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The Sleeping-Car, a farce   By: (1837-1920)

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THE SLEEPING CAR A FARCE by William D. Howells


SCENE: One side of a sleeping car on the Boston and Albany Road. The curtains are drawn before most of the berths; from the hooks and rods hang hats, bonnets, bags, bandboxes, umbrellas, and other travelling gear; on the floor are boots of both sexes, set out for THE PORTER to black. THE PORTER is making up the beds in the upper and lower berths adjoining the seats on which a young mother, slender and pretty, with a baby asleep on the seat beside her, and a stout old lady, sit confronting each other MRS. AGNES ROBERTS and her aunt MARY.

MRS. ROBERTS. Do you always take down your back hair, aunty?

AUNT MARY. No, never, child; at least not since I had such a fright about it once, coming on from New York. It's all well enough to take down your back hair if it is yours; but if it isn't, your head's the best place for it. Now, as I buy mine of Madame Pierrot

MRS. ROBERTS. Don't you wish she wouldn't advertise it as human hair? It sounds so pokerish like human flesh, you know.

AUNT MARY. Why, she couldn't call it in human hair, my dear.

MRS. ROBERTS (thoughtfully). No just hair .

AUNT MARY. Then people might think it was for mattresses. But, as I was saying, I took it off that night, and tucked it safely away, as I supposed, in my pocket, and I slept sweetly till about midnight, when I happened to open my eyes, and saw something long and black crawl off my bed and slip under the berth. Such a shriek as I gave, my dear! "A snake! a snake! oh, a snake!" And everybody began talking at once, and some of the gentlemen swearing, and the porter came running with the poker to kill it; and all the while it was that ridiculous switch of mine, that had worked out of my pocket. And glad enough I was to grab it up before anybody saw it, and say I must have been dreaming.

MRS. ROBERTS. Why, aunty, how funny! How could you suppose a serpent could get on board a sleeping car, of all places in the world!

AUNT MARY. That was the perfect absurdity of it.

THE PORTER. Berths ready now, ladies.

MRS. ROBERTS (to THE PORTER, who walks away to the end of the car, and sits down near the door). Oh, thank you. Aunty, do you feel nervous the least bit?

AUNT MARY. Nervous? No. Why?

MRS. ROBERTS. Well, I don't know. I suppose I've been worked up a little about meeting Willis, and wondering how he'll look, and all. We can't know each other, of course. It doesn't stand to reason that if he's been out there for twelve years, ever since I was a child, though we've corresponded regularly at least I have that he could recognize me; not at the first glance, you know. He'll have a full beard; and then I've got married, and here's the baby. Oh, no ! he'll never guess who it is in the world. Photographs really amount to nothing in such a case. I wish we were at home, and it was all over. I wish he had written some particulars, instead of telegraphing from Ogden, "Be with you on the 7 A.M., Wednesday."

AUNT MARY. Californians always telegraph, my dear; they never think of writing. It isn't expensive enough, and it doesn't make your blood run cold enough to get a letter, and so they send you one of those miserable yellow despatches whenever they can those printed in a long string, if possible, so that you'll be sure to die before you get to the end of it. I suppose your brother has fallen into all those ways, and says "reckon" and "ornary" and "which the same," just like one of Mr. Bret Harte's characters.

MRS. ROBERTS. But it isn't exactly our not knowing each other, aunty, that's worrying me; that's something that could be got over in time. What is simply driving me distracted is Willis and Edward meeting there when I'm away from home. Oh, how could I be away! and why couldn't Willis have given us fair warning? I would have hurried from the ends of the earth to meet him... Continue reading book >>

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