The Scotch Express

Stephen Crane

The entrance to Euston Station is of itself sufficiently imposing. It is

a high portico of brown stone, old and grim, in form a casual imitation, no

doubt, of the front of the temple of Nike Apteros, with a recollection of

the Egyptians proclaimed at the flanks. The frieze, where of old would

prance an exuberant processional of gods, is, in this case, bare of

decoration, but upon the epistyle is written in simple, stern letters the

word, "EUSTON." The legend reared high by the gloomy Pelagic columns stares

down a wide avenue. In short, this entrance to a railway station does not in any

resemble the entrance to a railway station. It is more the front of some

venerable bank. But it has another dignity, which is not born of form. To a

great degree, it is to the English and to those who are in England the gate

to Scotland.

The little hansoms are continually speeding through the gate, dashing

between the legs of the solemn temple; the four-wheelers, their tops crowded

with luggage, roll in and out constantly, and the footways beat under the

trampling of the people. Of course, there are the suburbs and a hundred

towns along the line, and Liverpool, the beginning of an important sea path

to America, and the great manufacturing cities of the North; but if one

stands at this gate in August particularly, one must note the number of men

with gun-cases, the number of women who surely [illustration omitted] have

Tam-o'-Shanters and plaids concealed within their luggage, ready for the

moors. There is, during the latter part of that month, a wholesale flight

from London to Scotland which recalls the July throngs leaving New York for

the shore or the mountains.

The hansoms, after passing through this impressive portal of the station,

bowl smoothly across a courtyard which is in the center of the terminal

hotel, an institution dear to most railways in Europe. The traveler lands

amid a swarm of porters, and then proceeds cheerfully to take the customary

trouble for his luggage. America provides a contrivance in a thousand

situations where Europe provides a man or perhaps a number of men, and the

work of our brass check is here done by porters, directed by the traveler

himself. The men lack the memory of the check; the check never forgets its

identity. Moreover, the European railways generously furnish the porters at

the expense of the traveler. Nevertheless, if these men have not the

invincible business precision of the check, and if they have to be tipped,

it can be asserted for those who care that in Europe one-half of the

populace waits on the other half most diligently and well.

Against the masonry of a platform, under the vaulted arch of the

train-house, lay a long string of coaches. They were painted white on the

bulging part, which led half-way down from the top, and the bodies were a

deep bottle-green. There was a group of porters placing luggage in the van,

and a great many others were busy with the affairs of passengers, tossing

smaller bits of luggage into the racks over the seats, and bustling

here and there on short quests. The guard of the train, a tall man who

resembled one of the first Napoleon's veterans, was caring for the

distribution of passengers into the various bins. They were all third and


The train was at this time engineless, but presently a railway "flier,"

painted a glowing vermilion, slid modestly down and took its place at the

[illustration omitted] head. The guard walked along the platform, and

decisively closed each door. He wore a dark blue uniform thoroughly

decorated with silver braid in the guise of leaves. The way of him gave to

this business the importance of a ceremony. Meanwhile the fireman had

climbed down from the cab and raised his hand, ready to transfer a signal to

the driver, who stood looking at his watch. In the interval there had

something progressed in the large signal-box that stands guard at Euston.

This high house contains many levers, standing in thick, shining ranks. It

perfectly resembles an organ in some great church, if it were not that these

rows of numbered and indexed handles typify something more acutely human

than does a key-board. It requires four men to play this organ-like thing,

and the strains never cease. Night and day, day and night, these four men

are walking to and fro, from this lever to that lever, and under their hands

the great machine raises its endless hymn of a world at work, the fall and

rise of signals and the clicking swing of switches.

And so as the vermilion engine stood waiting and looking from the shadow

of the curve-roofed station, a man in the signal-house had played the notes

which informed the engine of its freedom. The driver saw the fall of those

proper semaphores which gave him liberty to speak to his steel friend. A

certain combination in the economy of the London and Northwestern Railway, a

combination which had spread from the men who sweep out the carriages

through innumerable minds to the general manager himself, had resulted in

the law that the vermilion engine, with its long string of white and

bottle-green coaches, was to start forthwith toward Scotland.

