A seemingly little thing has sometimes the power to change those currents that set one way and another within a man, making him satisfied or dissatisfied with this or that. By chance, as it seems, a song is sung, a touch is given, a sight revealed, and man, like a harp hung to the winds, is played upon, and the music is not that which he devises. So it was that Trenholme’s encounter in the dusty car with the beautiful woman who had looked upon him so indifferently had struck a chord which was like a plaintive sigh for some better purpose in life than he was beating out of this rough existence. It was not a desire for greater pleasure that her beauty had aroused in him, but a desire for nobler action—such was the power of her face.
The night passed on; no footfall broke the silence. The passing train was the only episode of his vigil.
In the morning when Trenholme looked out, the land was covered deep in snow.
When the night train left Turrifs Station it thundered on into the darkness slowly enough, but, what with bumping over its rough rails and rattling its big cars, it seemed anxious to deceive its passengers into the idea that it was going at great speed. A good number of its cars were long vans for the carriage of freight; behind these came two for the carriage of passengers. These were both labelled “First Class.” One was devoted to a few men, who were smoking; the other was the one from which Trenholme had descended. Its seats, upholstered in red velvet, were dusty from the smoke and dirt of the way; its atmosphere, heated by a stove at one end, was dry and oppressive. It would have been impossible, looking at the motley company lounging in the lamplight, to have told their relations one to another; but it was evident that an uncertain number of young people, placed near the lady who held the baby, were of the same party; they slept in twos and threes, leaning on one another’s shoulders and covered by the same wraps. It was to seats left vacant near this group that the man and his wife who had procured the milk returned. The man, who was past middle life, betook himself to his seat wearily, and pulled his cap over his eyes without speaking. His wife deposited the mug of milk in a basket, speaking in low but brisk tones to the lady who held the baby.
“There, Sophia; I’ve had to pay a shilling for a cupful, but I’ve got some milk.”
“I should have thought you would have been surer to get good milk at a larger station, mamma.” She did not turn as she spoke, perhaps for fear of waking the sleeping baby.
The other, who was the infant’s mother, was rapidly tying a shawl round her head and shoulders. She was a little stout woman, who in middle age had retained her brightness of eye and complexion. Her features were regular, and her little nose had enough suggestion of the eagle’s beak in its form to preserve her countenance from insignificance.