Summer Time-Tables

SUMMER time-tables — and some are not; most of them are not. They are time losers; and I do not refer to the hour that is lost or gained, according to the point of view of the milkman or the T. B. M., but to the valuable minutes lost by the earnest seeker after trains who turns to the railway guide for information as to the best means of reaching a given point.

A friend asks me to spend the day with her at Seamarge, a small way station on a branch road.

‘It is very easy to get here,’ she writes, ‘if you make good connections. I have lost my general time-table, but I’m sure you can easily get hold of one. Take any train that reaches Swampville Junction in time to get the train leaving for Seamarge at 11.09. Then you will be here in time for lunch. I shall expect you Thursday.’

That sounds very simple, but why, oh why, should my friend think that it is easy to get hold of a time-table? It is one of the commodities that neither love nor money can procure — nothing but stern necessity, and the first step in that harsh school involves a special trip to the distant railway station. Too late do I repent not having thrown myself on the mercy of that omniscient one who answers to the name of ‘Information,’ as if he were in The Pilgrim’s Progress, and whose mission consists in aiding the progress of other pilgrims, telling them not only where to get off but when to get on. Foolishly I decide that it would be a sign of feeble-mindedness to ask a question to which a little research work on my own account would provide an answer; so I procure a summer timetable.

Oh, here we are — perfectly simple! Trains for Swampville Junction: 7.07, 8.02, and 10.06. Perfect! The 10.06 should connect admirably with the 11.09 to Seamarge; but — wait a minute — what does that little star mean? ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.’ Let’s see. ‘Does not run Tuesdays or Thursdays.’ How provoking that I should have planned to go on a day when trains stop running! Well, I shall have to take the 8.02 and arm myself with an interesting book to read at the junction. But — is this a dagger that I see before me? It is, and a similar dagger in a footnote stabs me with the information, ‘Runs only on Saturdays and holidays.’ That is pretty bad; it leaves only the 7.07, and that means that if I oversleep I shall miss the train and upset my friend’s entire day. (It also means that I shall have to buy a reliable alarm clock, because when I borrowed the cook’s it went off with a false alarm at three in the morning and I did n’t dare to go to sleep again.) Ah! Here seems to be a train at 10.27. This is excellent. Perhaps that is what the letter x means. No, that merely signifies ‘Carries no baggage.’

Well, now for return trains. I am already feeling homesick at the thought of going away. Why is one day in the country with a friend so much longer than two days? Hello! This is funny. Here’s a misprint, a palpable misprint; and in a time-table such a thing is inexcusable. No amount of errata on an inserted slip can make up for such carelessness. It appears that the trains arrive at the junction before they have left Seamarge, just as if they were in Through the Looking-Glass — but what is this little footnote? I fetch a magnifying glass and decipher the words: ‘Read up in this column instead of down.’ Ah, that accounts for it! I finally dig out a return train (coming up and not down) at 3.30. That will be the hottest part of the day and will spoil the afternoon at both ends, but never mind, I shall be headed toward my own beloved home. Horrors! I suddenly find that I have been consulting the return trains in the ‘Sunday only’ column! This is shattering, but as I correct my mistake by turning to Table LXXVIII (if there is such a number) I console myself with the thought that I have at any rate shown extraordinary sagacity in never for one moment forgetting to add (or should I subtract?) one hour for daylight saving.

Finally I have my programme neatly arranged. I am to leave very comfortably at 10.27 (which is really 11.27 — that is, it is n’t really, but we all pretend it is), reaching Swampville Junction at 11.01. This will give me plenty of time to change cars, with a dignity and deliberation becoming to my years, and to take the 11.09 to Seamarge, as my friend directed.

Thursday comes; the 10.27 leaves according to schedule; my dignity is there, my years are all there only the little branch train is not there when, after waiting eight minutes, I cross the tracks at the junction to board it.

‘Where is the 11.09 train for Seamarge?’ I ask a baggage boy sitting on a truck and chewing gum.

‘Ain’t none,’ is his concise reply.

‘You must be mistaken,’ I gently correct him; ‘I have my friend s letter here’ — and I fumble for it in my knitting bag.

‘Last train left at 10.09; next goes at 2.17,’ he snaps out. Then suddenly he takes pity on my age and sex. ‘If it. was a lady friend that wrote to you she was probably givin’ you the trains in daylight savin’ time. They always do,’ he generalized.

‘Oh, these summer time-tables! I wail despairingly, and I sink on the truck beside the gum-chewer, realizing that my day at the seaside is to be spent at the junction where Daylight Saving and Standard Time never meet.