Presently the fireman, standing with his face toward the rear, let fall

his hand. "All right," he said. The driver turned a wheel, and as the

fireman slipped back, the train moved along the platform at the pace of a

mouse. To those in the tranquil carriages this starting was probably as easy

as the sliding of one's hand over a greased surface, but in the engine there

was more to it. The monster roared suddenly and loudly, and sprang forward

impetuously. A wrong-headed or maddened draft-horse will plunge in its

collar sometimes when going up a hill. But this load of burdened carriages

followed imperturbably at the gait of turtles. They were not to be stirred

from their way of dignified exit by the impatient engine. The crowd of

porters and transient people stood

respectful. They looked with the indefinite wonder of the railway-station

sight-seer upon the faces at the windows of the passing coaches. This train

was off for Scotland. It had started from the home of one accent to the home

of another accent. It was going from manner to manner, from habit to habit,

and in the minds of these London spectators there surely floated dim images

of the traditional kilts, the burring speech, the grouse, the canniness, the

oat-meal, all the elements of a romantic Scotland.

The train swung impressively around the signal-house, and headed up a

brick-walled cut. In starting this heavy string of coaches, the engine

breathed explosively. It gasped, and heaved, and bellowed; once, for a

moment, the wheels spun on the rails, and a convulsive tremor shook the

great steel frame.

The train itself, however, moved through this deep cut in the body of

London with coolness and precision, and the employees of the railway,

knowing the train's mission, tacitly presented arms at its passing. To the

travelers in the carriages, the suburbs of London must have been one long

monotony of carefully made walls of stone or brick. But after the hill was

climbed, the train fled through pictures of red habitations of men on a

green earth.

But the noise in the cab did not greatly change its measure. Even though

the speed was now high, the tremendous thumping to be heard in the cab was

as alive with strained effort and as slow in beat as the breathing of a

half-drowned man. At the side of the track, for instance, the sound

doubtless would strike the ear in the familiar succession of incredibly

rapid puffs; but in the cab itself, this land-racer breathes very like its

friend, the marine engine. Everybody who has spent time on shipboard has

forever in his head a reminiscence of the steady and methodical pounding of

the engines, and perhaps it is curious that this relative, which can whirl

over the land at such a pace, breathes in the leisurely tones that a man

heeds when he lies awake at night in his berth.

There had been no fog in London, but here on the edge of the city a heavy

wind was blowing, and the driver leaned aside and yelled that it was a very

bad day for traveling on an engine. The engine-cabs of England, as of all

Europe, are seldom made for the comfort of the men. One finds very often

this apparent disregard for the man who does the work -- this indifference

to the man who occupies a position which for the exercise of temperance, of

courage, of honesty, has no equal at the altitude of prime ministers. The

American engineer is the gilded occupant of a salon in comparison with his

brother in Europe. The man who was guiding this five-hundred-ton bolt, aimed

by the officials of the railway at Scotland, could not have been as

comfortable as a shrill gibbering boatman of the Orient. The narrow and bare

bench at his side of the cab was not directly intended for his use, because

it was so low that he would be prevented by it from looking out of the

ship's port-hole which served him as a window. The fireman, on his side, had

other difficulties. His legs would have had to straggle over some pipes at

the only spot where there was a prospect, and the builders had also

strategically placed a large steel bolt. Of course it is plain that the

companies consistently believe that the men will do their work better if

they are kept standing. The roof of the cab was not altogether

a roof. It was merely a projection of two feet of metal from the bulkhead

which formed the front of the cab. There were practically no sides to it,

and the large cinders from the soft coal whirled around in sheets. From time

to time the driver took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his

blinking eyes.

London was now well to the rear. The vermilion engine had been for some

time flying like the wind. This train averages, between London and Carlisle,

forty-nine and nine-tenth miles an hour. It is a distance of 299 miles.

There is one stop. It occurs at Crewe, and endures five minutes. In

consequence, the block-signals flashed by seemingly at the end of the moment

in which they were sighted.

