The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 10 (February 1, 1934)
The Old Ticket — No. 1
Turning out an old drawer during one of those intermittent fits of tidyness that come spasmodically to irritate every family, we came across an old railway ticket. It was somewhat the worse for wear and punched in a multitude of places with calabalistic signs, meaningless to the traveller, but telling their story in detail to the railwayman.
It started a flow of reminiscences that lasted until the fire was only a glow and the chill of the room sent us off to bed with the drawer still untidy, but with all the memories of a happy journey once again fresh in our minds.
We went back to that day when we were on the station—the Mate and I—to say nothing of the luggage. With the exception of two small suit cases, I had booked the whole of it through, taking advantage of the comprehensive scheme by which the Railways Department takes both the worry and your travel paraphernalia off your mind, to return them only when you cross the threshold of your final destination.
I have nothing to say against the Mate. She is a wife in a thousand, which is as it should be; but, at the same time, she is a woman with all the eternal feminine distrust of official systems. Although we had booked our seats and could thus have arrived even at the last moment and walked into them, I found myself on the platform half an hour before starting time.
Being a mere male I put our bags in our reserved seats and started to become imbued with the holiday spirit. We had our tickets and our seats and the railway was looking after the rest. But the Mate had different ideas. Our luggage? Had they brought it? Was it on the train? She didn't care what they said. If I didn't go and look, she would. In the end we both went. She got satisfaction, and I got a lesson in tact—a sample of the courtesy we were to receive from one end of the trip to the other.
To the uninitiated the guards van was the centre of chaos. Parcels, boxes and miscellaneous freight were lying in heaps everywhere, intermingled with piles of luggage. People were coming and going; porters were arriving, pushing contrivances with three wheels, swinging them round the crowd, through the crowd. Nothing remained the same for more than a minute. Porters seized parcels, glanced at the address and pushed them into the van, calling their destination as they did so. From somewhere inside, a voice answered, giving the impression of an echo. Standing nearby, giving instructions, answering questions, making entries, receiving papers, the calmest man in the crowd, was the guard.
“Ask him if it's on board,” the Mate persisted.
I looked at the crowd, at the hustle, and the mountains of things of all sorts, each item of which had to be stowed in its proper place during the next twenty minutes, and then at the guard, and my courage forsook me.
“It will be all right,” I answered meekly.
“It won't. If you won't ask him, I will, snapped the Mate, adding—woman-like, in parenthesis—“so there!”
Lessons are good for women, and especially for wives, and I stood aside and watched her go to her rebuff. The guard was answering a porter's question, reading some papers that had just been given to him, and trying not to see two men standing waiting for a chance to break in. They never got the chance. The Mate joined them, speaking ere she arrived.
“Guard, can you tell me if our luggage is on board. It came by carrier and is supposed to go right through.”
I chuckled inwardly in anticipation of what must follow, but the effort died away, for the guard turned to her instantly, touched his cap, and smiled.
“If you will tell me the name and where you are going I will find out for you, madam.”
She gave both, and putting his head in the opening of the van, he called into its depths.
“Hold a minute and I'll see,” came a reply from the echo. “Yes, it's here. Anything wrong?”
“No, only the lady was inquiring. Yes, it's there, madam, and I'll see that it's put off myself.”
“Thank you, Guard.”
“Isn't he a nice man?” she chattered.
“Who?” I asked vacantly.
“The guard, of course. He is going to look after it for us and put it off himself.”
As we made our way up the crowded platform I was wondering why it is that a woman will take the word of a total stranger before that of her husband.
A sudden flood of womenfolk engulfed us, and I was gradually eased to the edge of the circle that was a babel of talk. It was the first moment's real respite I had had for two days, and rolling a cigarette, I stood and watched the crowd milling about the station platform.
Already there were groups about the carriage windows. At the feet of one such crowd I noticed confetti, and, looking up, saw a girl radiant with the excitement of the greatest day of her life, laughing and crying at the same time, while beside her, happy, but with a somewhat sheepish grin on his face, was the newly-made husband.page 53
A porter pushed his way through the crowd toward me, protecting and guiding an old lady upon whose snow-white hair rested a rusty black bonnet.
Romance! To-day just an old woman, commonplace and worn. But sixty years ago a winsome, bonny lass who also in a shower of confetti, had stood by the side of her man and had gone out into the raw back country to do her share in the making of a new land. Work had cruelly lined her hands and seamed her face, but in the eyes that looked into mine for a moment was that which spoke of the full understanding of the peace which passeth all understanding.
Who was she? Where was she going? I do not know, nor ever shall. Just another of the hundreds who, like ourselves, would take a seat in the train, be borne to their destination with speed and comfort, without giving a passing thought to the skill and genius of the men of vision who had planned and constructed the railway, or of those who would work and watch over the flying Express on this occasion.
I strolled up the platform to where the engine had just been coupled up, a white feather trailing from its safety valve. To me there is always a fascination about a railway engine. Always my mind swings back to the boiling kettle and the youth watching it—and wondering. The evolution of that boiling kettle into a machine of tremendous hidden power translating you for a moment into a different perspective; making you feel puny, infantile, and somehow insufficient, interests me profoundly.
A little while earlier in the day the engine and the carriages had been but isolated units of railway gear. Now they were united and became the Express, a living, vital unit that would pull out from the station, leave the old familiar landmarks behind and disappear—not into the unknown, but to where other people lived in other places, to where new environment lent enchantment.
The sudden clangour of a gong brought me to the realisation that I should be missed at the circle. I found that I had been.
“Wherever have you been? Here have I been looking for you everywhere. Come and look after things.”
Being experienced in those things that make for “Safety First” in the marital department, I answered not, but shepherded the Mate on board the train, put her in the seat next the window, smiled inanely every time one of the cluster at the window politely remembered that I was also going on the trip, and prayed that the tactful guard would wave his little green flag and let us go where women friends were not—at least not those who knew, and regarded me merely as the Mate's husband.
True to code, he did; and the next moment the Express had started, carrying us with her to new things, new scenery, and holidays.
I rested my back against the comfort of the seat, stretched my legs and relaxed.
“Thank God,” I said.
“What's that?” asked the Mate.
“Nothing,” I replied. “I was only thinking aloud.”