A second-class compartment of a corridor carriage, in motion. In it are seated the ENGLISHMAN and his WIFE, opposite each other at the corridor end, she with her face to the engine, he with his back. Both are somewhat protected from the rest of the travellers by newspapers. Next to her sits the GERMAN, and opposite him sits the AMERICAN; next the AMERICAN in one window corner is seated the DUTCH YOUTH; the other window corner is taken by the GERMAN'S bag. The silence is only broken by the slight rushing noise of the train's progression and the crackling of the English newspapers.
AMERICAN. [Turning to the DUTCH YOUTH] Guess I'd like that window raised; it's kind of chilly after that old run they gave us.
[The DUTCH YOUTH laughs, and goes through the motions of raising the window. The ENGLISH regard the operation with uneasy irritation. The GERMAN opens his bag, which reposes on the corner seat next him, and takes out a book.]
AMERICAN. The Germans are great readers. Very stimulating practice. I read most anything myself!
[The GERMAN holds up the book so that the title may be read.]
"Don Quixote"--fine book. We Americans take considerable stock in old man Quixote. Bit of a wild-cat--but we don't laugh at him.
GERMAN. He is dead. Dead as a sheep. A good thing, too.
AMERICAN. In America we have still quite an amount of chivalry.
GERMAN. Chivalry is nothing 'sentimentalisch'. In modern days--no good. A man must push, he must pull.
AMERICAN. So you say. But I judge your form of chivalry is sacrifice to the state. We allow more freedom to the individual soul. Where there's something little and weak, we feel it kind of noble to give up to it. That way we feel elevated.
[As he speaks there is seen in the corridor doorway the LITTLE MAN, with the WOMAN'S BABY still on his arm and the bundle held in the other hand. He peers in anxiously. The ENGLISH, acutely conscious, try to dissociate themselves from his presence with their papers. The DUTCH YOUTH laughs.]
GERMAN. 'Ach'! So!
AMERICAN. Dear me!
LITTLE MAN. Is there room? I can't find a seat.
AMERICAN. Why, yes! There's a seat for one.
LITTLE MAN. [Depositing bundle outside, and heaving BABY] May I?
AMERICAN. Come right in!
[The GERMAN sulkily moves his bag. The LITTLE MAN comes in and seats himself gingerly.]
AMERICAN. Where's the mother?
LITTLE MAN. [Ruefully] Afraid she got left behind.
[The DUTCH YOUTH laughs. The ENGLISH unconsciously emerge from their newspapers.]
AMERICAN. My! That would appear to be quite a domestic incident.
[The ENGLISHMAN suddenly utters a profound "Ha, Ha!" and disappears behind his paper. And that paper and the one opposite are seen to shake, and little sguirls and squeaks emerge.]
GERMAN. And you haf got her bundle, and her baby. Ha! [He cackles drily.]
AMERICAN. [Gravely] I smile. I guess Providence has played it pretty low down on you. It's sure acted real mean.
[The BABY wails, and the LITTLE MAN jigs it with a sort of gentle desperation, looking apologetically from face to face. His wistful glance renews the fore of merriment wherever it alights. The AMERICAN alone preserves a gravity which seems incapable of being broken.]
AMERICAN. Maybe you'd better get off right smart and restore that baby. There's nothing can act madder than a mother.
LITTLE MAN. Poor thing, yes! What she must be suffering!
[A gale of laughter shakes the carriage. The ENGLISH for a moment drop their papers, the better to indulge. The LITTLE MAN smiles a wintry smile.]
AMERICAN. [In a lull] How did it eventuate?
LITTLE MAN. We got there just as the train was going to start; and I jumped, thinking I could help her up. But it moved too quickly, and--and left her.
[The gale of laughter blows up again.]
AMERICAN. Guess I'd have thrown the baby out to her.
LITTLE MAN. I was afraid the poor little thing might break.
[The Baby wails; the LITTLE MAN heaves it; the gale of laughter blows.]
AMERICAN. [Gravely] It's highly entertaining--not for the baby. What kind of an old baby is it, anyway? [He sniff's] I judge it's a bit--niffy.
LITTLE MAN. Afraid I've hardly looked at it yet.
AMERICAN. Which end up is it?
LITTLE MAM. Oh! I think the right end. Yes, yes, it is.
AMERICAN. Well, that's something. Maybe you should hold it out of window a bit. Very excitable things, babies!
ENGLISHWOMAN. [Galvanized] No, no!
ENGLISHMAN. [Touching her knee] My dear!
AMERICAN. You are right, ma'am. I opine there's a draught out there. This baby is precious. We've all of us got stock in this baby in a manner of speaking. This is a little bit of universal brotherhood. Is it a woman baby?
LITTLE MAN. I--I can only see the top of its head.
AMERICAN. You can't always tell from that. It looks kind of over-wrapped up. Maybe it had better be unbound.
GERMAN. 'Nein, nein, nein'!
AMERICAN. I think you are very likely right, colonel. It might be a pity to unbind that baby. I guess the lady should be consulted in this matter.
