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Chapter 16

OMNIBUSES

It is very generally allowed that public conveyances afford an
extensive field for amusement and observation. Of all the public
conveyances that have been constructed since the days of the Ark--
we think that is the earliest on record--to the present time,
commend us to an omnibus. A long stage is not to be despised, but
there you have only six insides, and the chances are, that the same
people go all the way with you--there is no change, no variety.
Besides, after the first twelve hours or so, people get cross and
sleepy, and when you have seen a man in his nightcap, you lose all
respect for him; at least, that is the case with us. Then on
smooth roads people frequently get prosy, and tell long stories,
and even those who don't talk, may have very unpleasant
predilections. We once travelled four hundred miles, inside a
stage-coach, with a stout man, who had a glass of rum-and-water,
warm, handed in at the window at every place where we changed
horses. This was decidedly unpleasant. We have also travelled
occasionally, with a small boy of a pale aspect, with light hair,
and no perceptible neck, coming up to town from school under the
protection of the guard, and directed to be left at the Cross Keys
till called for. This is, perhaps, even worse than rum-and-water
in a close atmosphere. Then there is the whole train of evils
consequent on a change of the coachman; and the misery of the
discovery--which the guard is sure to make the moment you begin to
doze--that he wants a brown-paper parcel, which he distinctly
remembers to have deposited under the seat on which you are
reposing. A great deal of bustle and groping takes place, and when
you are thoroughly awakened, and severely cramped, by holding your
legs up by an almost supernatural exertion, while he is looking
behind them, it suddenly occurs to him that he put it in the fore-
boot. Bang goes the door; the parcel is immediately found; off
starts the coach again; and the guard plays the key-bugle as loud
as he can play it, as if in mockery of your wretchedness.

Now, you meet with none of these afflictions in an omnibus;
sameness there can never be. The passengers change as often in the
course of one journey as the figures in a kaleidoscope, and though
not so glittering, are far more amusing. We believe there is no
instance on record, of a man's having gone to sleep in one of these
vehicles. As to long stories, would any man venture to tell a long
story in an omnibus? and even if he did, where would be the harm?
nobody could possibly hear what he was talking about. Again;
children, though occasionally, are not often to be found in an
omnibus; and even when they are, if the vehicle be full, as is
generally the case, somebody sits upon them, and we are unconscious
of their presence. Yes, after mature reflection, and considerable
experience, we are decidedly of opinion, that of all known
vehicles, from the glass-coach in which we were taken to be
christened, to that sombre caravan in which we must one day make
our last earthly journey, there is nothing like an omnibus.

We will back the machine in which we make our daily peregrination
from the top of Oxford-street to the city, against any 'buss' on
the road, whether it be for the gaudiness of its exterior, the
perfect simplicity of its interior, or the native coolness of its
cad. This young gentleman is a singular instance of self-devotion;
his somewhat intemperate zeal on behalf of his employers, is
constantly getting him into trouble, and occasionally into the
house of correction. He is no sooner emancipated, however, than he
resumes the duties of his profession with unabated ardour. His
principal distinction is his activity. His great boast is, 'that
he can chuck an old gen'lm'n into the buss, shut him in, and rattle
off, afore he knows where it's a-going to'--a feat which he
frequently performs, to the infinite amusement of every one but the
old gentleman concerned, who, somehow or other, never can see the
joke of the thing.

We are not aware that it has ever been precisely ascertained, how
many passengers our omnibus will contain. The impression on the
cad's mind evidently is, that it is amply sufficient for the
accommodation of any number of persons that can be enticed into it.
'Any room?' cries a hot pedestrian. 'Plenty o' room, sir,' replies
the conductor, gradually opening the door, and not disclosing the
real state of the case, until the wretched man is on the steps.
'Where?' inquires the entrapped individual, with an attempt to back
out again. 'Either side, sir,' rejoins the cad, shoving him in,
and slamming the door. 'All right, Bill.' Retreat is impossible;
the new-comer rolls about, till he falls down somewhere, and there
he stops.

