‘Our little lot comprised the major part of the Company. None of them had talked to the Sectional Engineer, and so were not prepared to save their own skins by bolting without ever giving a hint to their pals. I never knew the full measure of our friend’s bravery before!’
‘Time!’ said the MC, warningly. He nodded cheerfully and went on:
‘It was only when we were actually in the water that any of them began to concern themselves. Indeed, at first no one seemed to mind, for we had often before made a dash over a flooded stream. But when the speed slackened and the rush of the wheels in the water made a new sort of sound, they all ran to the windows and looked out. Some of the festive spirits thought it a good opportunity to frighten the girls, and put up a joke on the more timid of the men. It didn’t seem a difficult job so far as some of them were concerned, for the surprise was rapidly becoming terror. Everything seemed to lend itself to the presiding influence; the yellow water seeming to go two ways at once as it flowed past us and as we crossed its course; the horrible churning of our wheels which seemed to come up from under us through the now opened windows; the snorting and panting of the engine; the looks of fear and horror growing on the blanching faces around; all seemed to culminate towards hysteria. The most larky of the men was young Gatacre, who was understudy for Huntley Vavasseur, then our Leading Juvenile. He pretended to be terribly afraid, and cowered down and hid his face and groaned, all the time winking at some of us. But presently, as the waste of water grew wider and wider, his glances out of the window became more anxious, and I could see his lips grow white. All at once he became ghastly pale, and, throwing up his hands, broke out into a positive wail of terror, and began to pray in a most grovelling manner – there is no other way to describe it. To some of us it was revolting, and we should have liked to kick him; but its effect on the girls was dreadful. All the hysteria of panic which had been coming on broke out at once, and within half a minute the place was like the Stool-of-Repentance corner at a Revival Meeting.
‘I am glad to say that, with these exceptions, they were in the main brave and sensible people, who kept their own heads and tried to make, for very shame’s sake, their friends keep theirs. It seems to me that really good women are never finer than when they are helping a weak sister. I mean really helping when it isn’t altogether pleasant work. I don’t count it help to a woman, lashing out wastefully with other people’s Eau de Cologne, and ostentatiously loosening her stays, and then turning to the menkind who are looking on helplessly, with a “phew!” as if they knew what was wrong with her all the time. We all know how our women help each other, for we are all comrades, and the girls are the best of us. But on this occasion the womenkind were a bit panicky, and even those who kept their heads and tried to shield the others from the effects of their hysterical abandon, were pale and rocky themselves, and kept one eye on the yellow flood running away under us.
‘I certainly never did hear such a giving away as in the confessions of some of them, and I tell you that it wasn’t pleasant to listen to. It made some of us men angry and humiliated to think that we could be so helpless. We took some of the girls and tried to actually shake them back into reason, but, Lord bless you! it wasn’t the least use. The more we shook them, the more we shook out of them things which were better left unsaid. It almost seemed as if confession was a pebbly sort of thing that could be jerked out of one, like corn out of a nose-bag. The whole thing was so infernally sudden that one had no time to think. One moment we were all composed and jolly, and the next there were these poor women babbling out the most distressing and heartrending things, and we quite unable to stop them. The funny thing, as it seemed to me now, was that it never occurred to any of us to shove off and leave them alone! Anyhow, we didn’t go, at all events till the fat was in the fire. Fortunately, the poor girls didn’t have much to confess that seemed very wrong to most of us. There were one or two nasty and painful things, of course, but we all shut our memories, and from that day to this it never made any difference in any way that I could ever see – except in one case, where a wife told an old story to her husband. I can see the scene now. The terror in her grey eyes, the frown in his pale face, all the whiter by contrast with his hair. “Sun and Shade,” we used to call them.’
He broke off suddenly, paused a moment, and then resumed:
‘But that was their own business, and though it never seemed to come right, none of us ever said a word about it.’
‘Did none of the men confess anything?’ asked the Singing Chambermaid. There was in the tone of her voice that underlying note of militant defiance which is always evident when the subject of woman in the abstract is mentioned in mixed company. The Second Low Comedian smiled as he replied:
‘Certainly, my dear! I thought you understood that I was speaking of the young ladies of both sexes. You remember that the first, in fact the one to set them off, was an alleged Man.’
To read the rest of this story visit:
“In Fear of Death” at bramstoker.org