WHEN, some years ago, I began to travel by train from a small country station to the large Central Station in Glasgow, I became acquainted with two very different travelers. They illustrated for me two poems learned by heart at school: John Milton's companion pieces, ``l'Allegro'' and ``Il Penseroso,'' the happy man and the pensive man.
I first became aware of the thoughtful traveler because he always sat alone, if not shunned then certainly given a wide berth by every other passenger. He was invariably half-hidden behind his newspaper and could sometimes be overheard muttering darkly to himself, sometimes striking the paper as if wishing to tear it to shreds.
One day, when I chanced to have the seat facing him, he suddenly lowered the paper, revealing a lugubrious face and owlish eyes that blinked from behind thick glasses. ``Politicians! Politics!'' were his opening words, while he kept stabbing at the lead article on the front page. ``Do you know how I see our world scene?'' he went on.
``No, I don't. How?'' I asked, since he seemed to be waiting for a reply.
``As a game of chess,'' he declared with a kind of grim satisfaction. ``Look, I'll show you,'' he said, fishing about in his pockets, taking out a handful of coins, pounds, and pence with a sprinkling of francs, rubles, and kopecks. On the homeward run, the carriage was often half-empty, so he was able to arrange on the seat beside him his coin kings and castles, rooks, bishops, queens, and pawns.
``Take the Balkans, take Serbia and Bosnia,'' he began, a little less dismally, as if at long last he had found a listening ear.
Not every traveler wishes to become involved in a history lesson after a day's work, but it seemed impossible to hurt this melancholy man's feelings; besides, there was a fascination in all the moves he made on his improvised chessboard.
Page 1 of 5