Best short stories for intermediate English learners : On a train to Rome
The railway station at Venice was full of travelers, most of them visitors to the city. At the gate to the train my wife made a futile effort to find our tickets. The gateman looked at us, loaded with baggage, and smilingly motioned for us to pass on.
Our car, very similar to a train coach in the United States, was cool and comfortable. We sat down and began our six-hour ride to Rome.
We were close to Bologna when the assistant conductor paused by our seats, ready to take our tickets. My wife reached into her handbag; then she looked at me.
“You have the tickets,” she said.
I searched my pockets but found no tickets.
“please do not hurry,” the assistant conductor said in broken English; then he continued in Italian. My wife could understand part of what he said.
It was good that we were going to Rome, he said, for we would have time to search properly for our tickets. He would return later.
A Shocking Discovery
I emptied my pockets and found a passport, a permit to drive and automobile, three letters of introduction and a few cards with names and addresses on them. Then I looked for my wallet, but it was missing too.
“Did you lose it?” my wife asked.
“I suppose so,” I answered .
“We’ll buy tickets from the conductor.” I held out my hand.
“You have all the money,” she said. “This morning you took our last two traveler’s checks to pay the hotel bill. Where’s the change?”
I had put the money in my wallet, which I had either dropped somewhere or left on the porter’s desk at the hotel. When I suggested that she surely had some money left at least, she usually had some – she explained that her last lira went to pay the boatman who took us to the station.
We stared at each other. We were in a foreign country with no tickets, no money and no real knowledge of the language. The pleasant three weeks we had spent travelling in northern Italy were about to end in serious difficulties. Bologna now lay five minutes behind us. The next stop was Florence.
“They’ll put us off the train in Florence,” my wife announced. “Maybe there’s a U.S consul in Florence. We can get help from him.”
Just then the assistant conductor appeared, again ready to receive our tickets. The conversation, filled with many gestures, lasted fully 15 minutes. But when he understood our particular difficulty, he shook hands with me and said he was sorry about the carelessness of the hotel porter in Venice who had allowed me to lose my wallet. Unlike some American trains, this express had no telephone system; otherwise he would gladly call the hotel and ask if the wallet had been found.
A Trusting Conductor
Several passengers were now listening to our conversation with great interest. Suddenly the assistant conductor asked me to follow him.
The chief conductor listened gravely as the assistant told him my tale of woe; several times he glanced at me while the assistant was talking. A passing waiter stopped and listened. I pointed out to them that I had no money in the safe at our hotel in Rome. The three men held what seemed to be a battle of words. I waited to hear their final decision.
“our chief conductor says he is very sorry about your loss,” the assistant conductor said at last. The chief then shook hands with me, and so did the waiter.
The chief had decided that my wife and I could ride to Rome. There the assistant conductor would accompany me to my hotel , where I would please pay him 5100 lire. If I did not immediately have that amount available , the assistant, on the following day, would gladly come to the hotel for the money. Was this plan agreeable?
I said it was perfectly agreeable and thanked them for their trust in me. Then all of us shook hands and parted with smiling faces.
When I arrived back at my seat, I found a group of passengers around my wife. Everyone was talking. “You won’t believe this,” she said to me, “but these people want to pay for our tickets.”
The assistant conductor, after hearing what the passengers had said, made a speech to inform the group of the chief conductor’s decision. In closing, my wife and I shook hands with the passengers and also with the assistant conductor.
When we left Rome’s beautiful station and headed toward our hotel, the assistant conductor was with us, carrying my wife’s bags. We had said good-bye to the chief conductor, the waiter and the passengers.
Final Act of Good Will
At our hotel the head porter told us he received a telephone call from the hotel in Venice, saying that my wallet, complete with tickets and money, had been found and was being sent to me. We would receive it soon.
I asked for my funds from the hotel safe and gave the assistant conductor a sum of money, which he counted. He handed back 2000 lire. I told him the additional lire were a tip for him.
“Thank you, no,” he smiled.
“It is important that you have a high opinion of us and our country.” He shook hands for the last time and left.
My wife and I stared at him as he walked out into the hot sunshine. Two thousand lire probably amounted to two day’s pay for this nameless man.
Futile, useless; without result
Baggage, (see picture)
Coach, a railway car for passengers
Assistant conductor. The chief official of a train is the conductor. The man who assists, or helps, him in the assistant conductor.
Broken English, English spoken so poorly that it is hard to understand
Passport, papers issued to a person to by the government of his own country, giving him permission to travel in a foreign country
Wallet, a small leather case in which to carry money and important papers.
Traveller’s checks, checks bought and used by travellers. The checks may be exchanged for money at hotels, stores, banks.
Porter, a man who carries a traveler's baggage's at a hotel, in a railway station or on a train
Lira, an Italian coin. More than on: lire
Consul, a person appointed by a government to look after its trade and other business interests in a foreign country and to help it citizens who are living or travelling there.
Gestures, movements of the hands or arms to show ideas or feelings
Express, a fast train which stops only at important places
Woe, trouble; difficulty
Waiter, a man who serves food in a public eating place
Safe, a large, strong box, usually made of metal, in which to keep money and other valuable things
Available, ready for use. Here, having money available means having at ready to pay for the tickets.