SEEING PEOPLE OFF By Max Beerbohm (a paraphrase of the text)

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On a cold grey morning of last week I duly turned up at Euston to see off an old friend who was starting for America.
Overnight we had given a farewell dinner, in which sad¬ness was well mingled with festivity.
And now, here we were, stiff and self-conscious on the platform; and framed in the window of the railway-carriage, was the face of our friend; but it was as the face of a strang¬er - a stranger anxious to please, an appealing stranger, an awkward stranger.
"Have you got everything?" asked one of us, breaking the silence.
"Yes, everything," said our friend, with a pleasant nod.
There was a long pause.
One of us, with a nod and a forced smile at the traveller, said:
The nod, the smile, and the unmeaning monosyllable were returned conscientiously.
Another pause was broken by oneof us with a fit of coughing. It was an obviously assumed fit, but it served to pass the time. There was no sign of the train's departure.
A middle-aged man was talking earnestly to a young lady at the next window but one to ours. His fine profile was vaguely familiar to me. The young lady was evidently Amer¬ican, and he was evidently English; otherwise I should have guessed from his impressive air that he was her father.
In a flash I remembered. The man was Hubert Le Ros. But how he changed since last I saw him! That was seven or eight years ago, in the Strand. He was then (as usual) out of engagement, and borrowed half-a-crown. It seemed a privilege to lend anything to him. He was always magnetic. And why his magnetism had never made him successful on the London stage was always a mystery to me. He was an excel¬lent actor.
It was strange to see him, after all these years here on the platform of Euston, looking so prosperous and solid. It was not only the flesh he had put on, but also the clothes, that made him hard to recognize. He looked like a banker. Any¬one would have been proud to be seen off by him.
"Stand back, please!"
The train was about to start and I waved farewell to my friend. Le Ros did not stand back. He stood clasping in both hands the hands of the young American.
"Stand back, sir. Please!"
He obeyed, but quickly darted forward again to whisper some final word. I think there were tears in her eyes. There certainly were tears in his when, at length, having watched the train out of sight, he turned round.
He seemed, nevertheless, delighted to see me. He asked me where I had been hiding all these years: and simulta¬neously repaid me the half-crown as though it had been bor-rowed yesterday. He linked his arm in mine, and walked me slowly along the platform, saying with what pleasure he read my dramatic criticism every Saturday. I told him, in return, how much he was missed on the stage.
"Ah, yes," he said, "I never act on the stage nowadays."
He laid some emphasis on the word "stage," and I asked him where, then, he did act.
"On the platform," he answered.
"You mean," said I, "that you recite at concerts?"

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He smiled.
"This," he whispered, striking his stick on the ground, "is the platform I mean."
"I suppose," he said presently, giving me a light for the cigar which he had offered me, "you have been seeing a friend off?"
He asked me what I supposed he had been doing. I said that I had watched him doing the same thing.
"No," he said gravely. "That lady was not a friend of mine. I met her for the first time this morning, less than half an hour ago, here," and again he struck the platform with his stick.
I confessed that I was bewildered. He smiled.
"You may," he said, "have heard of the Anglo-American Social Bureau."
I had not. He explained to me that of the thousands of Americans who pass through England there are many hun¬dreds who have no English friends. In the old days they used to bring letters of introduction. But the English are so inhospitable that these letters are hardly worth the paper they are written on.
"Americans are a sociable people, and most of them have plenty of money to spend. The AA.SB supplies them with English friends. Fifty per cent of the fees is paid over to the friend. The other fifty is retained by the AA. SB I am not, alas, a director. If I were, I should be a very rich man indeed. I am only an employee. But even so I do very well. I am one of the seers-off. "
I asked for enlightenment.
"Many Americans," he said, "can not afford to keep friends in England. But they can all afford to be seen off. The fee isonly five pounds (twenty-five dollars) for a single traveller; and eight pounds (forty dollars) for a party of two or more. They send that in to the Bureau, giving the date of their departure, and a description by which the seer-off can identify them on the platform. And then - well, then they are seen off. "
"But is it worth it?" I exclaimed,
"Of course it is worth it," said Le Ros. "It prevents them from feeling out of it. It earns themthe respect of the guard. It saves them from being despised butheir fellow-passengers - the people who are going to be on the boat. Besides, it is a great pleasure in itself. You saw me seeing that young lady off. Did not you think I did itbeautifully? "
"Beautifully," one admitted. "I envied you. There was I -"
"Yes, I can imagine. There were you, shuffling from foot to foot, staring blankly at your friend, trying to make con¬versation, I know. That's how I used to be myself, before I studied, and went into the thing professionally, I do not say I am perfect yet. A railway-station is the most difficult of all places to act in, as you discovered for yourself. "
"But," I said, "I was not trying to act. I really felt."
"So did I, my boy," said Le Ros. "You can not act without feeling. Did not you see those tears in my eyes when the train started? I had not forced them. I tell you I was moved. So were you, I dare say. But you couldn ' t have pumped up a tear to prove it. You can not express your feeling. In other words, you can not act. At any rate, "he added kindly," not in a railway-station. "
"Teach me!" I cried.
He looked thoughtfully at me,
"Weil," he said at length, "the seeing-off season is practi¬cally over. Yes, I'll give you a course, I have a good many pupils on hand already; but yes," he said, consulting an or-nate note-book, "I could give you an hour on Tuesdays and Fridays,"
His terms, I confess, are rather high. But 1 do not grudge the investment.


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