In the Train.
(From the Bulletin.)
The train stopped at some God-forgotten flag-station, and she came in carrying a muffled-up baby. She took the corner seat opposite me, next to the gushing girl who was beguiling the journey with pea-nuts and a policeman. But policemen and even pea-nuts were forgotten when this white-faced, faded, pretty girl-mother came in, her great eyes heaving with grief, and her weary arms holding her child to her breast. She wore some dark dress that suggested crape, fitting close to her girlish curves. A widow, probably; perhaps an unmarried one? She sank wearily into the corner, huddling the bundle of baby closer, while a curious half-defiance looked out of her wide, wet-lashed eyes, seeking no sympathy, even dreading it.
By-and-bye the gushing girl sidled up to the new-comer and cooed coyly at the muffled child. With a gesture of disgust, the mother turned from her, as if to shield her child, bending back into her corner. But the gusher was not easily baulked. How old was the ickle darling? Mightn’t she see its pretty wee face? Did it like pea-nuts didn’t it, then? And the hopeless weariness showed in every line of the mother’s white face. At last the gushing girl left her in peace, and returned to her pea-nuts and her policeman.
The train slouched on, slowly and sullenly as only narrow-gauge Maoriland trains dare; and silence settled down in the carriage. The girl-mother had sunk limply to sleep–the drugged sleep of weariness and misery. Her child had slipped slowly from her weak arms and was precariously resting on her lap sleeping, too. A sudden jolt of the train almost threw the baby to the floor but the mother did not stir. In an instant the gushing girl was a woman. Without waking the sleeper she clutched the tired little heap of clothes, and took it to her breast with an involuntary choking whisper in her voice, soothing it softly and lovingly She slipped back the shawl to look at it–such a little white face–!
There was a shriek that filled the carriage, and the girl stared at the child, holding it at arm’s length, her horror almost thrusting it from her. A moment later the mother leaped at her angrily and snatched the child from her stiffened arms.
The girl sank back. “Why, it’s dead!” she gasped.
Then the only smile that had lit the mother’s face flickered slowly across it. ‘Yes,’ she said, she died yesterday, and I am taking her to be buried.’ And the rest was buried in a flood of tears.
In Maoriland the conveyance of a corpse is charged for at a shilling a mile.
Observer, 11 May 1895: p. 23
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.