ENGLISHWOMAN. Yes, yes, of course----!
ENGLISHMAN. [Touching her] Let it be! Little beggar seems all right.
AMERICAN. That would seem only known to Providence at this moment. I judge it might be due to humanity to look at its face.
LITTLE MAN. [Gladly] It's sucking my' finger. There, there--nice little thing--there!
AMERICAN. I would surmise in your leisure moments you have created babies, sir?
LITTLE MAN. Oh! no--indeed, no.
AMERICAN. Dear me!--That is a loss. [Addressing himself to the carriage at large] I think we may esteem ourselves fortunate to have this little stranger right here with us. Demonstrates what a hold the little and weak have upon us nowadays. The colonel here--a man of blood and iron--there he sits quite calm next door to it. [He sniffs] Now, this baby is rather chastening--that is a sign of grace, in the colonel--that is true heroism.
LITTLE MAN. [Faintly] I--I can see its face a little now.
[All bend forward.]
AMERICAN. What sort of a physiognomy has it, anyway?
LITTLE MAN. [Still faintly] I don't see anything but--but spots.
GERMAN. Oh! Ha! Pfui!
[The DUTCH YOUTH laughs.]
AMERICAN. I am told that is not uncommon amongst babies. Perhaps we could have you inform us, ma'am.
ENGLISHWOMAN. Yes, of course--only what sort of----
LITTLE MAN. They seem all over its----[At the slight recoil of everyone] I feel sure it's--it's quite a good baby underneath.
AMERICAN. That will be rather difficult to come at. I'm just a bit sensitive. I've very little use for affections of the epidermis.
GERMAN. Pfui! [He has edged away as far as he can get, and is lighting a big cigar]
[The DUTCH YOUTH draws his legs back.]
AMERICAN. [Also taking out a cigar] I guess it would be well to fumigate this carriage. Does it suffer, do you think?
LITTLE MAN. [Peering] Really, I don't--I'm not sure--I know so little about babies. I think it would have a nice expression--if--if it showed.
AMERICAN. Is it kind of boiled looking?
LITTLE MAN. Yes--yes, it is.
AMERICAN. [Looking gravely round] I judge this baby has the measles.
[The GERMAN screws himself spasmodically against the arm of the ENGLISHWOMAN'S seat.]
ENGLISHWOMAN. Poor little thing! Shall I----?
[She half rises.]
ENGLISHMAN. [Touching her] No, no----Dash it!
AMERICAN. I honour your emotion, ma'am. It does credit to us all. But I sympathize with your husband too. The measles is a very important pestilence in connection with a grown woman.
LITTLE MAN. It likes my finger awfully. Really, it's rather a sweet baby.
AMERICAN. [Sniffing] Well, that would appear to be quite a question. About them spots, now? Are they rosy?
LITTLE MAN. No-o; they're dark, almost black.
GERMAN. Gott! Typhus! [He bounds up on to the arm of the ENGLISHWOMAN'S Seat.]
AMERICAN. Typhus! That's quite an indisposition!
[The DUTCH YOUTH rises suddenly, and bolts out into the corridor. He is followed by the GERMAN, puffing clouds of smoke. The ENGLISH and AMERICAN sit a moment longer without speaking. The ENGLISHWOMAN'S face is turned with a curious expression--half pity, half fear--towards the LITTLE MAN. Then the ENGLISHMAN gets up.]
ENGLISHMAN. Bit stuffy for you here, dear, isn't it?
[He puts his arm through hers, raises her, and almost pushes her through the doorway. She goes, still looking back.]
AMERICAN. [Gravely] There's nothing I admire more'n courage. Guess I'll go and smoke in the corridor.
[As he goes out the LITTLE MAN looks very wistfully after him. Screwing up his mouth and nose, he holds the BABY away from him and wavers; then rising, he puts it on the seat opposite and goes through the motions of letting down the window. Having done so he looks at the BABY, who has begun to wail. Suddenly he raises his hands and clasps them, like a child praying. Since, however, the BABY does not stop wailing, he hovers over it in indecision; then, picking it up, sits down again to dandle it, with his face turned toward the open window. Finding that it still wails, he begins to sing to it in a cracked little voice. It is charmed at once. While he is singing, the AMERICAN appears in the corridor. Letting down the passage window, he stands there in the doorway with the draught blowing his hair and the smoke of his cigar all about him. The LITTLE MAN stops singing and shifts the shawl higher to protect the BABY'S head from the draught.]
AMERICAN. [Gravely] This is the most sublime spectacle I have ever envisaged. There ought to be a record of this.
[The LITTLE MAN looks at him, wondering. You are typical, sir, of the sentiments of modern Christianity. You illustrate the deepest feelings in the heart of every man.]
[The LITTLE MAN rises with the BABY and a movement of approach.]
Guess I'm wanted in the dining-car.
[He vanishes. The LITTLE MAN sits down again, but back to the engine, away from the draught, and looks out of the window, patiently jogging the BABY On his knee.]