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A short story by A. A. Milne

A Cold World

Title:     A Cold World
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

Herbert is a man who knows all about railway tickets, and packing, and being in time for trains, and things like that. But I fancy I have taught him a lesson at last. He won't talk quite so much about tickets in future.

I was just thinking about getting up when he came into my room. He looked at me in horror.

"My dear fellow!" he said. "And you haven't even packed! You'll be late. Here, get up, and I'll pack for you while you dress."

"Do," I said briefly.

"First of all, what clothes are you going to travel in?"

There was no help for it. I sat up in bed and directed operations.

"Right," said Herbert. "Now, what about your return ticket? You mustn't forget that."

"You remind me of a little story," I said. "I'll tell it you while you pack--that will be nice for you. Once upon a time I lost my return ticket, and I had to pay two pounds for another. And a month afterwards I met a man--a man like you who knows all about tickets--and he said, 'You could have got the money back if you had applied at once.' So I said, 'Give me a cigarette now, and I'll transfer all my rights in the business to you.' And he gave me a cigarette; but unfortunately--"

"It was too late?"

"No. Unfortunately it wasn't. He got the two pounds. The most expensive cigarette I've ever smoked."

"Well, that just shows you," said Herbert. "Here's your ticket. Put it in your waistcoat pocket now."

"But I haven't got a waistcoat on, silly."

"Which one are you going to put on?"

"I don't know yet. This is a matter which requires thought. Give me time, give me air."

"Well, I shall put the ticket here on the dressing-table, and then you can't miss it." He looked at his watch. "And the trap starts in half an hour."

"Help!" I cried, and I leapt out of bed.

Half an hour later I was saying good-bye to Herbert.

"I've had an awfully jolly time," I said, "and I'll come again."

"You've got the ticket all right?"

"Rather!" and I drove away amidst cheers. Cheers of sorrow.

It was half an hour's drive to the station. For the first ten minutes I thought how sickening it was to be leaving the country; then I had a slight shock; and for the next twenty minutes I tried to remember how much a third single to the nearest part of London cost. Because I had left my ticket on the dressing-table after all.

I gave my luggage to a porter and went off to the station-master.

"I wonder if you can help me," I said. "I've left my return ticket on the dress--Well, we needn't worry about that, I've left it at home."

He didn't seem intensely excited.

"What did you think of doing?" he asked.

"I had rather hoped that YOU would do something."

"You can buy another ticket, and get the money back afterwards."

"Yes, yes; but can I? I've only got about one pound six."

"The fare to London is one pound five and tenpence ha'penny."

"Ah; well, that leaves a penny ha'penny to be divided between the porter this end, lunch, tea, the porter the other end, and the cab. I don't believe it's enough. Even if I gave it all to the porter here, think how reproachfully he would look at you ever afterwards. It would haunt you."

The station-master was evidently moved. He thought for a moment, and then asked if I knew anybody who would vouch for me. I mentioned Herbert confidently. He had never even heard of Herbert.

"I've got a tie-pin," I said (station-masters have a weakness for tie-pins), "and a watch and a cigarette case. I shall be happy to lend you any of those."

The idea didn't appeal to him.

"The best thing you can do," he said, "is to take a ticket to the next station and talk to them there. This is only a branch line, and I have no power to give you a pass."

So that was what I had to do. I began to see myself taking a ticket at every stop and appealing to the station-master at the next. Well, the money would last longer that way, but unless I could overcome quickly the distrust which I seemed to inspire in station-masters there would not be much left for lunch. I gave the porter all I could afford--a ha'penny, mentioned apologetically that I was coming back, and stepped into the train.

At the junction I jumped out quickly and dived into the sacred office.

"I've left my ticket on the dressing--that is to say I forgot--well, anyhow I haven't got it," I began, and we plunged into explanations once more. This station-master was even more unemotional than the last. He asked me if I knew anybody who could vouch for me--I mentioned Herbert diffidently. He had never even heard of Herbert. I showed him my gold watch, my silver cigarette case, and my emerald and diamond tie-pin--that was the sort of man I was.

"The best thing you can do," he said, walking with me to the door," is to take a ticket to Plymouth and speak to the station-master there--"

"This is a most interesting game," I said bitterly. "What is 'home'? When you speak to the station-master at London, I suppose? I've a good mind to say 'Snap!'"

Extremely annoyed I strode out, and bumped into--you'll never guess--Herbert!

"Ah, here you are," he panted; "I rode after you--the train was just going--jumped into it--been looking all over the station for you."

"It's awfully nice of you, Herbert. Didn't I say good-bye?"

"Your ticket." He produced it. "Left it on the dressing-table." He took a deep breath. "I told you you would."

"Bless you," I said, as I got happily into my train. "You've saved my life. I've had an awful time. I say, do you know, I've met two station-masters already this morning who've never even heard of you. You must inquire into it."

At that moment a porter came up.

"Did you give up your ticket, sir?" he asked Herbert.

"I hadn't time to get one," said Herbert, quite at his ease. "I'll pay now," and he began to feel in his pockets.... The train moved out of the station.

A look of horror came over Herbert's face. I knew what it meant. He hadn't any money on him. "Hi!" he shouted to me, and then we swung round a bend out of sight....

Well, well, he'll have to get home somehow. His watch is only nickel and his cigarette case leather, but luckily that sort of thing doesn't weigh much with station-masters. What they want is a well- known name as a reference. Herbert is better off than I was: he can give them MY name. It will be idle for them to pretend that they have never heard of me.

[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: Cold World