There can be no question of the statement that the road-beds of English

railways are at present immeasurably superior to the American road-beds. Of

course there is a clear reason. It is known to every traveler that peoples

of the Continent of Europe have no right at all to own railways. Those lines

of travel are too childish and trivial for expression. A correct fate would

deprive the Continent of its railways, and give them to somebody who knew

about them. The continental idea of a railway is to surround a mass of

machinery with forty rings of ultra-military [illustration omitted] law, and

then they believe they have one complete. The Americans and the English are

the railway peoples. That our road-beds are poorer than the English

road-beds is because of the fact that we were suddenly obliged to build

thousands upon thousands of miles of railway, and the English were obliged

to slowly build tens upon tens of miles. A road-bed from New York to San

Francisco, with stations, bridges, and crossings of the kind that the London

and Northwestern owns from London to Glasgow, would cost a sum large enough

to support the German army for a term of years. The whole way is constructed

with the care that inspired the creators of some of our now obsolete forts

along the Atlantic coast. An American engineer, with his knowledge of the

difficulties he had to encounter -- the wide rivers with variable banks, the

mountain chains, perhaps the long spaces of absolute desert; in fact, all

the perplexities of a vast and somewhat new country -- would not dare spent

a respectable portion of his allowance on seventy feet of granite wall over

a gully, when he knew he could make an embankment with little cost by

heaving up the dirt and stones from here and there. But the English road is

all made in the pattern

by which the Romans built their highways. After England is dead, savants

will find narrow streaks of masonry leading from ruin to ruin. Of course

this does not always seem convincingly admirable. It sometimes resembles

energy poured into a rat-hole. There is a vale between expediency and the

convenience of posterity, a mid-ground which enables men to surely benefit

the hereafter people by valiantly advancing the present; and the point is

that, if some laborers live in unhealthy tenements in Cornwall, one is

likely to view with incomplete satisfaction the record of long and patient

labor and thought displayed by an eight-foot drain for a non-existent,

impossible rivulet in the North. This sentence does not sound strictly fair,

but the meaning one wishes to convey is that, if an English company spies in

its dream the ghost of an ancient valley that later becomes a hill, it would

construct for it a magnificent steel trestle, and consider that a duty had

been performed in proper accordance with the company's conscience. But after

all is said of it, the accidents and the miles of railway operated in

England is not in proportion to the accidents and the miles of railway

operated in the United States. The reason can be divided into three parts --

older conditions, superior caution, and road-bed. And of these, the greatest

is older conditions.

In this flight toward Scotland one seldom encountered a grade crossing.

In nine cases out of ten there was either a bridge or a tunnel. The

platforms of even the remote country stations were all of ponderous masonry

in contrast to our constructions of planking. There was always to be seen,

as we thundered toward a station of this kind, a number of porters in

uniform, who requested the retreat of any one who had not the wit to give us

plenty of room. And then, as the shrill warning of the whistle pierced even

the uproar that was about us, came the wild joy of the rush past a station.

It was something in the nature of a triumphal procession conducted at

thrilling speed. Perhaps there was a curve of infinite grace, a sudden

hollow explosive effect made by the passing of a signal-box that was close

to the track, and then the deadly lunge to shave the edge of a long

platform. There were always a number of people standing afar, with their

eyes riveted upon this projectile, and to be on the engine was to feel their

interest and admiration in the terror and grandeur of this sweep. A boy

allowed to ride with the driver of the band-wagon as a circus parade winds

through one of our village streets could not exceed for egotism the temper

of a new man in the cab of a train like this one. This valkyrie journey on

the back of the vermilion engine, with the shouting of the wind, the deep,

mighty panting of the steed, the gray blur at the track-side, the flowing

quicksilver ribbon of the other rails, the sudden clash as a switch

intersects, all the din and fury of this ride, was of a splendor that caused

one to look abroad at the quiet, green landscape and believe that it was of

a phlegm quite beyond patience. It should have been dark, rain-shot, and

windy; thunder should have rolled across its sky.

It seemed, somehow, that if the driver should for a moment take his hands

from his engine, it might swerve from the track as a horse from the road.

Once, indeed, as he stood wiping his fingers on a bit of waste, there must

have been something ludicrous in the way the solitary passenger regarded

him. Without those finely firm hands on the bridle, the engine might rear

and bolt for the pleasant farms lying in the sunshine at either side.

This driver was worth contemplation. He was simply a quiet, middle-aged

man, bearded, and with the little wrinkles of habitual geniality and

kindliness spreading from the eyes toward the temple, who stood at his post

always gazing out, through his round window, while, from time to time, his

hands went from here to there over his levers. He seldom changed either

attitude or expression. There surely is no engine-driver who does not feel

the beauty of the business, but the emotion lies deep, and mainly

inarticulate, as it does in the mind of a man who has experienced a good and

beautiful wife for many years. This driver's face displayed nothing but the

cool sanity of a man whose thought was buried intelligently in his business.

If there was any fierce drama in it, there was no sign upon him. He was so

lost in dreams of speed and signals and steam, that one speculated if the wonder

of his tempestuous charge and its career over England touched him, this

impassive rider of a fiery thing.

