From the Sussex County Magazine 1929
A Talk in a Train
By Arthur Beckett
One August afternoon, in the days of my youth, I entered a compartment of a train leaving London Bridge for Eastbourne. I had just returned from a holiday abroad, and was not ill-pleased to be among home scenes once more. As I stepped into the compartment I noticed that it contained one other passenger, who had with him a small handbag which, when I entered, he took from the seat by his side and placed carefully on the rack above his head.
Neither of us spoke to the other, but while in my corner I unfolded my newspaper, I furtively took stock of my travelling companion who, seated by the opposite window, was already absorbed in his own newspaper. He was a pleasant-looking little man and had he seemed inclined for conversation I should no doubt have engaged him, but as at the moment he seemed to prefer his paper, I took no further notice of him, and soon became absorbed myself in the news of the day.
For the first part of the journey strict silence was maintained between us. When the train drew up at Three Bridges station the door of the compartment opened and a farmer entered, pulling after him a reluctant half-bred sheepdog by means of a rope attached to its collar. The dog should have been placed in the guard’s van, but it was little more than a puppy and appeared to be bewildered by the noise inseparable from a railway station.
Before sitting down the farmer commanded the dog to go under the seat, but as the animal was somewhat slow, or unwilling to obey the order, he gave it a slight kick. The farmer then sat down and filled his pipe with deliberate movements.
These little events were watched by my companion and myself with a certain amount of interest. As soon as the train restarted, I addressed the farmer:
“That’s a nice dog of yours.”
“She wunt do so bad when we’ve larned her fur a month or two,” he answered. “Shepherd, he says to me as how we wanted a new dog, so hearing o’ this one at Three Bridges I’ve been over an’ had a look at her.”
“And you liked her well enough to buy her, I see,” said the pleasant-looking man, joining in the conversation.
“Give two pun for her, I did,” added the farmer. “She wunt do so bad, I rackon, time we’ve larned her.”
“Some of the shepherds’ dogs are very clever,” said the pleasant man. “Clever enough,” answered the farmer; “’specially when you’ve larned them well.”
“I heard a good story once about a Scotch shepherd’s dog,” pursued the pleasant man. “P’raps you know that in that country the shepherds take their dogs with them when they go to church or chapel – at least they used to do so if they don’t now. Well, the shepherd in the story had a young dog, and one Sunday he took it to kirk with him for the first time. He wasn’t a musical dog, and every time the people in the church sang a psalm the dog joined in, and howled all through the piece. At first the shepherd made him quiet with a kick or two under the seat; but this didn’t keep the beast silent for long, and at length the beadle went to the shepherd and asked him to take the dog out of the church. This, Sandy – or whatever his name was – declined to do, saying that the dog had got to get used to the psalm singing some time or other, and the sooner that part of his education was taken in hand the better.
“Well, the service proceeded, the dog being sometimes quiet and at other times assisting the music with his voice, to the great delight of the boys who were in church. At length the minister went into the pulpit to preach. He was pne of those preachers with a wailing voice; and directly he opened his mouth and gave out the text, the dog sat up on his haunches, looked at him and gave a sharp bark. Mr Minister didn’t care much for that sort of applause, so he leaned over the pulpit and beckoned the beadle to come to him. ‘Put oot the dowg!’ said the minister. The beadle looked as if he didn’t like the job, but he just went to the pew, and taking no notice of the shepherd, he made a grab at the beast. The dog was too quick for him and sprang into a corner, whereupon the beadle, instead of leaving him there, must needs shake his fist at him, and then try to poke him out with his foot.
“Well, out ran the dog down the middle aisle, the fat old beadle puffing behind him; and just as he got to the door and the beadle was hoping that he would run through it, dang me, if he didn’t come back up the other aisle as hard as he could run and up the pulpit steps! He couldn’t get into the pulpit because the minister had shut the door; and when he came up the beadle, thinking that he had got the beast, made a grab at him. But that dog had spunk! He just gave a growl and showed his teeth so suddenly that the beadle nearly tumbled down the steps with fear.
“The minister, who had given out his text, and was waiting to begin his discourse, was now so annoyed that he opened the pulpit door to give the dog a kick, but before you could say ‘Geemimy,’ that dog was inside the pulpit, nearly upsetting the parson in his haste. Worst of all, in his hurry to keep the dog out, the minister had snapped the door to, and then had such a fit of the funks that he couldn’t open it again.
