“M R. & MRS. JULES VERNE have sent a special letter asking that if possible you will stop to see them,” the London correspondent said to me, as we were on our way to the wharf.
“Oh, how I should like to see them!” I exclaimed, adding in the same breath, “Isn’t it hard to be forced to decline such a treat?”
“If you are willing to go without sleep and rest for two nights, I think it can be done,” he said quietly.
“Safely? Without making me miss any connections? If so, don’t think about sleep or rest.”
“It depends on our getting a train out of here to-night. All the regular trains until morning have left, and unless they decide to run a special mail train for the delayed mails, we will have to stay here all night and that will not give us time to see Verne. We shall see when we land what they will decide to do.”
The boat that was landing us left much to be desired in the way of comfort. The only cabin seemed to be the hull, but it was filled with mail and baggage and lighted by a lamp with a smoked globe. I did not see any place to sit down, so we all stood on deck, shivering in the damp, chilly air, and looking in the gray fog like uneasy spirits.
The dreary, dilapidated wharf was a fit landing place for the antique boat. I silently followed the correspondent into a large empty shed, where a few men with sleep in their eyes and uniforms that bore ample testimony to the fact that they had slept in their clothes, were stationed behind some long, low tables.
“Where are your keys?” the correspondent asked me as he sat my solitary bag down before one of these weary looking inspectors.
“It is too full to lock,” I answered simply.
“Will you swear that you have no tobacco or tea?” the inspector asked my escort lazily.
“Don’t swear,” I said to him; then turning to the inspector I added: “It’s my bag.”
He smiled and putting a chalk mark upon the bag freed us.
“Declare your tobacco and tea or tip the man,” I said teazingly to a passenger who stood with poor, thin, shaking “Homie” under one arm, searching frantically through his pockets for his keys.
“I’ve fixed him!” he answered with an expressive wink.
Passing through the custom house we were made happy by the information that it had been decided to attach a passenger coach to the special mail train to oblige the passengers who wished to go to London without delay. The train was made up then, so we concluded to get into our car and try to warm up.
A porter took my bag and another man in uniform drew forth an enormous key with which he unlocked the door in the side of the car instead of the end, as in America. I managed to compass the uncomfortable long step to the door and striking my toe against some projection in the floor, went most ungracefully and unceremoniously on to the seat.
My escort after giving some order to the porter went out to see about my ticket, so I took a survey of an English railway compartment. The little square in which I sat looked like a hotel omnibus and was about as comfortable. The two red leather seats in it run across the car, one backing the engine, the other backing the rear of the train. There was a door on either side and one could hardly have told that there was a dingy lamp there to cast a light on the scene had not the odor from it been so loud. I carefully lifted the rug that covered the thing I had fallen over, curious to see what could be so necessary to an English railway carriage as to occupy such a prominent position. I found a harmless object that looked like a bar of iron and had just dropped the rug in place when the door opened and the porter, catching the iron at one end, pulled it out, replacing it with another like it in shape and size.
“Put your feet on the foot warmer and get warm, Miss,” he said, and I mechanically did as he advised.
My escort returned soon after, followed by a porter who carried a large basket which he put in our carriage. The guard came afterwards and took our tickets. Pasting a slip of paper on the window, which backwards looked like “etavirP,” he went out and locked the door.
“How should we get out if the train ran the track?” I asked, not half liking the idea of being locked in a box like an animal in a freight train.
“Trains never run off the track in England,” was the quiet, satisfied answer.
“Too slow for that,” I said teasingly, which only provoked a gentle inquiry as to whether I wanted anything to eat.
With a newspaper spread over our laps for a table-cloth, we brought out what the basket contained and put in our time eating and chatting about my journey until the train reached London.
As no train was expected at that hour, Waterloo Station was almost deserted. It was some little time after we stopped before the guard unlocked the door of our compartment and released us. Our few fellow-passengers were just about starting off in shabby cabs when we alighted. Once again we called goodbye and good wishes to each other, and then I found myself in a four-wheeled cab, facing a young Englishman who had come to meet us and who was glibly telling us the latest news.
I don’t know at what hour we arrived, but my companions told me that it was daylight. I should not have known it. A gray, misty fog hung like a ghostly pall over the city. I always liked fog, it lends such a soft, beautifying light to things that otherwise in the broad glare of day would be rude and commonplace.
