The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 8 (December 1, 1933)
Feathers — A Bagman's Fantasy
To most people who go north on the night Limited from Thorndon, the prospect of travel on this swift-moving express through the heart of the North Island is a real adventure. Just think of it; at Wellington one night, a comfortable sleep in a luxurious sleeping coach, and next morning in Auckland where your Northern friends have scarcely commenced their day's work.
But your travelling bagman, of which I am one, has long since lost all sense of novelty in travel. His cares are “orders” and probably just before he sets out, his digestion has been upset by his overlord telling him to come back next time with “more of the body of the bird and less of the feathers.”
But Sunday evening is different. The weekend has quietened the nerves. Optimism is king once more. Old Schmidt, whose order we covet, looks not so forbidding. So here you find me on an evening in early spring with tranquil spirit, and the rain falling softly and pleasantly on top of the cabin of the Limited as the big “Ab” engine is given her. head out of Wellington. “Ab” seems to be in high fettle. Her hot breath is dampened by the soft rain. A sweet smell of dead leaves and wet pastures steals in through the window and I ride in deep content to Palmerston.
It may have been the black coffee which I foolishly ordered at the railway restaurant when I might have had many things more palatable, but when I did climb into my bunk, sleep was fitful and difficult. For a long time I lay in a doze, half waking, half sleeping. At last Morpheus warmed me into a dreaming slumber and the dreams I dreamt were unusually adventurous.
First of all, I had a dream awakening in a muddy lane in a foreign country. My railway coach had turned itself into a caravan. Near at hand was a clump of dark forest trees. I heard the strumming of a harp and had a misty feeling of a dwelling close at hand. Someone large and coarse snored in the upper berth of the caravan. The proprieties seemed offended that we should come to rest so close to some-one's habitation. In an airy, fairy way, the coarse presence from the upper berth and I moved the caravan a little way off and the scene faded out to give place to another.
I was freshly awakened in a high, chaste room. I remember how my eyes traced the sculptured pattern of the ceiling in the first content of awakening from restful sleep. Outside, the birds were carolling in a park of trees, and the coarse presence—I did not seem to be able to shake him off—snored lustily in the twin bed opposite. “And, I thought we were in a caravan,” I smiled to myself as though I had made an important discovery without much effort.
Then to my astonished eyes, a tall, beautiful girl appeared in the doorway. She was clad in a medieval gown and with a heavy plait of golden hair reaching past her waist. She looked at me aghast, her lovely face transfigured with horror. It said, unmistakably, “Tramps. Let's call the gendarmes!” And to cap my shame, a tall, distinguished man and a tall matron came and stood beside her to assist her disapproval. Obviously, the trio were kin. Hostile but well-bred action was pending.
Failing to make them understand me, and meeting with incredulous contempt of all my signs, I withered under their fire of look and gesture. None of the trio vouchsafed a word.
“It's time we were not here,” I explained to the coarse presence, “We've done a dastardly thing! Tramps! that's what we are!” We floated off outdoors to where there was a hostile shouting. It was obvious that the family retainers had found the caravan we had lost and resented its presence. They were pushing a giant sow down a face of rock onto a road, evidently to see if they could treat the caravan similarly, without damaging it. The air was rent with the sow's shrill screams of disgust. The coarse presence and I, watched this extraordinary proceeding from a crevice in some rocks, fearful of our lives.
The third awakening was in a hilly street in Wellington. The coarse presence had left me, but it seemed necessary to have my appearance in the street drawn to my attention by a newspaper potentate of some tonnage. He also indicated, to my surprise, that I was pushing a railway hand truck. The only freight it carried was a roll of rugs belonging to the absurd fellow who shared the cabin of the Limited with me before I went to sleep. I remember that he was very self-conscious and apologetic about his gaudy pyjamas. Then my fellow passenger came into the picture too, as a sort of super to swell the chorus.
Northcliffe suggested that we should load the truck with the Northcliffe dressing case, which came from God knows where, and throw off the roll of rugs. To this I assented with enthusiasm. By this time, my fellow passenger had disappeared. Probably he was disgusted with such cavalier treatment. In his place, was a friendly, cheerful girl. Evidently I knew her well, but I was racked with embarrassment page 39 because I could remember neither the potentate's name nor hers. So I said, awkwardly, “Miss Eh…‥? May I introduce Mr. Eh? Eh? Eh?” I was not with confusion,—just as I am when introducing anyone in my waking moments. It does not matter how well I know people, I invariably forget their names if the business of introduction is indicated.
“What a fool I am!” I scolded, when they had floated off, “Her name is Peggy, of course. Of course, you goat! But Peggy what?” Ah! that was more difficult.
For the fourth time I had a dream awakening. I was shamelessly back in the tall room, sitting upon a bed swearing eternal fealty to the lovely maid, who had frowned myself and the ugly presence from the house. “You should not be doing this,” said my conscience. “What will your wife say?” And then I saw that it was my wife. What happiness! We trooped off, hand in hand, down a long, wide staircase with dark oaken beams overhead, tiny red tiles beneath our feet, and a hundred mullioned windows on either side.
Soon we emerged upon a knoll, outside a porch. We looked upon a long lawn with the texture of velvet. It rolled away to a hedge, which rose at its extremity on all sides. The trees which broke the lawn in clumps, were bare of leaves. Blooming bulbs waved their heads on every side. The scent of warm, leafy mould came pleasantly to the nostrils.
My wife wandered off and left me, as she will, to look rapturously at the flowers, caress their petals and drink in their scent. She waved to me from a clump of blooms beneath a monkey puzzle tree.
I turned, and as I did so; I saw a fearsome vision charging down upon me. It was the giant sow of a previous episode, become a boar with flashing tusks and foaming mouth. I was horror-stricken, and looked for safety towards a gate and then at my wife. The boar, starting slowly, had gained the pace of a racehorse. I wanted to reach my wife and spirit her to safety, but I was glued to the spot. “Well, let him come. I will dodge him and keep him interested while my little one gets away,” said I resignedly. At that he was upon me. I stepped aside at the last moment. He seemed to hurtle past me in his mad career. I felt a terrific impact. “Ah! he's got me after all!”
Then I really awakened. It was the driver of a passing goods train juggling with trucks. Crash! Crash! I nearly hurtled from the bunk My nerves jumped outrageously.
A few hours later, I stood in the presence of Old Schmidt, known to Bagmen as “Ivan the Terrible.”
“I dreamt of you last night, Mr. Schmidt,” I lied, “I dreamt you gave me an order,” said I, by way of novel opening.
Ivan's face went an evil puce. Little knots stood out on his temples. “Gertcher! Get out!” he yelled. His voice was half vomit, half bark. “Get out before I throw you out.”
Feathers again! Ah me! Dreams do not keep bagmen in jobs. “It's orders we want, Mr. Jones.”page 40