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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPomona's Travels - Letter Number Sixteen
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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Sixteen Post by :JuvioSuccess Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :1574

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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Sixteen

BUXTON

When I mentioned Mr. Poplington in my last letter in connection with the setting sun I was wrong; he was like the rising orb of day, and he filled London with effulgent light. No sooner had we had a talk, and we had told him all that had happened, and finished up by saying what a doleful morning we had had, than he clapped his hand on his knees and said, "I'll tell you what we will do. We will spend the afternoon among the landmarks." And what we did was to take a four-wheeler and go around the old parts of London, where Mr. Poplington showed us a lot of soul-awakening spots which no common stranger would be likely to find for himself.

If you are ever steeped in the solemnness of a London Sunday, and you can get a jolly, red-faced, middle-aged English gentleman, who has made himself happy by going to church in the morning, and is ready to make anybody else happy in the afternoon, just stir him up in the mixture, and then you will know the difference between cod-liver oil and champagne, even if you have never tasted either of them. The afternoon was piled-up-and-pressed-down joyfulness for me, and I seemed to be walking in a dream among the beings and the things that we only see in books.

Mr. Poplington first took us to the old Watergate, which was the river entrance to York House, where Lord Bacon lived, and close to the gate was the small house where Peter the Great and David Copperfield lived, though not at the same time; and then we went to Will's old coffee-house, where Addison, Steele, and a lot of other people of that sort used to go to drink and smoke before they was buried in Westminster Abbey, and where Charles and Mary Lamb lived afterward, and where Mary used to look out of the window to see the constables take the thieves to the Old Bailey near by. Then we went to Tom-all-alone's, and saw the very grating at the head of the steps which led to the old graveyard where poor Joe used to sweep the steps when Lady Dedlock came there, and I held on to the very bars that the poor lady must have gripped when she knelt on the steps to die.

Not far away was the Black Jack Tavern, where Jack Sheppard and all the great thieves of the day used to meet. And bless me! I have read so much about Jack Sheppard that I could fairly see him jumping out of the window he always dropped from when the police came. After that we saw the house where Mr. Tulkinghorn, Lady Dedlock's lawyer, used to live, and also the house where old Krook was burned up by spontaneous combustion. Then we went to Bolt Court, where old Samuel Johnson lived, walked about, and talked, and then to another court where he lived when he wrote the dictionary, and after that to the "Cheshire Cheese" Inn, where he and Oliver Goldsmith often used to take their meals together.

Then we saw St. John's Gate, where the Knights Templars met, and the yard of the Court of Chancery, where little Miss Flite used to wait for the Day of Judgment; and as we was coming home he showed us the church of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, where every other Friday the bells are rung at five o'clock in the afternoon, most people not knowing what it is for, but really because the famous Nell Gwynn, who was far from being a churchwoman, left a sum of money for having a merry peal of bells rung every Friday until the end of the world. I got so wound up by all this, that I quite forgot Jone, and hardly thought of Mr. Poplington, except that he was telling me all these things, and bringing back to my mind so much that I had read about, though sometimes very little.

When we got back to the hotel and had gone up to our room, Jone said to me:

"That was all very fine and interesting from top to toe, but it does seem to me as if things were dreadfully mixed. Dr. Johnson and Jack Sheppard, I suppose, was all real and could live in houses; but when it comes to David Copperfields and Lady Dedlocks and little Miss Flites, that wasn't real and never lived at all, they was all talked about in just the same way, and their favorite tramping grounds pointed out, and I can't separate the real people from the fancy folk, if we've got to have the same bosom heaving for the whole of them."

"Jone," said I, "they are all real, every one of them. If Mr. Dickens had written history I expect he'd put Lady Dedlock and Miss Flite and David Copperfield into it; and if the history writers had written stories they would have been sure to get Dr. Johnson and Lord Bacon and Peter the Great into them; and the people in the one kind of writing would have been just as real as the people in the other. At any rate, that's the way they are to me."

On the Monday after our landmark expedition with Mr. Poplington, which I shall never forget, Jone settled up his business matters, and the next day we started for Buxton and the rheumatism baths. To our great delight Mr. Poplington said he would go with us, not all the way, for he wanted to stop at a little place called Rowsley, where he would stay for a few days and then go on to Buxton; but we was very glad to have him with us during the greater part of the way, and we all left the hotel in the same four-wheeler.