“This made him lose his head, and he began to shout for help, crying out that the dog was mad and was biting him. As a matter of fact, the dog was as frightened as he was, and was cowering in a corner of the pulpit hoping that he wouldn’t be hurt. Then the silly minister began to jump and kick and try to get out of the pulpit by climbing over the door; and I tell you there was a fine bobbery in the church.
“While this was going on the shepherd left his seat and walked down the aisle to the door. As soon as he got outside he gave a loud whistle, and with one jump that dog sprang out of the pulpit on to the head of the precentor who was sitting beneath, and in about four bounds had reached the door. As luck would have it the beadle was standing there, and in trying to get out of the dog’s way was tripped up by the animal as it ran past him.”
The pleasant man paused, and observing by this sign that the story was ended the farmer burst into a great roar of laughter, which I echoed with my smaller voice.
“That’s a good un,” observed the farmer, when he could find breath to speak. “Dogs be funny devils, an’ no mistake. It ‘minds me o Master Ockenden’s dog. That was a rum un if you like. Beer! You should see that dog lap up beer! I never seed anyone like un, ‘cept his master, an’ he never sat down to less that half a gallon.”
Though there appeared to be no connection between the two anecdotes the pleasant gentleman laughed politely. I smiled, and returned to my paper. For the next quarter of an hour the farmer was so tickled by reflections on his own story, or that of the pleasant man, that he burst out in intermittent chuckles of laughter.
Presently the pleasant man asked how soon the train would arrive at Lewes.
“’Bout ten minutes, I rackon,” said the farmer. Then after a pause he added:
“Rackon I wouldn’t be in somebody’s shoes there tomorrow morning.”
“Who’s ‘somebody’? I asked.
“Him in the prison; Wilton, the man what done the murder at Brighton.”
The pleasant man suddenly looked grave.
“I haven’t heard of it,” I said, laying my paper on the seat. “I’ve just come back from abroad.”
“Wal, ‘twas a pretty bad case, I rackon,” volunteered the farmer. “This Willum Wilton cut his wife’s throat – his second wife she was. Allus quarrelling and nagging they was. Lived together in one room with a boy o’fifteen – her son by the fust husban’. Terrible poor they was too; an’ this here ‘ooman allus nagging an’ jaggling an’ giving her ol’ man a dish o’tongues. So one morning, arter the boy had gone to work, this Wilton just took a knife and cut his wife’s throat. Pretty good job he made of it, too; half took her head off, they say. And when the boy come back he finds his mother dead, swimming in her own blood.”
“Shocking!” I said, in horror. “Has the man confessed?”
“Not as I’ve heard tell,” answered the farmer. “He let them take him easy; just walked up to the bobby when he went to the public house where he was drinking an’ called out his name, an’ give hisself up. Been wonderful quiet ever since, they say; hardly says a word. Seems as if he’d made up his mind to pay out his wife for her nagging ways, an’ to pay fur what he’s done without making a fuss about it. Wunnerful curious chap!”
“Poor fellow!” I said.
The pleasant man was silent.
A minute later the train arrived at Lewes station. The pleasant man rose from his seat, took his bag from the rack, nodded to the farmer and myself, and stepping out of the compartment, walked up to a police officer who was standing on the platform. I stood by the open window and watched him.
Presently a porter known to me passed the compartment.
“Do you know who that gentleman is?” I asked the man, indicating my late companion.
“Which one, sir?” asked the porter.
“That pleasant-looking gentleman standing next to the police officer.”
“Ah!” answered the porter, speaking deliberately. “That’s the hangman. He’s come down to finish off the Brighton murderer in the morning.”
= = = = = = = = = =
Bird in your shining cage
Does the sky seem very blue
And wide and free as the Downs and the sea?
Do the soft winds call to you
As you hang there the long day through?
Bird in your ruthless cage
Do you think how you might have known
Freedom and light, and after flight
To your rest in the tree-tops flown?
Or have you indifferent grown?
Who knows? Yet as your cage
Hangs there, so bright, so strong
High up, apart, it breaks my heart
To hear the whole day long
The courage in your song