Here mournfully went by a child who had never had a childhood or known a parent, inseparable from a youth with a bitter sense of his namelessness, coupled to a man the enforced business of whose best years had been distasteful and oppressive, linked to an ungrateful friend, dragging after him a woman once beloved. Attendant, with many a clank and wrench, were lumbering cares, dark meditations, huge dim disappointments, monotonous years, a long jarring line of the discords of a solitary and unhappy existence.
The traveller recalled his eyes from the waste into which they had been staring, and fell back a step or so under the abruptness, and perhaps the chance appropriateness, of the question.
"Oh! My thoughts were not here for the moment. Yes. Yes. Those two portmanteaus are mine. Are you a Porter?"
"On Porter's wages, sir. But I am Lamps."
The traveller looked a little confused.
"Who did you say you are?"
"Lamps, sir," showing an oily cloth in his hand, as farther explanation.
"Surely, surely. Is there any hotel or tavern here?"
"Not exactly here, sir. There is a Refreshment Room here, but--" Lamps, with a mighty serious look, gave his head a warning roll that plainly added--"but it's a blessed circumstance for you that it's not open."
"You couldn't recommend it, I see, if it was available?"
"Ask your pardon, sir. If it was -?"
"It ain't my place, as a paid servant of the company, to give my opinion on any of the company's toepics,"--he pronounced it more like toothpicks,--"beyond lamp-ile and cottons," returned Lamps in a confidential tone; "but, speaking as a man, I wouldn't recommend my father (if he was to come to life again) to go and try how he'd be treated at the Refreshment Room. Not speaking as a man, no, I would NOT."
The traveller nodded conviction. "I suppose I can put up in the town? There is a town here?" For the traveller (though a stay-at- home compared with most travellers) had been, like many others, carried on the steam winds and the iron tides through that Junction before, without having ever, as one might say, gone ashore there.
"Oh yes, there's a town, sir! Anyways, there's town enough to put up in. But," following the glance of the other at his luggage, "this is a very dead time of the night with us, sir. The deadest time. I might a'most call it our deadest and buriedest time."
"No porters about?"
"Well, sir, you see," returned Lamps, confidential again, "they in general goes off with the gas. That's how it is. And they seem to have overlooked you, through your walking to the furder end of the platform. But, in about twelve minutes or so, she may be up."
"Who may be up?"
"The three forty-two, sir. She goes off in a sidin' till the Up X passes, and then she"--here an air of hopeful vagueness pervaded Lamps--"does all as lays in her power."
"I doubt if I comprehend the arrangement."
"I doubt if anybody do, sir. She's a Parliamentary, sir. And, you see, a Parliamentary, or a Skirmishun--"
"Do you mean an Excursion?"
"That's it, sir.--A Parliamentary or a Skirmishun, she mostly DOES go off into a sidin'. But, when she CAN get a chance, she's whistled out of it, and she's whistled up into doin' all as,"--Lamps again wore the air of a highly sanguine man who hoped for the best,- -"all as lays in her power."
He then explained that the porters on duty, being required to be in attendance on the Parliamentary matron in question, would doubtless turn up with the gas. In the meantime, if the gentleman would not very much object to the smell of lamp-oil, and would accept the warmth of his little room - The gentleman, being by this time very cold, instantly closed with the proposal.
A greasy little cabin it was, suggestive, to the sense of smell, of a cabin in a Whaler. But there was a bright fire burning in its rusty grate, and on the floor there stood a wooden stand of newly trimmed and lighted lamps, ready for carriage service. They made a bright show, and their light, and the warmth, accounted for the popularity of the room, as borne witness to by many impressions of velveteen trousers on a form by the fire, and many rounded smears and smudges of stooping velveteen shoulders on the adjacent wall. Various untidy shelves accommodated a quantity of lamps and oil- cans, and also a fragrant collection of what looked like the pocket- handkerchiefs of the whole lamp family.