Nov 142022

[The topic given was two people travelling in different class compartments on a train when an incident occurs.]

“Good morning Pickedy. Trust you slept well,” announced Lord Marshall Hickenbotham to his crumpled butler. Visiting from England, both had considered the overnight train a novel way to travel this mighty continent. They met on the platform in Sydney after a night separated by class. Pickedy, wincing quietly, leaned to his left, dutifully carrying his master’s ancient leather suitcase – with a handle but no wheels. Wheels were for people who had to deal with their own luggage.

The butler had spent the night in a seated compartment of the train – third class – while Sir Marshall passed his hours of slumber, toff that he was, in the smart-persons’ bit of the train, the sleepers – first class. Here he was able to languidly stretch out beneath the sheets in silk pyjamas while his good man sat upright fully dressed struggling to catch a wink of sleep.

“Thank you, sir, a fairly uneventful night,” Pickedy replied, his head awkwardly twisting away from his master.

“Are you quite alright Pickedy? Stand up straight man.”

“Funny neck, sir.”


“Actually, there were one or two events of interest.”

“Oh yes?” came the indifferent response.

“Old chap near me seemed to find the journey a bit of a strain.”

This old fellow had got on at Violet Town in a crumpled, once-black suit. After a bit of a mumbly chit-chat with Anthony Pickedy, he had retreated behind his newspaper from whence only his fingers could be seen. Not even the crop of wild white hair was visible. Silence soon greeted Pickedy despite his attempts to continue their conversation in the intimate setting of the night-time they shared.

Hickenbotham yawned at the story as if begging for a quick end to it. “What was he reading?”

“Not much as it turned out. After a little while his fingers scrunched the newspaper tightly and seemed to turn bluish. The light was dim though, so a bit hard to judge. I probably should have called someone, but thought he’d most likely just fallen asleep. Didn’t like to pull the cord and inconvenience everyone else on the train.”

“It’s a good thing you didn’t. There’s quite enough to disturb sleeping passengers without an abrupt halt of motion thrown in. I would not have been pleased.”

“Quite, sir,” continued the much-put-upon but loquacious manservant. “But the thing continued. I dropped off for a bit and when I woke the old bloke had leaned forward rather sharply and was strangely silent. His hat had fallen on the floor so I picked it up and put it on the seat beside him at which point the poor chap tumbled headlong to the ground. It was a struggle to wrangle him back into the seat especially since he didn’t move to help me. Thinking that perhaps he was dead, I tried to find a pulse. Not a flicker, sir. I was right – dead as a doornail. But still grasping the broadsheet.”

“Good Lord! Damnably uncivilized country – people dying in trains. My God! What did you do?”

“Probably should have called an emergency, but I thought, no-one can help him now and it’ll just upset everyone. So, I tucked him under a blanket till he looked comfortable enough. Then I fell asleep against the window. Eventually someone else rang the bell. Horrible racket and caused a great panic but then at least I could get the guard who came and took the old boy away.”

“You did right my good fellow. One ought not to pull those cords except for real emergencies.”

“Absolutely. How was your night sir? Not as eventful as mine, I hope.”

Lord Hickenbotham was fresh and springy after a comfortable night’s sleep. His slim jacket sported a smartly pressed white handkerchief tucked in the pocket. His curly hair neatly combed and parted on the left.

“Well, actually, it was no bed of roses for me either. Chap next door snored like a jet-engine. Not a wink of sleep to be had for me. After banging on his wall and shouting to no avail, I finally had to pull that cord. Sleep, Pickedy – one can’t cope without it.”

“No sir. It’s bad that you were so inconvenienced. So, it was you who halted the train, sir?”

“Had to be done Picky. Not called a ‘sleeper’, for nothing.”