It should be a well-known fact that, all over the world, the

engine-driver is the finest type of man that is grown. He is the pick of the

earth. He is altogether more worthy than the soldier, and better than the

men who move on the sea in ships. He is not paid too much; nor do his

glories weight his brow; but for outright performance, carried on

constantly, coolly, and without elation, by a temperate, honest, clear

minded man, he is the further point. And so the lone human at his station in

a cab, guarding money, lives, and the honor of the road, is a beautiful

sight. The whole thing is aesthetic. The fireman presents the same charm,

but in [illustration omitted] a less degree, in that he is bound to appear

as an apprentice to the finished manhood of the driver. In his eyes, turned

always in question and confidence toward his superior, one finds this

quality; but his aspirations are so direct that one sees the same type in


There may be a popular idea that the fireman's principal function is to

hang his head out of the cab and sight interesting objects in the landscape.

As a matter of fact, he is always at work. The dragon is insatiate. The

fireman is continually swinging open the furnace-door, whereat a red shine

flows out upon the floor of the cab, and shoveling in immense mouthfuls of

coal to a fire that is almost diabolic in its madness. The feeding, feeding,

feeding goes on until it appears as if it is the muscles of the fireman's

arms that are speeding the long train. An engine

running over sixty-five miles an hour, with 500 tons to drag, has an

appetite in proportion to this task.

View of the clear-shining English scenery is often interrupted between

London and Crewe by long and short tunnels. The first one was disconcerting.

Suddenly one knew that the train was shooting toward a black mouth in the

hills. It swiftly yawned wider, and then in a moment the engine dove into a

place inhabited by every demon of wind and noise. The speed had not been

checked, and the uproar was so great that in effect one was simply standing

at the center of a vast, black-walled sphere. The tubular construction which

one's reason proclaimed had no meaning at all. It was a black sphere, alive

with shrieks. But then on the surface of it there was to be seen a little

needle-point of light, and this widened to a detail of unreal landscape. It

was the world; the train was going to escape from this cauldron, this abyss

of howling darkness. If a man looks through the brilliant water of a

tropical pool, he can sometimes see coloring the marvels at the bottom the

blue that was on the sky and the green that was on the foliage of this

detail. And the picture shimmered in the heat-rays of a new and remarkable

sun. It was when the train bolted out into the open air that one knew that

it was his own earth.

Once train met train in a tunnel. Upon the painting in the perfectly

circular frame formed by the mouth there appeared a black square with sparks

bursting from it. This square expanded until it hid everything, and a moment

later came the crash of the passing. It was enough to make a man lose his

sense of balance. It was a momentary inferno when the fireman opened the

furnace-door and was bathed in blood-red light as he fed the fires.

The effect of a tunnel varied when there was a curve in it. One was

merely whirling then heels over head, apparently, in the dark, echoing

bowels of the earth. There was no needle-point of light to which one's eyes

clung as to a star.

From London to Crewe, the stern arm of the semaphore never made the train

pause even for an instant. There was always a clear track. It was great to

see, far in the distance, a goods train whooping smokily for the north of

England on one of the four

tracks. The overtaking of such a train was a thing of magnificent nothing

for the long-strided engine, and as the flying express passed its weaker

brother, one heard one or two feeble and immature puffs from the other

engine, saw the fireman wave his hand to his luckier fellow, saw a string of

foolish, clanking flat-cars, their freights covered with tarpaulins, and

then the train was lost to the rear.

The driver twisted his wheel and worked some levers, and the rhythmical

chunking of the engine gradually ceased. Gliding at a speed that was still

high, the train curved to the left, and swung down a sharp incline, to move

with an imperial dignity through the railway yard at Rugby. There was a maze

of switches, innumerable engines noisily pushing cars here and there, crowds

of workmen who turned to look, a sinuous curve around the long train-shed,

whose high wall resounded with the rumble of the passing express; and then,

almost immediately, it seemed, came the open country again. Rugby had been a

dream which one could properly doubt.

At last the relaxed engine, with the same majesty of ease, swung into the

high-roofed station at Crewe, and stopped on a platform lined with porters

and citizens. There was instant bustle, and in the interest of the moment no

one seemed particularly to notice the tired vermilion engine being led away.

There is a five-minute stop at Crewe. A tandem of engines slid up, and

buckled fast to the train for the journey to Carlisle.

In the meantime, all the regulation items of peace and comfort had

happened on the train itself. The dining-car was in the center of the train.

It was divided into two parts, the one being a dining-room for first-class

passengers, and the other a dining-room for the third-class passengers. They

were separated by the kitchens and the larder. The engine, with all its

rioting and roaring, had dragged to Crewe a car in which numbers of

passengers were lunching in a tranquillity that was almost domestic, on an

average menu of a chop and potatoes, a salad, cheese, and a bottle of beer.

