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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPomona's Travels - Letter Number Seventeen
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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Seventeen Post by :Ndoki Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2690

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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Seventeen

BUXTON

When we were comfortably settled here, Jone went to see a doctor, who is a nice, kind old gentleman, who looks as if he almost might have told Mary Queen of Scots how hot she ought to have the water in her baths. He charges four times as much as the others, and has about a quarter as many patients, which makes it all the same to him, and a good deal better for the rheumatic ones who come to him, for they have more time to go into particulars. And if anything does good to a person who has something the matter with him, it's being able to go into particulars about it. It's often as good as medicine, and always more comforting.

We unpacked our trunks and settled ourselves down for a three weeks' stay here, for no matter how much rheumatism you have or how little, you've got to take Buxton and its baths in three weeks' doses.

Besides taking the baths Jone has to drink the waters, and as I cannot do much else to help him, I am encouraging him by drinking them too. There are two places where you can get the lukewarm water that people come here to drink. One is the public well, where there is a pump free to everybody, and the other is in the pump-room just across the street from the well, where you pay a penny a glass for the same water, which three doleful old women spend all their time pumping for visitors.

(Illustration: Pomona encourages Jonas)

People are ordered to drink this water very carefully. It must be done at regular times, beginning with a little, and taking more and more each day until you get to a full tumbler, and then if it seems to be too strong for you, you must take less. So far as I can find out there is nothing particular about it, except that it is lukewarm water, neither hot enough nor cold enough to make it a pleasant drink. It didn't seem to agree with Jone at first, but after he kept at it three or four days it began to suit him better, so that he could take nearly a tumbler without feeling badly. Two or three times I felt it might be better for my health if I didn't drink it, but I wanted to stand by Jone as much as I could, and so I kept on.

We have been here a week now, and this morning I found out that all the water we drink at this hotel is brought from the well of St. Ann, where the public pump is, and everybody drinks just as much of it as they want whenever they want to, and they never think of any such thing as feeling badly or better than if it was common water. The only difference is, that it isn't quite as lukewarm when we get it here as it is at the well. When I was told this I was real mad, after all the measuring and fussing we had had when taking the water as a medicine, and then drinking it just as we pleased at the table. But the people here tell me that it is the gas in it which makes it medicinal, and when that floats out it is just like common water. That may be; but if there's a penny's worth of gas in every tumbler of water sold in the pump-room, there ought to be some sort of a canopy put over the town to catch what must escape in the pourings and pumpings, for it's too valuable to be allowed to get away. If it's the gas that does it, a rheumatic man anchored in a balloon over Buxton, and having the gas coming up unmixed to him, ought to be well in about two days.

When Jone told me his first bath was to be heated up to ninety-four degrees I said to him that he'd be boiled alive, but he wasn't; and when he came home he said he liked it. Everything is very systematic in the great bathing-house. The man who tends to Jone hangs up his watch on a little stand on the edge of the bathtub, and he stays in just so many minutes, and when he's ready to come out he rings a bell, and then he's wrapped up in about fourteen hot towels, and sits in an armchair until he's dry. Jone likes all this, and says so much about it that it makes me want to try it too; though as there isn't any reason for it I haven't tried them yet.

This is an awfully queer, old-fashioned town, and must have been a good deal like Bath in the days of Evelina. There is a long line of high buildings curved like a half moon, which is called the Crescent, and at one end of this is a pump-room, and at the other are the natural baths, where the water is just as warm as when it comes out of the ground, which is eighty-two degrees. This is said to chill people; but from what I remember about summer time I don't see how eighty-two degrees can be cold.

Opposite the Crescent is a public park called The Slopes, and farther on there are great gardens with pavilions, and a band of music every day, and a theatre, and a little river, and tennis courts, and all sorts of things for people who haven't anything to do with their time, which is generally the case with folks at rheumatic watering-places. Opposite to our hotel is a bowling court, which they say has been there for hundreds of years, and is just as hard and smooth as a boy's slate. The men who play bowls here are generally those who have got over the rheumatism of their youth, and whose joints have not been very much stiffened up yet by old age. The people who are yet too young for rheumatism, and have come here with their families, play tennis.

The baths take such a little time, not over six or seven minutes for them each day, and every third day skipped, that there is a good deal of time left on the hands of the people here; and those who can't play tennis or bowl, and don't want to spend the whole time in the pavilion listening to the music, go about in bath-chairs, which, so far as I can see, are just as important as the baths. I don't know whether you ever saw a bath-chair, madam, but it's a comfortable little cab on three wheels, pulled by a man. They take people everywhere, and all the streets are full of them.

As soon as I saw these nice little traps I said to Jone, "Now this is the very thing for you. It hurts you to walk far, and you want to see all over this town, and one of these bath-chairs will take you into lots of places where you couldn't go in a carriage."

