“There, Simmons, you blockhead! Why didn’t you trot that old woman aboard her train? She’ll have to wait here now until the 1.05 a.m.”
“You didn’t tell me.”
“Yes, I did tell you. ‘Twas only your confounded stupid carelessness.”
“She! You blockhead! What else could you expect of her! Probably she hasn’t any wit; besides, she isn’t bound on a very jolly journey—got a pass up the road to the poorhouse. I’ll go and tell her, and if you forget her to-night, see if I don’t make mince-meat of you!” and our worthy ticket agent shook his fist menacingly at his subordinate.
“You’ve missed your train, marm,” he remarked, coming forward to a queer-looking bundle in the corner.
A trembling hand raised the faded black veil, and revealed the sweetest old face I ever saw.
“Never mind,” said a quivering voice.
“‘Tis only three o’clock now; you’ll have to wait until the night train, which doesn’t go up until 1.05.”
“Very well, sir; I can wait.”
“Wouldn’t you like to go to some hotel? Simmons will show you the way.”
“No, thank you, sir. One place is as good as another to me. Besides, I haven’t any money.”
“Very well,” said the agent, turning away indifferently. “Simmons will tell you when it’s time.”
All the afternoon she sat there so quiet that I thought sometimes she must be asleep, but when I looked more closely I could see every once in a while a great tear rolling down her cheek, which she would wipe away hastily with her cotton handkerchief.
The depot was crowded, and all was bustle and hurry until the 9.50 train going east came due; then every passenger left except the old lady. It is very rare, indeed, that any one takes the night express, and almost always after ten o’clock the depot becomes silent and empty.
The ticket agent put on his greatcoat, and, bidding Simmons keep his wits about him for once in his life, departed for home.
But he had no sooner gone than that functionary stretched himself out upon the table, as usual, and began to snore vociferously.
Then it was I witnessed such a sight as I never had before and never expect to again.
The fire had gone down—it was a cold night, and the wind howled dismally outside. The lamps grew dim and flared, casting weird shadows upon the wall. By and by I heard a smothered sob from the corner, then another. I looked in that direction. She had risen from her seat, and oh! the look of agony on the poor pinched face.
“I can’t believe it,” she sobbed, wringing her thin, white hands. “Oh! I can’t believe it! My babies! my babies! how often have I held them in my arms and kissed them; and how often they used to say back to me, ‘Ise love you, mamma,’ and now, O God! they’ve turned against me. Where am I going? To the poorhouse! No! no! no! I cannot! I will not! Oh, the disgrace!”
And sinking upon her knees, she sobbed out in prayer:
“O God! spare me this and take me home! O God, spare me this disgrace; spare me!”
The wind rose higher and swept through the crevices, icy cold. How it moaned and seemed to sob like something human that is hurt. I began to shake, but the kneeling figure never stirred. The thin shawl had dropped from her shoulders unheeded. Simmons turned over and drew his blanket more closely about him.
Oh, how cold! Only one lamp remained, burning dimly; the other two had gone out for want of oil. I could hardly see, it was so dark.
At last she became quieter and ceased to moan. Then I grew drowsy, and kind of lost the run of things after I had struck twelve, when some one entered the depot with a bright light. I started up. It was the brightest light I ever saw, and seemed to fill the room full of glory. I could see ’twas a man. He walked to the kneeling figure and touched her upon the shoulder. She started up and turned her face wildly around. I heard him say:—
“‘Tis train time, ma’am. Come!”
A look of joy came over her face.
“I am ready,” she whispered.
“Then give me your pass, ma’am.”
She reached him a worn old book, which he took, and from it read aloud:—
“Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
“That’s the pass over our road, ma’am. Are you ready?”
The light died away, and darkness fell in its place. My hand touched the stroke of one. Simmons awoke with a start and snatched his lantern. The whistle sounded down brakes; the train was due. He ran to the corner and shook the old woman.
“Wake up, marm; ’tis train time.”
But she never heeded. He gave one look at the white set face, and, dropping his lantern, fled.
The up train halted, the conductor shouted “All aboard,” but no one made a move that way.
The next morning, when the ticket agent came, he found her frozen to death. They whispered among themselves, and the coroner made out the verdict “apoplexy,” and it was in some way hushed up.
But the last look on the sweet old face, lit up with a smile so unearthly, I keep with me yet; and when I think of the occurrence of that night, I know she went out on the other train, that never stopped at the poorhouse.