Betimes they watched through the windows the great chimney-marked towns of

northern England.They were waited upon by a young man of London, who was supported by a lad who resembled an American bell-boy. The rather elaborate menu and service of

the Pullman dining-car is not known in England or on the Continent. Warmed

roast beef is the exact symbol of a European dinner, when one is traveling

on a railway.

This express is named, both by the public and the company, the "Corridor

Train," because a coach with a corridor is an unusual thing in England, and

so the title has a distinctive meaning. Of course, in America, where there

is no car which has not what we call an aisle, it would define nothing. The

corridors are all at one side of the car. Doors open from thence to little

compartments made to seat four, or perhaps six, persons. The first-class

carriages are very comfortable indeed, being heavily upholstered in dark,

hard-wearing stuffs, with a bulging rest for the head. The third-class

accommodations on this train are almost as comfortable as the first-class,

and attract a kind of people that are not usually seen traveling third-class

in Europe. Many people sacrifice their habit, in the matter of this train,

to the fine conditions of the lower fare.

One of the feats of the train is an electric button in each compartment.

Commonly an electric button is placed high on the side of the carriage as an

alarm signal, and it is unlawful to push it unless one is in serious need of

assistance from the guard. But these bells also rang in the dining-car, and

were supposed to open negotiations for tea or whatever. A new function has

been projected on an ancient custom. No genius has yet appeared to separate

these two meanings. Each bell rings an alarm and a bid for tea or whatever.

It is perfect in theory then that, if one rings for tea, the guard comes to

interrupt the murder, and that if one is being murdered, the attendant

appears with tea. At any rate, the guard was forever being called from his

reports and his comfortable seat in the forward end of the luggage-van by

thrilling alarms. He often prowled the length of the train with hardihood

and determination, merely to meet a request for a sandwich.

The train entered Carlisle at the beginning of twilight. This is the

border town, and an engine of the Caledonian Railway, manned by two men of

broad speech, came to take the place of the tandem. The engine of these men

of the North was much smaller than the others, but her cab was much larger,

and would be a fair shelter on a stormy night. They had also built seats

with hooks by which they hang them to the rail, and thus are still enabled

to see through the round windows without dislocating their necks. All

the human parts of the cab were covered with oilcloth. The wind that

swirled from the dim twilighthorizon made the warm glow from the fur-nace

to be a grateful thing.

As the train shot out of Carlisle, a glance backward could learn of the

faint yellow blocks of light from the carriages marked on the dimmed ground.

The signals were now lamps, and shone palely against the sky. The express

was entering night as if night were Scotland.

There was a long toil to the summit of the hills, and then began the

booming ride down the slope. There were many curves. Sometimes could be seen

two or three signal lights at one time, twisting off in some new direction.

Minus the lights and some yards of glistening rails, Scotland was only a

blend of black and weird shapes. Forests which one could hardly imagine as

weltering in the dewy placidity of evening sank to the rear as if the gods

had bade them. The dark loom of a house quickly dissolved before the eyes. A

station with its lamps became a broad yellow band that, to a deficient

sense, was only a few yards in length. Below, in a deep valley, a silver

glare on the waters of a river made equal time with the train. Signals

appeared, grew, and vanished. In the wind and the mystery of the night, it

was like sailing in an enchanted gloom. The vague profiles of hills ran like

snakes across the somber sky. A strange shape boldly and formidably

confronted the train, and then melted to a long dash of track as clean as


The vicinity of Glasgow is unmistakable. The flames of pauseless

industries are here and there marked on the distance. Vast factories stand

close to the track, and reaching chimneys emit roseate flames. At last one

may see upon a wall the strong reflection from furnaces, and against it the

impish and inky figures of workingmen. A long, prison-like row of tenements,

not at all resembling London, but in one way resembling New York, appeared

to the left, and then sank out of sight like a phantom.

At last the driver stopped the brave effort of his engine. The 100 miles

were come to the edge. The average speed of forty-nine and one-third miles

each hour had been made, and it remained only to glide with the hauteur of a

great express through the yard and into the station at Glasgow.

A wide and splendid collection of signal-lamps flowed toward the engine.

With delicacy and care the train clanked over some switches, passed the

signals, and then there shone a great blaze of arc-lamps, defining the wide

sweep of the station roof. Smoothly, proudly, with all that vast dignity

which had surrounded its exit from London, the express moved along its

platform. It was the entrance into a gorgeous drawing-room of a man that was

sure of everything.

The porters and the people crowded forward. In their minds there may have

floated dim images of the traditional music-halls, the bobbies, the 'buses,

the 'Arrys and 'Arriets, the swells of London.