Night by Matthew
"Just like so many sheep!"
This was Will Brooks's exclamation, as he waited, with his elder brother
Charlie, at the Northern Railroad station, in Paris. And truth to tell,
the passengers were driven about and distributed somewhat after the
manner of flocks, for, having purchased their tickets, they were obliged
to pass along a corridor, opening into which were medium-sized
waiting-rooms, separated from one another only by low partitions, and
labelled, so to speak, as first, second, and third class. Here they were
compelled to wait until five or ten minutes before the train was to
leave, during which interval everybody endeavored to obtain the place
nearest the door, so as to be sure of a choice of seats in the cars.
Will and his brother had succeeded in getting pretty near the knob,
where they were nearly suffocated with bad air, and much bruised by the
satchels and umbrellas of their fellow-travellers.
"Now, Will, be ready," said Charlie, as a man was seen to approach with
a key in his hand.
"All right; America to the front!" returned his patriotic brother; and
at the same moment the doors were flung open, and in his nasal French
tones the guard sang out, "Pour Liege, Aix-la-Chapelle, et Cologne!"
With a rush as of the sudden breaking away of a long pent-up mountain
stream, the crowds surged forth from their "pens," and ran frantically
up and down the long platform in search of the carriages for which they
were respectively booked. The first-class compartment which Will and his
brother had selected was speedily occupied by the six others required to
fill it, their companions consisting of a gentleman and his wife, an old
lady and a little boy, and two young men, evidently all French.
Everybody had got nicely settled, the luggage was arranged in the racks
overhead, and the train was just about to start, when a lady mounted to
the doorway, with a little girl in one hand, and a bag, basket, and
umbrella in the other. With a great volume of French she endeavored to
thrust the child into the compartment, but was forced to desist from the
attempt in deference to the remonstrances of the majority of those who
already occupied it.
"C'est complet! c'est complet!" was the cry, and in the midst of the
confusion the guard approached to close the doors preparatory to
starting. To him the distressed lady appealed in behalf of her
offspring, for whom, she declared, there was no room in any of the
carriages, and further stated that she herself was obliged to remain
with her youngest, who was at present in charge of her next to the
youngest in another car. The guard was finally obliged to settle matters
by delaying the train, and adding thereto another carriage.
The conversation incidental to the foregoing episode had been
interpreted to Will by his brother, whose French had been polished up
considerably during his three weeks' stay in Paris. He and Will were
over for an autumn tour in Europe, and having "done" the British Isles
and the capital of France, they were now on their way to Germany.
Will had enjoyed his trip thus far immensely, even though he knew no
modern language but his American English, and he now looked forward to
seeing the wonders of the father-land with all the bright anticipations
"What's that for, I wonder?" he suddenly exclaimed, catching sight of a
small triangular piece of looking-glass set in the upholstery at the
back of the front seat of the compartment. "Read what it says
underneath, Charlie;" which the latter accordingly did, reporting that
it was a device for calling the guard in cases of emergency, the way of
doing so being to break the glass and pull a cord which would be
discovered in the recess thus exposed, which cord communicated with the
engine. But if the glass be broken, the notice went on to state, without
sufficient cause, a heavy fine would be imposed on the offender.
"But suppose I couldn't read French, as indeed I can't," surmised Will,
"and were in here alone—that is, alone in company with a crazy man who
was about to murder me—how could I ever imagine that by smashing that
bit of glass I might stop the train, and so be rescued? Besides—"
"Nonsense!" interrupted his brother. "Don't you see the directions are
repeated both in English and German underneath?" and Will looked and
saw, and immediately turned his attention out of the window, leaving
Charlie to peruse his French newspaper in peace.
There was, however, not much of interest to observe in the somewhat
barren-looking country through which the railroad ran; and voting France
(Paris excepted) a very slow place indeed, Will buried himself for the
rest of the afternoon in a boy's book of travels. Nevertheless, the
journey proved a very tedious one, and after stopping for dinner at six,
the two brothers endeavored to bridge over the remaining hours with
"Verviers!" shouted out by the guard, was the sound that caused them
both to awake with a start. The train had stopped, and all the
passengers were preparing to "descend," as the French have it.