“How are these streets compared with those of New York?” was the first question that broke the silence after our leaving the station.
“They are not bad,” I said with a patronizing air, thinking shamefacedly of the dreadful streets of New York, although determined to hear no word against them.
Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament were pointed out to me, and the Thames, across which we drove. I felt that I was taking what might be called a bird’s -eye view of London. A great many foreigners have taken views in the same rapid way of America, and afterwards gone home and written books about America, Americans, and Americanisms.
We drove first to the London office of the New York World. After receiving the cables that were waiting for my arrival, I started for the American Legation to get a passport as I had been instructed by cable.
Mr. McCormick, Secretary of the Legation, came into the room immediately after our arrival, and after welcoming and congratulating me on the successful termination of the first portion of my trip, sat down and wrote out a passport.
My escort was asked to go into another part of the room until the representative could ask me an important question. I had never required a passport before, and I felt a nervous curiosity to know what secrets were connected with such proceedings.
“There is one question all women dread to answer, and as very few will give a truthful reply, I will ask you to swear to the rest first and fill in the other question afterwards, unless you have no hesitancy in telling me your age.”
“Oh, certainly,” I laughed. “I will tell you my age, swear to it, too, and I am not afraid; my companion may come out of the corner.”
“What is the color of your eyes?” he asked.
“Green,” I said indifferently.
He was inclined to doubt it at first, but after a little inspection, both the gentlemen accepted my verdict as correct.
It was only a few seconds until we were whirling through the streets of London again. This time we went to the office of the Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Company, where I bought tickets that would cover at least half of my journey. A few moments again and we were driving rapidly to the Charing Cross station.
I was faint for food, and while my companion dismissed the cab and secured tickets, I ordered the only thing on the Charing Cross bill of fare that was prepared, so when he returned, his breakfast was ready for him. It was only ham and eggs, and coffee, but what we got of it was delicious. I know we did not get much, and when we were interrupted by the announcement that our train was starting, I stopped long enough to take another drink of coffee and then had to run down the platform to catch the train.
There is nothing like plenty of food to preserve health. I know that cup of coffee saved me from a headache that day. I had been shaking with the cold as we made our hurried drive through London, and my head was so dizzy at times that I hardly knew whether the earth had a chill or my brains were attending a ball. When I got comfortable seated in the train I began to feel warmer and more stable.
The train moved off at an easy-going speed, and the very jog of it lulled me into a state of languor.
“I want you to see the scenery along here; it is beautiful,” my companion said, but I lazily thought, “What is scenery compared with sleep when one has not seen bed for over twenty-four hours?” so I said to him, very crossly:
“Don’t you think you would better take a nap? You have not had any sleep for so long and you will be up so late to-night, that, really, I think for the sake of your health you would better sleep now.”
“And you?” he asked with a teasing smile. I had been up even longer.
“Well, I confess, I was saying one word for you and two for myself,” I replied, with a laugh that put us at ease on the subject.
“Honestly, now, I care very little for scenery when I am so sleepy,” I said apologetically. “Those English farm houses are charming and the daisy-dotted meadows (I had not the faintest conception as to whether there were daisies in them or not), are only equaled by those I have seen in Kansas, but if you will excuse me?–” and I was in the land that joins the land of death.
I slept an easy, happy sleep, filled with dreams of home until I was waked by the train stopping.
“We change for the boat here,” my companion said catching up our bags and rugs, which he hauled to a porter.
A little walk down to the pier brought us to the place where a boat was waiting. Some people were getting off the boat, but a larger number stood idly about waiting for it to move off.
The air was very cold and chilly, but still I preferred the deck to the close, musty-smelling cabin beneath. Two English women also remained on deck. I was much amused at the conversation they held with some friends who had accompanied them to the boat, and now stood on the wharf. One would have supposed, by hearing the conversation that they had only that instant met and having no time to spend together, were forced to make all further arrangements on the spot.
“You will come over to-morrow, now don’t forget,” the young woman on the boat called out.
“I won’t forget. Are you certain that you have everything with you?” the one on the wharf called back.
“Look after Fido. Give him that compound in the morning if there is no appearance of improvement,” the first one said.
