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A short story by George V. Hobart

John Henry On Upper Berths

Title:     John Henry On Upper Berths
Author: George V. Hobart [More Titles by Hobart]

I was down on the card to make a quick jump to Pittsburg a few nights ago, and I'm a lemon if I didn't draw an upper berth in the sleeping car thing!

Say! I'll be one of a party of six to go before Congress and tell all I know about an upper berth.

And I'd like to tell it right now while I'm good and hot around the collar.

The upper berth in a sleeping car is the same relation to comfort that a carpet tack is to a bare foot.

As a place to tie up a small bundle of sleep a boiler factory has it beat to a whimper.

Strong men weep every time the ticket agent says, "Nothing left but an upper," and lovely women have hysterics and begin to make faces at the general public when the colored porter points up in the air and says, "Madam, your eagle's nest is ready far up the mountain side."

The sleeping car I butted into a few nights ago was crowded from the cellar to the attic and everybody present bumped into everybody else, and when they weren't bumping into each other they were over in a corner somewhere biting their nails.

While the porter was cooking up my attack of insomnia I went out in the smoking-room to drown my sorrow, but I found such a bunch of sorrow killers out there ahead of me that I had to hold the comb and brush in my lap and sit up on the towel rack while I took a little smoke.

Did you ever notice on your travels that peculiar hog on the train who pays two dollars for a berth and always displaces eight dollars' worth of space in the smoking car?

If he would bite the end of a piece of rope and light up occasionally it wouldn't be so bad, but nix on the smoke for him.

He simply sits there with a face like a fish and keeps George Nicotine and all the real rag burners from enjoying a smoke.

If ever a statue is needed of the patriot Buttinski I would suggest a model in the person of the smokeless smoker who always travels in the smoking-car.

Two busy gazabes were discussing politics when I squeezed into the smoker on this particular occasion, and I judge they both had lower berths, otherwise their minds would have been busy with dark and personal fears of the future.

"Well," exclaimed the gabby one from Kansas City, "what is politics? Well, what is it?"

"Politics," replied Wise Willie from Providence, "politics is where we get it--sometimes in the bank, sometimes in the neck!"

Everybody present peeled the cover off a loud laugh and the smokeless hog at the window stole four inches extra space so that he could shake more when he giggled.

"Well," resumed the inquisitive person from Kansas City, "what is a politician? Do you know? Eh, well, what is a politician?"

"A politician," replied the fat man from Providence, "a politician is the reason we have so much politics."

Much applause left the hands of those present, and the smokeless hog turned sideways so that he could make the others more uncomfortable.

"Perhaps," insinuated gabby Jim from Kansas City, "perhaps you know what a statesman is, eh?"

"A statesman is a politician in good luck," was the come-back from our fat friend from Providence, and in the enthusiasm which followed the smokeless hog found out there was no buffet car on the train, so he offered to buy the drinks.

"Don't you believe that all men are born equal?" inquired the Kansas Cityite.

"Yes, but some of them have pull enough to get over it," responded the Providence philosopher, whereupon the smokeless hog by the window took out a flask and began to dampen his conscience.

Just then the towel rack fell with a crash, and after I picked up the comb and the brush and myself I decided to retire to my bracket on the wall and try to sleep.

When I left the smoker the smokeless hog was occupying two and a half seats and was now busy breathing in some second-hand cigarette smoke which nobody seemed to care for.

"How do I reach my Alpine bungalow?" I said to the porter, whereupon he laughed teethfully and hit me on the shins with a step-ladder.

The spectacular gent who occupied the star chamber beneath my garret was sleeping as noisily as possible, and when I started up the step-ladder he began to render Mendelssohn's obligato for the trombone in the key of G.

Above the roar of the train from away off in lower No. 2 faintly I could hear an answering bugle call.

I climbed up prepared for the worst and in the twinkling of an eye the porter removed the stepladder and there I was, sitting on the perilous edge of my pantry shelf with nothing to comfort me save the exhaust of a professional snorer.

After about five minutes devoted to a parade of all my sins I began to try to extract my personality from my coat, but when I pushed my arm up in the air to get the sleeve loose my knuckles struck the hard-wood finish and I fell backward on the cast-iron pillow, breathing hoarsely like a busy jack rabbit.

I waited about ten minutes while my brain was bobbing back and forth with the excitement of running fifty miles an hour over a careless part of the country, and then I cautiously tried to approach my shoe laces.

Say! if you're a man and you weigh in the neighborhood of 225 pounds, most of which is in the region of the equator, you will appreciate what it means to lie on your back in an upper berth and try to get your shoes off.

And this goes double for the man who weighs more than 225 pounds.

Every time I reached for my feet to get my shoes off I bumped my head off, and the more I bumped my head off the less I got my shoes off, and the less I got my shoes off the more I seemed to bump my head off, so I decided that in order to keep my head on I had better keep my shoes on also.

Then I tried to divorce my suspenders from my shoulders, but just as I got the suspenders half way over my head I struck my crazy bone on the rafters, and there I was, suspendered between Heaven and earth, but praying with all my heart for a bottle of arnica.

Then I decided to sleep as nature made me, with all my clothes on, including my rubbers.

So I stretched out, but just then the train struck a curve and I went up in the air till the ceiling hit me, and then I bounced over to the edge of the precipice and hung there, trembling on the verge.

Below me all was dark and gloomy, and only by the hoarse groans of the snorers could I tell that the Pullman Company was still making money.

Luck was with me, however, for just then the train struck an in-shoot curve which pushed me to the wall, and I bumped my head so completely that I fell asleep.

When I woke up a small package of daylight was peeping into the car, so I decided to descend from my cupboard shelf at once.

I peeped out through the aluminum curtains, but there was no sign of the colored porter and the step-ladder was invisible to the naked eye.

The car was peaceful now with the exception of a gent in lower No. 4, who had a strangle hold on a Beethoven sonata and was beating the cadenza out of it.

I made a short prayer and concluded to fall out, but just then one of my feet rested on something solid, so I put both feet on it and began to step down.

Alas, however, the moment I put my weight on it my stepping-stone gave way and I fell overboard with a splash.

"How dare you put your feet on my head?" yelled the man on the ground floor of my bedroom.

"Excuse me! it felt like something wooden," I whispered, while I dashed madly for the smoker.

From that day to this I have never been able to look a Pullman car in the face, and whenever anybody mentions an upper berth to me I lose my presence of mind and get peevish.

If you have ever been there yourself I know you don't blame me!

Do you?

[The end]
George V. Hobart's short story: John Henry On Upper Berths