Swinging himself to the ground, he bent sidewise and looked forward down the long train. There were five, six, perhaps more, sleeping-cars on in front. Which one of them, he wondered—and then there came the sharp “All aboard!” from the other side, and he bundled up the steps again, and entered the car as the train slowly resumed its progress.
He was wide-awake now, and quite at his ease. He took his seat, and diverted himself by winking gravely at a little child facing him on the next seat but one. There were four other children in the family party, encamped about the tired and still sleeping mother whose back was turned to Theron. He recalled now having noticed this poor woman last night, in the first stage of his journey—how she fed her brood from one of the numerous baskets piled under their feet, and brought water in a tin dish of her own from the tank to use in washing their faces with a rag, and loosened their clothes to dispose them for the night’s sleep. The face of the woman, her manner and slatternly aspect, and the general effect of her belongings, bespoke squalid ignorance and poverty. Watching her, Theron had felt curiously interested in the performance. In one sense, it was scarcely more human than the spectacle of a cat licking her kittens, or a cow giving suck to her calf. Yet, in another, was there anything more human?
The child who had wakened before the rest regarded him with placidity, declining to be amused by his winkings, but exhibiting no other emotion. She had been playing by herself with a couple of buttons tied on a string, and after giving a civil amount of attention to Theron’s grimaces, she turned again to the superior attractions of this toy. Her self-possession, her capacity for self-entertainment, the care she took not to arouse the others, all impressed him very much. He felt in his pocket for a small coin, and, reaching forward, offered it to her. She took it calmly, bestowed a tranquil gaze upon him for a moment, and went back to the buttons. Her indifference produced an unpleasant sensation upon him somehow, and he rubbed the steaming window clear again, and stared out of it.
The wide river lay before him, flanked by a precipitous wall of cliffs which he knew instantly must be the Palisades. There was an advertisement painted on them which he tried in vain to read. He was surprised to find they interested him so slightly. He had heard all his life of the Hudson, and especially of it just at this point. The reality seemed to him almost commonplace. His failure to be thrilled depressed him for the moment.
“I suppose those are the Palisades?” he asked his neighbor.
The man glanced up from his paper, nodded, and made as if to resume his reading. But his eye had caught something in the prospect through the window which arrested his attention. “By George!” he exclaimed, and lifted himself to get a clearer view.
“What is it?” asked Theron, peering forth as well.