As we get into the city a little before ten, four or five of our
party are regular passengers. We always take them up at the same
places, and they generally occupy the same seats; they are always
dressed in the same manner, and invariably discuss the same topics-
-the increasing rapidity of cabs, and the disregard of moral
obligations evinced by omnibus men. There is a little testy old
man, with a powdered head, who always sits on the right-hand side
of the door as you enter, with his hands folded on the top of his
umbrella. He is extremely impatient, and sits there for the
purpose of keeping a sharp eye on the cad, with whom he generally
holds a running dialogue. He is very officious in helping people
in and out, and always volunteers to give the cad a poke with his
umbrella, when any one wants to alight. He usually recommends
ladies to have sixpence ready, to prevent delay; and if anybody
puts a window down, that he can reach, he immediately puts it up
again.

'Now, what are you stopping for?' says the little man every
morning, the moment there is the slightest indication of 'pulling
up' at the corner of Regent-street, when some such dialogue as the
following takes place between him and the cad:

'What are you stopping for?'

Here the cad whistles, and affects not to hear the question.

'I say [a poke], what are you stopping for?'

'For passengers, sir. Ba--nk.--Ty.'

'I know you're stopping for passengers; but you've no business to
do so. WHY are you stopping?'

'Vy, sir, that's a difficult question. I think it is because we
perfer stopping here to going on.'

'Now mind,' exclaims the little old man, with great vehemence,
'I'll pull you up to-morrow; I've often threatened to do it; now I
will.'

'Thankee, sir,' replies the cad, touching his hat with a mock
expression of gratitude;--'werry much obliged to you indeed, sir.'
Here the young men in the omnibus laugh very heartily, and the old
gentleman gets very red in the face, and seems highly exasperated.

The stout gentleman in the white neckcloth, at the other end of the
vehicle, looks very prophetic, and says that something must shortly
be done with these fellows, or there's no saying where all this
will end; and the shabby-genteel man with the green bag, expresses
his entire concurrence in the opinion, as he has done regularly
every morning for the last six months.

A second omnibus now comes up, and stops immediately behind us.
Another old gentleman elevates his cane in the air, and runs with
all his might towards our omnibus; we watch his progress with great
interest; the door is opened to receive him, he suddenly
disappears--he has been spirited away by the opposition. Hereupon
the driver of the opposition taunts our people with his having
'regularly done 'em out of that old swell,' and the voice of the
'old swell' is heard, vainly protesting against this unlawful
detention. We rattle off, the other omnibus rattles after us, and
every time we stop to take up a passenger, they stop to take him
too; sometimes we get him; sometimes they get him; but whoever
don't get him, say they ought to have had him, and the cads of the
respective vehicles abuse one another accordingly.

As we arrive in the vicinity of Lincoln's-inn-fields, Bedford-row,
and other legal haunts, we drop a great many of our original
passengers, and take up fresh ones, who meet with a very sulky
reception. It is rather remarkable, that the people already in an
omnibus, always look at newcomers, as if they entertained some
undefined idea that they have no business to come in at all. We
are quite persuaded the little old man has some notion of this
kind, and that he considers their entry as a sort of negative
impertinence.

Conversation is now entirely dropped; each person gazes vacantly
through the window in front of him, and everybody thinks that his
opposite neighbour is staring at him. If one man gets out at Shoe-
lane, and another at the corner of Farringdon-street, the little
old gentleman grumbles, and suggests to the latter, that if he had
got out at Shoe-lane too, he would have saved them the delay of
another stoppage; whereupon the young men laugh again, and the old
gentleman looks very solemn, and says nothing more till he gets to
the Bank, when he trots off as fast as he can, leaving us to do the
same, and to wish, as we walk away, that we could impart to others
any portion of the amusement we have gained for ourselves.

Charles Dickens