Claire Keegan introduced me to Welty’s writing but not to this particular story of hers, which I love on account of its human comedy. There’s a wild energy to the description of a train journey from Paddington to Fishguard, which vividly conveys an atmosphere of good humour among damp passengers in a busy train carriage on a wet day. The economic prose style (“a small passionate-looking man”… a red haired baby “with queenly jowls”) creates pace, while the confines of the compartment and the sway of the rattling train are apparent in the minute observations.
The palette of the story is strong – the woman’s “bright stained lap” and “flirtatious” hair “pulled out of its confines […] into two auburn and gray pomegranates along her cheeks” contrasts with black eyes, black suits, the “black of London [that] swam like a cinder in the eye” and “a black four o’clock in the afternoon of that spring that refused to flower”. Welty uses two greyhounds rushing in and out of the train corridor in plaid blankets “like dangerously ecstatic old ladies hoping no-one would see them” to illuminate the rain and dark. The mix of animals and strangers singing, reading, gossiping and eating fill this reader with joy.
First published in The New Yorker, December, 1921, and available to subscribers here collected in The Bride of the Innisfallen and Other Stories, Harvest/HBJ 1955