Normally I walk to work, but this morning I had to take a train to a meeting downtown. During the ten-minute ride, I pulled out my current reading, the first volume of Anthony Powell’s novel A Dance to the Music of Time, and ran headlong into this account of another railroad trip: Jenkins’s train ride to Touraine.
The journey was being undertaken in fiery sunshine. Although not my first visit to France, this was the first time I had traveled alone there. As the day wore on, the nap on the covering of the seats of the French State Railways took on the texture of the coarse skin of an over-heated animal: writhing and undulating as if in an effort to find relief from the torturing glow. I lunched in the restaurant car, and drank some vin ordinaire that tasted unexpectedly sour. The carriage felt hotter than ever on my return: and the train more crowded. An elderly man with a straw hat, black gloves, and Assyrian beard had taken my seat. I decided that it would be less trouble, and perhaps cooler, to stand for a time in the corridor. I wedged myself in by the window between a girl of about fifteen with a look of intense concentration on her pale, angular features, who pressed her face against the glass, and a young soldier with a spectacled, thin countenance, who was angrily explaining some political matter to an enormously fat priest in charge of several small boys. After a while the corridor became fuller than might have been thought possible. I was gradually forced away from the door of the compartment, and found myself unstrategically placed with a leg on either side of a wicker trunk, secured by a strap, the buckle of which ran into my ankle, as the train jolted its way along the line. All around were an immense number of old women in black, one of whom was carrying a feather mattress as part of her luggage.
At first the wine had a stimulating effect; but this sense of exhilaration began to change after a time to one of heaviness and despair. My head buzzed. The soldier and the priest were definitely having words. The girl forced her nose against the window, making a small circle of steam in front of her face. At last the throbbings in my head became so intense that I made up my mind to eject the man with the beard. After a short preliminary argument in which I pointed out that the seat was a reserved one, and, in general, put my case as well as circumstances and my command of the language would allow, he said briefly: ‘Monsieur, vous avez gagn