When we got to the station Jone got first-class tickets, for we have found out that if you want to travel comfortable in England, and have porters attend to your baggage and find an empty carriage for you, and have the guard come along and smile in the window and say he'll try to let you have that carriage all to yourselves if he's able--the ableness depending a good deal on what you give him--and for everybody to do their best to make your journey pleasant, you must travel first class. Mr. Poplington also bought a first-class ticket, for there was no seconds on this line. As we was walking along by the platform Jone and I gave a sort of a jump, for there was a regular Pullman car, which made us think we might be at home. We stopped and looked at it, and then the guard, who was standing by, stepped up to us and touched his hat, and asked us if we would like to take the Pullman, and when Jone asked what the extra charge was, he said nothing at all for first-class passengers. We didn't have to stop to think a minute, but said right off that we would go in it, but Mr. Poplington would not come with us. He said English people wasn't accustomed to that, they wanted to be more private; and, although he'd like to be with us, he could not travel in a caravan like that, and so he went off by himself, and we got into the Pullman.

The guard said we could take any seats we pleased; and when we got in we found there was only two or three people in it, and we chose two nice armchairs, hung up our wraps, and made ourselves comfortable and cosey.

We expected that the people who engaged seats would soon come crowding in, but when the train started there was only four people besides ourselves in that beautiful car, which was a first-class one, built in the United States, with all sorts of comforts and conveniences. There was a porter who laid himself out to make us happy, and about one o'clock we had a nice lunch on a little table which was set up between us, with two waiters to attend to us, and then Jone went and had a smoke in a small room at one end of the car.

We thought it was strange that there should be so few people travelling on this train, but when we came to a town where we made a long stop Jone got out to talk to Mr. Poplington, supposing it likely that he'd have a carriage to himself; but he was amazed to see that the train was jammed and crowded, and he found Mr. Poplington squeezed up in a carriage with seven other people, four of them one side and four the other, each row staring into the faces of the other. Some of them was eating bread and cheese out of paper parcels, and a big fat man was reading a newspaper, which he spread out so as to partly cover the two people sitting next to him, and all of them seemed anxious to find some way of stretching their legs so as not to strike against the legs of somebody else.

Mr. Poplington was sitting by the window, and Jone couldn't help laughing when he said:

"Is this what you call being private, sir? I think you would find a caravan more pleasant. Don't you want to come to the Pullman with us? There are plenty of seats there, nice big armchairs that you can turn around and sit any way you like, and look at people or not look at them, just as you please, and there's plenty of room to walk about and stretch yourself a little if you want to. There's a smoking-room, too, that you can go to and leave whenever you like. Come and try it."

"Thank you very much," said Mr. Poplington, "but I really couldn't do that. I am not prejudiced at all, and I have a good many democratic ideas, but that is too much for me. An Englishman's house is his castle, and when he's travelling his railway carriage is his house. He likes privacy and dislikes publicity."

"This is a funny kind of privacy you have here," said Jone. "And how about your big clubs? Would you like to have them all divided up into little compartments with half a dozen men in each one, generally strangers to each other?"

"Oh, a club is a very different thing," said Mr. Poplington.

Jone was going to talk more about the comfort of the Pullman cars, but they began to shut the carriage doors, and he had to come back to me.

We like English railway carriages very well when we can have one to ourselves, but if even one stranger gets in and has to sit looking at us for all the rest of the trip you don't feel anything like as private as if you was walking along a sidewalk in London.

But Jone and I both agreed we wouldn't find any fault with English people for not liking Pullman cars, so long as they put them on their trains for Americans who do like them. And one thing is certain, that if our railroad conductors and brakes-men and porters was as polite and kind as they are in England, tips or no tips, we'd be a great deal better off than we are.

Whenever we stopped at a station the people would come and look through the windows at us, as if we was some sort of a travelling show. I don't believe most of them had ever seen a comfortable room on wheels before. The other people in our car was all men, and looked as if they hadn't their families with them, and was glad to get a little comfort on the sly. When we got to Rowsley we saw Mr. Poplington on the platform, running about, collecting all his different bits of luggage, and counting them to see that they was all there, and then, as we had a window open and was looking out, he came and bid us good-by; and when I asked him to, he looked into our car.

"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" he said. "What a public apartment! I could not travel like that, you know. Good-by; I will see you at Buxton in a few days."

(Illustration: Mr. Poplington looking for the luggage)

We talked a good deal with Mr. Poplington about the hotels of Buxton, and we had agreed to go to one called the Old Hall, where we are now. There was a good many reasons why we chose this house, one being that it was not as expensive as some of the others, though very nice; and another, which had a good deal of force with me, was, that Mary Queen of Scots came here for her rheumatism, and the room she used to have is still kept, with some words she scratched with her diamond ring on the window-pane. Sometimes people coming to this hotel can get this room, and I was mighty sorry we couldn't do it, but it was taken. If I could have actually lived and slept in a room which had belonged to the beautiful Mary Queen of Scots, I would have been willing to have just as much rheumatism as she had when she was here.

Of course, modern rheumatisms are not as interesting as the rheumatisms people of the past ages had; but from what I have seen of this town, I think I am going to like it very much.

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