"Now, Will," said Charlie, sleepily, trying to read his guide-book by
the light of the flickering lamp in the roof of the compartment, "this
is the Belgian custom-house; but all trunks registered through to
Cologne, as ours is, they allow to pass unopened; but it seems that
everybody is required to get out and offer their satchels to the
officers for examination; but, as we've only one between us, there's no
use in our both rousing up, so you just take this, and follow the
"All right," responded Will, now thoroughly wide-awake; "then I can say
I've been in Belgium;" and snatching the small hand-bag from the rack,
he hurried off, leaving his brother to continue his nap.
"Wonder which room it is?" surmised Will, for the platform was deserted,
and there were four waiting-apartments opening out on it. It did not
take him long, however, to discover the proper one for him to enter, and
he was soon among the jostling crowd that surrounded the low counter,
behind which were the customs officials, who sometimes opened a bag and
glanced over the contents, and then hastily marked on it with a piece of
chalk, but oftener simply chalked it without examining anything
whatever, which latter harmless operation was all to which Will's
effects were subjected.
Rejoiced at getting through so easily, he turned to hasten out to the
cars again, but the door by which he had entered was now closed, and
guarded by a gendarme. From the gestures the latter made when he
attempted to pass him, Will understood that he was to go out by another
exit into an adjoining waiting-room, where he found most of the other
passengers assembled in the true flock-of-sheep style; but while he was
wondering where he might be driven to next, he saw through the window
the train, containing his brother, his ticket, and his power of speech,
whirl suddenly away into the darkness, and disappear.
"Hallo here! let me out!" cried Will, rushing up to the officer
stationed at the door. "I'm going to Cologne on those cars, don't you
But the man evidently did not understand, for he shook his head in a
most stupid fashion, at the same time feeling for his sword, as though
afraid "le jeune Américain" were going to brush past him with the energy
characteristic of the nation.
Seeing that it was now too late for him to catch the already vanished
train, even if he should succeed in gaining the tracks, Will gave up the
attempt, and resigned himself to his fate.
"But why are not the other passengers in as great a state of anxiety as
I am?" he thought, as he looked around at his sleepy fellow-travellers,
who had disposed themselves about the room in various attitudes of
weariness and patience. "Perhaps, though, they're not going to Cologne;
very likely they're all bound for some place in Belgium here, on another
road. And now what's to become of me, a green American, with no French
at my tongue's end but 'oui' and 'parlez-vous,' not a sign of a ticket,
and with but six francs in my purse? Oh, Charlie, why did you send me
out with this bag?" and Will paced nervously up and down the
waiting-room, trying to think of a way out of his predicament. Suddenly
a happy idea struck him.
"I'll go out by the door that opens into the town, and walk along till I
come to the end of the station building, and then perhaps I can make my
way around to the inside, and so see if the train really has gone off
for good. Very likely it was only switched off, and will soon back down
Putting this plan into execution, Will was soon out in the streets of
the queer Belgian city, wandering along in the darkness, striving to
find the end of the dépôt, and then of a high board fence, which latter
seemed to be interminable. At length, however, he reached an open space,
and was about to leap across a telegraphic arrangement that ran beside
the tracks, when one of the inevitable gens-d'armes sprang up from
somewhere behind, and gave Will to understand that he was not allowed to
put himself in the way of being killed by an engine.
Poor boy, he was now completely bewildered, and wished with all his
might that he had studied French instead of Latin. As it was, he
screamed out, "Cologne! Cologne!" with an energy born of desperation,
and the officer, faintly comprehending his meaning, at last muttered a
quick reply in his unknown tongue, and hurried Will off back to the
dépôt with an alacrity that caused our young American to have some fears
he might be taking him to quite another sort of station-house. But,
notwithstanding their haste, when they entered the waiting-room it was
empty, and the flashing of a red lamp on the rear car of a departing
train told whither its former occupants had gone.
And now Will understood it all. The passengers had been locked up while
some switching was done, simply to prevent them from becoming confused.
