Two hours before dawn the conductor walked the length of the first-class sleeping car. He felt the silence of sleep even as the rumble of the rolling wheels and the shrieks of the rails that oscillated with the overflight of each truck and axle were beneath consciousness, like the ticking of a clock or the beating of a heart. Likewise, the slow rain that had peppered the metal roof of the car since midnight was nothing to him now and would only have been noticed if it had stopped. The metronomic rocking of the train was a lullaby.
In the next car forward the lights were burning bright and the cooks were already frying bacon and sausage and brewing coffee for those folks – there were always a few in first class – who would take their breakfast early in their compartments; there in their robes and pajamas, they’d take carafe and tray and pay him for one of the hundred copies of the newspaper that the train had on-loaded at the last stop. Then they would sleep again in the continued darkness, perhaps until the train made its destination.
As the conductor crossed from car to car he paused on the grate, held the wet railing and tasted the sweet scent of the night rain.