"Take me!" said Jone. "I should say not. You don't catch me being hauled about in one of those things as if I was in a sort of wheelbarrow ambulance being taken to the hospital, with you walking along by my side like a trained nurse. No, indeed! I have not gone so far as that yet."

I told him this was all stuff and nonsense, and if he wanted to get the good out of Buxton he'd better go about and see it, and he couldn't go about if he didn't take a bath-chair; but all he said to that was, that he could see it without going about, and he was satisfied. But that didn't count anything with me, for the trouble with Jone is, that he's too easy satisfied.

It's true that there is a lot to be seen in Buxton without going about. The Slopes are just across the street from the hotel, and when it doesn't happen to be raining we can go and sit there on a bench and see lively times enough. People are being trundled about in their bath-chairs in every direction; there is always a crowd at St. Ann's well, where the pump is; all sorts of cabs and carts are being driven up and down just as fast as they can go, for the streets are as smooth as floors, and in the morning and evening there are about half a dozen coaches with four horses, and drivers and horn-blowers in red coats, the horses prancing and whips cracking as they start out for country trips or come back again. And as for the people on foot, they just swarm like bees, and rain makes no difference, except that then they wear mackintoshes, and when it's fine they don't. Some of these people step along as brisk as if they hadn't anything the matter with them, but a good many of them help out their legs with canes and crutches. I begin to think I can tell how long a man has been at Buxton by the number of sticks he uses.

One day we was sitting on a bench in The Slopes, enjoying a bit of sunshine that had just come along, when a middle-aged man, with a very high collar and a silk hat, came and sat down by Jone. He spoke civilly to us, and then went on to say that if ever we happened to take a house near Liverpool he'd be glad to supply us with coals, because he was a coal merchant. Jone told him that if he ever did take a house near Liverpool he certainly would give him his custom. Then the man gave us his card. "I come here every year," he said, "for the rheumatism in my shoulder, and if I meet anybody that lives near Liverpool, or is likely to, I try to get his custom. I like it here. There's a good many 'otels in this town. You can see a lot of them from here. There's St. Ann's, that's a good house, but they charge you a pound a day; and then there's the Old Hall. That's good enough, too, but nobody goes there except shopkeepers and clergymen. Of course, I don't mean bishops; they go to St. Ann's."

I wondered which the man would think Jone was, if he knew we was stopping at the Old Hall; but I didn't ask him, and only said that other people besides shopkeepers and clergymen went to the Old Hall, for Mary Queen of Scots used to stop at that house when she came to take the waters, and her room was still there, just as it used to be.

"Mary Queen of Scots!" said he. "At the Old Hall?"

"Yes," said I, "that's where she used to go; that was her hotel."

"Queen Mary, Queen of the Scots!" he said again. "Well, well, I wouldn't have believed it. But them Scotch people always was close-fisted. Now if it had been Queen Elizabeth, she wouldn't have minded a pound a day;" and then, after asking Jone to excuse him for forgetting his manners and not asking where his rheumatism was, and having got his answer, he went away, wondering, I expect, how Mary Queen of Scots could have been so stingy.

But although we could see so much sitting on benches, I didn't give up Jone and the bath-chairs, and day before yesterday I got the better of him. "Now," said I, "it is stupid for you to be sitting around in this way as if you was a statue of a public benefactor carved by subscription and set up in a park. The only sensible thing for you to do is to take a bath-chair and go around and see things. And if you are afraid people will think you are being taken to a hospital, you can put down the top of the thing, and sit up straight and smoke your pipe. Patients in ambulances never smoke pipes. And if you don't want me walking by your side like a trained nurse, I'll take another chair and be pulled along with you."

The idea of a pipe, and me being in another chair, rather struck his fancy, and he said he would consider it; and so that afternoon we went to the hotel door and looked at the long line of bath-chairs standing at the curbstone on the other side of the street, with the men waiting for jobs. The chairs was all pretty much alike and looked very comfortable, but the men was as different as if they had been horses. Some looked gay and spirited, and others tired and worn out, as if they had belonged to sporting men and had been driven half to death. And then again there was some that looked fat and lazy, like the old horses on a farm, that the women drive to town.

Jone picked out a good man, who looked as if he was well broken and not afraid of locomotives and able to do good work in single harness. When I got Jone in the bath-chair, with the buggy-top down, and his pipe lighted, and his hat cocked on one side a little, so as to look as if he was doing the whole thing for a lark, I called another chair, not caring what sort of one it was, and then we told the men to pull us around for a couple of hours, leaving it to them to take us to agreeable spots, which they said they would do.

After we got started Jone seemed to like it very well, and we went pretty much all over the town, sometimes stopping to look in at the shop windows, for the sidewalks are so narrow that it is no trouble to see the things from the street. Then the men took us a little way out of the town to a place where there was a good view for us, and a bench where they could go and sit down and rest. I expect all the chair men that work by the hour manage to get to this place with a view as soon as they can.

