, now, is a fact—I was counted the prettiest figure in all Brockley. I was, indeed! Slim? (Lifts hands despairingly.) Slim wasn't the word for it. I remember my poor dressmaker saying once—I'm speaking of some twenty or two and twenty years ago, before you were thought of, and when the fashions were different—I remember her saying, "Ah! Miss Totness" (that was my maiden name before I was married), "Ah! Miss Totness," she said, "there's some credit in fitting you." And the next day that poor creature—I'm telling you the absolute truth—went into a decline, and—(sighs)—ah! as I said at the time, it seemed as though it was to be.
(Shakes her head dolefully. Sharp featured young person explains an affaire d'amour to sprightly companion.)
Sharp features (with great relish). So I, naturally enough, was annoyed, you understand me, Miss Walters, and I wrote him a note, very short note it was, but very straight and to the point; and I said, "Dear Mr. Boorman," I said, "after what I heard last night," I said, "it is desirable, for the sake of all parties, that our acquaintance should cease."
Miss Walters (approvingly). That was one up against him.
Sharp Features. Let me finish what I'm telling you. And I went on to say that it was no use entering into argument about the matter, because my mind was quite made up; and I hoped he'd be as happy in his future life as—I underlined this part—as he deserved to be.
Miss Walters (cheerfully). He could take that which way he liked.
Sharp Features. Wait a bit! "As he deserved to be," I said. And then I finished up by saying, "I am, dear Mr, Boorman," I said, "your friend and well wisher"; and then I signed my name. Very well, then! Just as I was closing the envelope, the thought struck me——
Miss Walters. Didn't you add a postscript?
Sharp Features (annoyed). Oh! do let me tell you all about it without interrupting. It won't take me many minutes, and then you can interrupt as much as you like. (Resumes incident.) As I say, the thought struck me that I might just as well add something at the end of the letter; and so I took up the pen, and I said—in the letter, you know—I said, "Perhaps another time that you pass remarks about other people, you will take care that you are not overheard." And then (gleefully) I put just one more bit that I expect made him stare. And what do you think it was?
Miss Walters (cross at recent reproval). Oh, I don't know! You're such an extraordinary girl.
Sharp Features. I simply added these three words, "Walls have ears." (Beams upon Miss Walters proudly.) That's all I said, "Walls have ears."
Miss Walters (still snappish). Well, what did that mean?
Sharp Features. Oh, well! (helplessly) that was for him to find out. He'd have to read between the lines, don't you see. He could make what he liked of it.
Miss Walters (coldly). I think it was a stupid thing to write down at the end of a letter.
Sharp Features (amazedly). Stupid?
Miss Walters (definitely). Yes, stupid. Silly! Foolish! Can't think what you could have been thinking about to put in a sentence like that. (Sharp Features gasps with astonishment.) He must have thought you'd gone off your head to go and put down an absurd thing like that. "Walls have ears," indeed. If you'd only left that out.
(Train stops at station. Burly gentleman, with cigar, essays to open carriage door.)
Indignant Lady (next to window, breathlessly). You can't come in here, my good man, the door's locked; and besides, if it wasn't locked you couldn't come in with that low cigar. What you want is a smoking compartment, and——
Burly Gentleman. Ye're wrong, ma good woman, I'm in no want of a smoking compairtment. All that I require is——
Indignant Lady (severely). Then please leave the handle of the carriage door alone, and go away. If there's the least sign of disturbance I shall simply scream out and——
Burly Gentleman. Ye'll pardon me, ma'am, for a——
Indignant Lady. Go away, please! Go away at once! This compartment is reserved for ladies. (Bitterly.) Can't you read what's on the window?
Burly Gentleman. It's just preceesely for that reason——
Indignant Lady (excitedly). Somebody call the guard and have the dreadful man taken off. (To Burly Gentleman, wrathfully.) I'm ashamed of you, a man of your position in life. From Scotland, too, above all other places.
Burly Gentleman (appealingly). If ye'll but listen for one meenute I'll tell——
Indignant Lady (definitely). We don't want to hear anything at all that you've got to tell us. Simply go away, please.
Burly Gentleman. I'm not going away without fairst——
Indignant Lady (shrieking). Guard! Guard! Come here instantly. Look at this dreadful Scotchman forcing his way into the compartment.
Guard (remonstratingly). Now then, sir, what are you up to? What d'you want, aye? You mustn't go interfering with these ladies, you know.
Burly Gentleman (feelingly). I wouldna interfere with them for thairty thousan' pound, ma man. I merely want me guid wife that's sleepin' in yon corner, and if——
Ladies (allowing door to be unlocked). Oh, well! (Complainingly.) Why on earth didn't he say so before? It would have saved all this argument.