Following the Equator

by Mark Twain

Chapter XXXI.

The spirit of wrath- not the words- is the sin; and the spirit of wrath is cursing. We begin to swear before we can talk.--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

November 11. On the road. This train- express goes twenty and one- half miles an hour, schedule time; but it is fast enough, the outlook upon sea and land is so interesting, and the cars so comfortable. They are not English, and not American; they are the Swiss combination of the two. A narrow and railed porch along the side, where a person can walk up and down. A lavatory in each car. This is progress; this is nineteenth- century spirit. In New Zealand, these fast expresses run twice a week. It is well to know this if you want to be a bird and fly through the country at a 20-mile gait; otherwise you may start on one of the five wrong days, and then you will get a train that can't overtake its own shadow.

By contrast, these pleasant cars call to mind the branch- road cars at Maryborough, Australia, and the passengers' talk about the branch- road and the hotel.

Somewhere on the road to Maryborough I changed for a while to a smoking- carriage. There were two gentlemen there; both riding backward, one at each end of the compartment. They were acquaintances of each other. I sat down facing the one that sat at the starboard window. He had a good face, and a friendly look, and I judged from his dress that he was a dissenting minister. He was along toward fifty. Of his own motion he struck a match, and shaded it with his hand for me to light my cigar. I take the rest from my diary:

In order to start conversation I asked him something about Maryborough. He said, in a most pleasant- even musical voice, but with quiet and cultured decision:

"It's a charming town, with a hell of a hotel."

I was astonished. It seemed so odd to hear a minister swear out loud. He went placidly on:

"It's the worst hotel in Australia. Well, one may go further, and say in Australasia."

"Bad beds?"

"No- none at all. Just sand- bags."

"The pillows, too?"

"Yes, the pillows, too. Just sand. And not a good quality of sand. It packs too hard, and has never been screened. There is too much gravel in it. It is like sleeping on nuts."

"Isn't there any good sand?"

"Plenty of it. There is as good bed- sand in this region as the world can furnish. Aerated sand- and loose; but they won't buy it. They want something that will pack solid, and petrify."

"How are the rooms?"

"Eight feet square; and a sheet of iced oil- cloth to step on in the morning when you get out of the sand- quarry."

"As to lights?"

"Coal- oil lamp."

"A good one?"

"No. It's the kind that sheds a gloom."

"I like a lamp that burns all night."

"This one won't. You must blow it out early."

"That is bad. One might want it again in the night. Can't find it in the dark."

"There's no trouble; you can find it by the stench."

"Wardrobe?"

"Two nails on the door to hang seven suits of clothes on if you've got them."

"Bells?"

"There aren't any."

"What do you do when you want service?"

"Shout. But it won't fetch anybody."

"Suppose you want the chambermaid to empty the slopjar?"

"There isn't any slop- jar. The hotels don't keep them. That is, outside of Sydney and Melbourne."

"Yes, I knew that. I was only talking. It's the oddest thing in Australia. Another thing: I've got to get up in the dark, in the morning, to take the 5 o'clock train. Now if the boots----"

"There isn't any."

"Well, the porter."

"There isn't any."

"But who will call me?"

"Nobody. You'll call yourself. And you'll light yourself, too. There'll not be a light burning in the halls or anywhere. And if you don't carry a light, you'll break your neck."

"But who will help me down with my baggage?"

"Nobody. However, I will tell you what to do. In Maryborough there's an American who has lived there half a lifetime; a fine man, and prosperous and popular. He will be on the lookout for you; you won't have any trouble. Sleep in peace; he will rout you out, and you will make your train. Where is your manager?"

"I left him at Ballarat, studying the language. And besides, he had to go to Melbourne and get us ready for New Zealand. I've not tried to pilot myself before, and it doesn't look easy."

"Easy! You've selected the very most difficult piece of railroad in Australia for your experiment. There are twelve miles of this road which no man without good executive ability can ever hope- tell me, have you good executive ability? first- rate executive ability?"

"I- well, I think so, but----"

"That settles it. The tone of- oh, you wouldn't ever make it in the world. However, that American will point you right, and you'll go. You've got tickets?"

"Yes- round trip; all the way to Sydney."

