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The good companions


There was something very melancholy about Dullingham Junction. The wide night itself was somehow not so cheerless as this half-hearted attempt to drive it away, this sad glimmer of light. It was so quiet too. He could not imagine a train ever arriving there. The usual cheerful railway bustle seemed as remote from this little station as Paddington itself. He began to ask himself what he was going there for, whether it would not be better to return to the main road, and about twenty yards or so from the entrance he stopped and leaned against the wooden rail at the side of the road. Dullingham Junction only confirmed his opinion that he was indeed a young ass.

Perhaps he would have turned away (and walked out of this chronicle altogether) had he not heard a most astonishing sound. The sound itself was pleasing and its unexpectedness, its daft incongruity, were ravishing. He listened in delight, telling himself that he had judged Dullingham Junction too hastily. It was saying that he was not a young ass, that this is still a world in which midnight exits may be rewarded, that he has not everything who has bed and breakfast. Somebody in Dullingham Junction was playing the banjo.

If this was Harry Briggs, Inigo decided as he drew nearer, then Harry Briggs was wasting his time in the service of the London and North Eastern Railway, for this banjo was not being fumbled with but was being played. The night retreated hastily before its impudent twanka-pang, twanka-pang. Tired as he was, Inigo found that his feet itched to break into a double shuffle. If the station had been crammed with grinning coons, buried under melons and cotton blossoms, he would not have been surprised.

He walked through the booking office, where only one tiny light was burning, and onto the dim and empty platform. The banjoist, now in a happy fury of syncopation, was obviously in the waiting-room. Inigo peeped in through the half-opened door. At one side of the little fire was Harry Briggs or one of his colleagues, a young man with a round red face, and at the other side, sprawling on the seat, was the banjoist himself. One was so busy playing and the other staring and listening,