After they had had a good rest we started off to go home by a different route. Jone's man was a good strong fellow and always took the lead, but my puller was a different kind of a steed, and sometimes I was left pretty far behind. I had not paid much attention to the man at first, only noticing that he was mighty slow; but going back a good deal of the way was uphill, and then all his imperfections came out plain, and I couldn't help studying him. If he had been a horse I should have said he was spavined and foundered, with split frogs and tonsilitis; but as he was a man, it struck me that he must have had several different kinds of rheumatism and been sent to Buxton to have them cured, but not taking the baths properly, or drinking the water at times when he ought not to have done it, his rheumatisms had all run together and had become fixed and immovable. How such a creaky person came to be a bath-chair man I could not think, but it may be that he wanted to stay in Buxton for the sake of the loose gas which could be had for nothing, and that bath-chairing was all he could get to do.

I pitied the poor old fellow, who, if he had been a horse, would have been no more than fourteen hands high, and as he went puffing along, tugging and grunting as if I was a load of coal, I felt as if I couldn't stand it another minute, and I called out to him to stop. It did seem as if he would drop before he got me back to the hotel, and I bounced out in no time, and then I walked in front of him and turned around and looked at him. If it is possible for a human hack-horse to have spavins in two joints in each leg, that man had them; and he looked as if he couldn't remember what it was to have a good feed.

He seemed glad to rest, but didn't say anything, standing and looking straight ahead of him like an old horse that has been stopped to let him blow. He did look so dreadful feeble that I thought it would be a mercy to take him to some member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and have him chloroformed. "Look here," said I, "you are not fit to walk. Get into that bath-chair, and I'll pull you back to your stand."

"Lady," said he, "I couldn't do that. If you dunno mind walking home, and will pay me for the two hours all the same, I will be right thankful for that. I'm poorly to-day."

"Get into the chair," said I, "and I'll pull you back. I'd like to do it, for I want some exercise."

"Oh, no, no!" said he. "That would be a sin; and besides I was engaged to pull you two hours, and I must be paid for that."

"Get into that chair," I said, "and I'll pay you for your two hours and give you a shilling besides."

He looked at me for a minute, and then he got into the chair, and I shut him up.

"Now, lady," said he, "you can pull me a little way if you want exercise, and as soon as you are tired you can stop, and I'll get out, but you must pay me the extra shilling all the same."

"All right," said I, and taking hold of the handle I started off. It was real fun; the bath-chair rolled along beautifully, and I don't believe the old man weighed much more than my Corinne when I used to push her about in her baby carriage. We were in a back street, where there was hardly anybody; and as for Jone and his bath-chair, I could just see them ever so far ahead, so I started to catch up, and as the street was pretty level now I soon got going at a fine rate. I hadn't had a bit of good exercise for a long time, and this warmed me up and made me feel gay.

(Illustration: "STOP, LADY, AND I'LL GET OUT")

We was not very far behind Jone when the man began to call to me in a sort of frightened fashion, as if he thought I was running away. "Stop, lady!" he said; "we are getting near the gardens, and the people will laugh at me. Stop, lady, and I'll get out." But I didn't feel a bit like stopping; the idea had come into my head that it would be jolly to beat Jone. If I could pass him and sail on ahead for a little while, then I'd stop and let my old man get out and take his bath-chair home. I didn't want it any more.

Just as I got close up behind Jone, and was about to make a rush past him, his man turned into a side street. Of course I turned too, and then I put on steam, and, giving a laugh as I turned around to look at Jone, I charged on, intending to stop in a minute and have some fun in hearing what Jone had to say about it; but you may believe, ma'am, that I was amazed when I saw only a little way in front of me the bath-chair stand where we had hired our machines! And all the bath-chair men were standing there with their mouths wide open, staring at a woman running along the street, pulling an old bath-chair man in a bath-chair! For a second I felt like dropping the handle I held and making a rush for the front door of the hotel, which was right ahead of me; and then I thought, as now I was in for it, it would be a lot better to put a good face on the matter, and not look as if I had done anything I was ashamed of, and so I just slackened speed and came up in fine style at the door of the Old Hall. Four or five of the bath-chair men came running across the street to know if anything had happened to the old party I was pulling, and he got out looking as ashamed as if he had been whipped by his wife.

"It's a lark, mates," said he; "the lady's to pay me two shillings extra for letting her pull me."

"Two shillings?" said I. "I only promised you one."

"That would be for pulling me a little way," he said; "but you pulled me all the way back, and I couldn't do it for less than two shillings."

Jone now came up and got out quick.

"What's the meaning of all this, Pomona?" said he.

"Meaning?" said I. "Look at that dilapidated old bag of bones. He wasn't fit to pull me, and so I thought it would be fun to pull him; but, of course, I didn't know when I turned the corner I would be here at the stand."

Jone paid the men, including the two extra shillings, and when we went up to our room he said, "The next time we go out in two bath-chairs, I am going to have a chain fastened to yours, and I'll have hold of the other end of it."

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