"What a blockhead I was!" he thought, quite angry with himself. "If I'd
just staid quietly where I was put, and not gone racing off, with the
idea that I knew more about their railroads than the Belgians
themselves, I'd never have gotten myself into such a scrape. And now
what am I to do? I suppose Charlie's still fast asleep in the cars,
being carried further and further away from me; and here am I, left at
nine o'clock at night in an entirely foreign country, without a ticket,
and, for the matter of that, without a tongue in my head. Why didn't
some of the other passengers explain matters to me, and— But, pshaw!
what good would it have done if they had? I couldn't have understood a
All this time the gendarme had been talking with the ticket agent, and
pointing to Will as though the latter had been a stray dog not capable
of saying anything in his own behalf. What should he do? where should he
go? and how could he manage to pass away the time that might elapse till
his brother should miss him and return in search of him? And now the
officer came up, and began to question him, speaking very slowly, and in
an extremely loud tone. Notwithstanding, poor Will could only understand
a word here and there, and at length, in despair, he determined to try a
Taking out his purse, he showed the money therein to the gendarme, at
the same time exclaiming, "Hotel! hotel!" and pointing to himself. The
officer evidently comprehended this pantomime, for, with a nod to the
ticket agent, who had all the while been grinning through his little
wicket, he motioned for Will to follow him out into the street.
The Hôtel du Chemin de Fer (Railroad Hotel) was close at hand, and
having in a few rapid sentences explained the situation to the landlord,
the gendarme left Will to his own resources.
The latter thought for a moment that he had stepped into pandemonium
itself, for opening on the right into the main hall of the hotel was a
large apartment decorated with a sort of stage scenery to represent
trees and lakes, the room itself being filled with little tables, around
which were seated men smoking and drinking beer, while a thin-toned
brass band discoursed popular music from a gallery overhead.
Will stared at this strange sight with all his eyes, and then suddenly
became conscious at one and the same moment that he was hungry and being
talked at by the proprietor. Encouraged by his former success with
one-word speeches, Will simply said "Coffee," and then sat down at one
of the little tables, where he was speedily served with a generous cup
of the invigorating beverage, together with a plentiful supply of bread
"What a queer adventure!" thought the youth, his spirits much improved
by the warm draughts of coffee, to say nothing of the lights and music.
"But now how shall I ever be able to make the man understand that I want
to stay here all night? Charlie's sure to come back for me in the
morning. Oh, I have it! I'll register my name on a piece of paper, hand
it to the landlord, and exhibit my purse again;" which plan succeeded
admirably, and "William C. Brooks, New York, America," was immediately
shown to a good-sized room on the second floor, where he lost no time in
retiring to rest after his eventful evening.
His sleep, however, was not undisturbed, for all night long he imagined
himself to be an American locomotive towing an English steamer across
the Atlantic, and crashing into several icebergs on the way.
The next morning Will opened his eyes in a flood of sunshine, and at
first could not recollect where he was, but the whistling of an engine
near by soon recalled to him his situation, causing him at the same time
to hurry with his dressing, that he might hasten over to the station for
news of his brother. He did not have to go as far as that, however, for
as he was going down stairs he ran against Charlie coming up, and Will
had never been so glad to see anybody or anything since the time when he
used to open his eyes on Christmas mornings to behold the well-filled
stocking hanging from the mantel-piece.
Over the breakfast, which the brothers ate together in the theatrical
dining-room, the elder explained how he had not missed Will till the
train had left Verviers a good distance behind. "And then when I awoke
from my nap," continued Charlie, "you can imagine the fright I was in
when I found the cars going, and you gone. We had just passed
Aix-la-Chapelle when I made the dreadful discovery, or I might have
driven back here from there with a carriage, for it is only twenty miles
off; but as it was, I could do nothing but fret till we arrived at
Cologne, from which city I at once telegraphed to the station-master
here, and ascertained that you were safe and sound, and fast asleep in
"But why didn't they wake me up, and let me know that you knew that—"
broke in Will, but choked the remainder of his speech with a swallow of
coffee and a slice of bread, from a sudden remembrance of the crashing
of icebergs, which might have been knocks on the door he had heard in
"The whole thing was my fault, though," summed up Charlie, as, having
settled with the smiling landlord, they walked over to the station. "I
should not have let you go off alone in a new country; but then," he
could not help adding, "you should not have left the rest of the flock,
when you were shut up in the pen."
"I never will again," said Will, as they took their places in the train
for Cologne; "I'll be in future the meekest lamb they ever drove. But
anyway," he continued, as the cars rolled slowly away from the dépôt, "I
can say I have been in Belgium, even though it was only by mistake, and
so have experienced not an Arabian but a Belgian Night."