“You will meet me to-morrow?” said number two on shore.
“Oh yes; don’t forget to come,” was the reply, and as the boat moved out they both talked at once until we were quite a distance off, then simultaneously the one turned to her chair and the other turned around and walked rapidly away from the wharf.
There has been so much written and told about the English Channel, that one is inclined to think of it as a stream of horrors. It is also affirmed that even hardy sailors bring up the past when crossing over it, so I naturally felt that my time would come.
All the passengers must have been familiar with the history of the channel, for I saw everyone trying all the known preventives of seasickness. The women assumed reclining positions and the men sought the bar.
I remained on deck and watched the sea-gulls, or what I thought were these useful birds-useful for millinery purposes-and froze my nose. It was bitterly cold, but I found the cold bracing until we anchored at Boulogne, France. Then I had a chill.
At the end of this desolate pier, where boats anchor and where trains start, is a small, dingy restaurant. While a little English sailor, who always dropped his h’s and never forgot his “sir,” took charge of our bags and went to secure accommodations for us in the outgoing train, we followed the other passengers into the restaurant to get something warm to eat.
I was in France now, and I began to wonder now what would have been my fate if I had been alone as I had expected. I knew my companion spoke French, the language that all the people about us were speaking, so I felt perfectly easy on that score as long as he was with me.
We took our places at the table and he began to order in French. The waiter looked blankly at him until, at last, more in a spirit of fun than anything else, I suggested that he give the order in English. The waiter glanced at me with a smile and answered in English.
We traveled from Boulogne to Amiens in a compartment with an English couple and a Frenchman. There was one foot-warmer and the day was cold. We all tried to put our feet on the one foot-warmer and the result was embarrassing. The Frenchman sat facing me and as I was conscious of having tramped on someone’s toes, and as he looked at me angrily all the time above the edge of his newspaper, I had a guilty feeling of knowing whose toes had been tramped on.
During this trip I tried to solve the reason for the popularity of these ancient, incommodious railway carriages. I very shortly decided that while they may be suitable for countries where little traveling is done, they would be thoroughly useless in thinly populated countries where people think less of traveling 3,000 miles than they do about their dinner. I also decided that the reason why we think nothing of starting out on long trips, is because our comfort is so well looked after, that living on a first-class railway train is as comfortable as living at a first-class hotel. The English railway carriages are wretchedly heated. One’s feet will be burning on the foot-warmer while one’s back will be freezing in the cold air above. If one should be taken suddenly ill in an English railway compartment, it would be a very serious matter.
Still, I can picture conditions under which these ancient railway carriages might be agreeable, but they are not such as would induce a traveler to prefer them to those built on the American model.
Supposing one had the measles or a black eye, then a compartment in a railway carriage, made private by a tip to the porter, would be very consoling.
Supposing one was newly wed and was bubbling over in ecstacy of joy, then give one an English railway compartment, where two just made one can be secluded from the eyes of a cold, sneering public, who are just as great fools under the same conditions, although they would deny it if one told them so.
But talk about privacy! If it is privacy the English desire so much, they should adopt our American trains, for there is no privacy like that to be found in a large car filled with strangers. Everybody has, and keeps his own place. There is no sitting for hours, as is often the case in English trains, face to face and knees to knees with a stranger, offensive or otherwise, as he may chance to be.
Then too, did the English railway carriage make me understand why English girls need chaperones. It would make any American woman shudder with all her boasted self-reliance, to think of sending her daughter alone on a trip, even of a few hours’ duration, where there was every possibility that during those hours she would be locked in a compartment with a stranger.
Small wonder the American girl is fearless. She has not been used to so called private compartments in English railway carriages, but to large crowds, and every individual that helps to swell that crowd is to her a protector. When mothers teach their daughters that there is safety in numbers, and that numbers are the body-guard that shield all woman-kind, then chaperones will be a thing of the past, and women will be nobler and better.
As I was pondering over this subject, the train pulled into a station and stopped. My escort looking out, informed me that we were at Amiens. We were securely locked in, however, and began to think that we would be carried past, when my companion managed to get his head out of the window and shouted for the guard to come to our release. Freed at last, we stepped out on the platform at Amiens.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48