"Ah, there it is, you see! You are going in the 5 o'clock by Castlemaine- twelve miles- instead of the 7.15 by Ballarat- in order to save two hours of fooling along the road. Now then, don't interrupt- let me have the floor. You're going to save the government a deal of hauling, but that's nothing; your ticket is by Ballarat, and it isn't good over that twelve miles, and so----"

"But why should the government care which way I go?"

"Goodness knows! Ask of the winds that far away with fragments strewed the sea, as the boy that stood on the burning deck used to say. The government chooses to do its railway business in its own way, and it doesn't know as much about it as the French. In the beginning they tried idiots; then they imported the French- which was going backwards, you see; now it runs the roads itself- which is going backwards again, you see. Why, do you know, in order to curry favor with the voters, the government puts down a road wherever anybody wants it- anybody that owns two sheep and a dog; and by consequence we've got, in the colony of Victoria, 800 railway stations, and the business done at eighty of them doesn't foot up twenty shillings a week."

"Five dollars? Oh, come!"

"It's true. It's the absolute truth."

"Why, there are three or four men on wages at every station."

"I know it. And the station- business doesn't pay for the sheep- dip to sanctify their coffee with. It's just as I say. And accommodating? Why, if you shake a rag the train will stop in the midst of the wilderness to pick you up. All that kind of politics costs, you see. And then, besides, any town that has a good many votes and wants a fine station, gets it. Don't you overlook that Maryborough station, if you take an interest in governmental curiosities. Why, you can put the whole population of Maryborough into it, and give them a sofa apiece, and have room for more. You haven't fifteen stations in America that are as big, and you probably haven't five that are half as fine. Why, it's perfectly elegant. And the clock! Everybody will show you the clock. There isn't a station in Europe that's got such a clock. It doesn't strike- and that's one mercy. It hasn't any bell; and as you'll have cause to remember, if you keep your reason, all Australia is simply bedamned with bells. On every quarter- hour, night and day, they jingle a tiresome chime of half a dozen notes- all the clocks in town at once, all the clocks in Australasia at once, and all the very same notes; first, downward scale: mi, re, do, sol- then upward scale: sol, si, re, do- down again: mi, re, do, sol- up again: sol, si, re, do- then the clock- say at midnight clang- clang--clang- clang--clang- clang--clang- clang--clang- clang----and, by that time you're- hello, what's all this excitement about? a runaway- scared by the train; why, you think this train could scare anything. Well, when they build eighty stations at a loss and a lot of palace- stations and clocks like Maryborough's at another loss, the government has got to economize somewhere hasn't it? Very well look at the rolling stock. That's where they save the money. Why, that train from Maryborough will consist of eighteen freight- cars and two passenger- kennels; cheap, poor, shabby, slovenly; no drinking water, no sanitary arrangements, every imaginable inconvenience; and slow?--oh, the gait of cold molasses; no air- brake, no springs, and they'll jolt your head off every time they start or stop. That's where they make their little economies, you see. They spend tons of money to house you palatially while you wait fifteen minutes for a train, then degrade you to six hours' convict- transportation to get the foolish outlay back. What a rational man really needs is discomfort while he's waiting, then his journey in a nice train would be a grateful change. But no, that would be common sense- and out of place in a government. And then, besides, they save in that other little detail, you know- repudiate their own tickets, and collect a poor little illegitimate extra shilling out of you for that twelve miles, and----"

"Well, in any case----"

"Wait- there's more. Leave that American out of the account and see what would happen. There's nobody on hand to examine your ticket when you arrive. But the conductor will come and examine it when the train is ready to start. It is too late to buy your extra ticket now; the train can't wait, and won't. You must climb out."

"But can't I pay the conductor?"

"No, he is not authorized to receive the money, and he won't. You must climb out. There's no other way. I tell you, the railway management is about the only thoroughly European thing here- continentally European I mean, not English. It's the continental business in perfection; down fine. Oh, yes, even to the peanut- commerce of weighing baggage."

The train slowed up at his place. As he stepped out he said:

"Yes, you'll like Maryborough. Plenty of intelligence there. It's a charming place- with a hell of a hotel."

Then he was gone. I turned to the other gentleman:

"Is your friend in the ministry?"

"No- studying for it."

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