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   Chapter 3 WITH MR. PEASLEY IN DARKEST LONDON

In Pastures New By George Ade Characters: 17220

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


We did not expect to have Mr. Peasley with us in London. He planned to hurry on to Paris, but he has been waiting here for his trunk to catch up with him. The story of the trunk will come later.

As we steamed into Plymouth Harbour on a damp and overcast Sabbath morning, Mr. Peasley stood on the topmost deck and gave encouraging information to a man from central Illinois who was on his first trip abroad. Mr. Peasley had been over for six weeks in 1895, and that gave him license to do the "old traveller" specialty.

In beginning a story he would say, "I remember once I was crossing on the Umbria," or possibly, "That reminds me of a funny thing I once saw in Munich." He did not practise to deceive, and yet he gave strangers the impression that he had crossed on the Umbria possibly twelve or fourteen times and had spent years in Munich.

The Illinois man looked up to Mr. Peasley as a modern Marco Polo, and Mr. Peasley proceeded to unbend to him.

"A few years ago Americans were very unpopular in England," said Mr. Peasley. "Every one of them was supposed to have either a dynamite bomb or a bunch of mining stock in his pocket. All that is changed now-all changed. As we come up to the dock in Plymouth you will notice just beyond the station a large triumphal arch of evergreen bearing the words, 'Welcome, Americans!' Possibly the band will not be out this morning, because it is Sunday and the weather is threatening, but the Reception Committee will be on hand. If we can take time before starting for London no doubt a committee from the Commercial Club will haul us around in open carriages to visit the public buildings and breweries and other points of interest. And you'll find that your money is counterfeit out here. No use talkin', we're all one people-just like brothers. Wait till you get to London. You'll think you're right back among your friends in Decatur."

It was too early in the morning for the Reception Committee, but there was a policeman-one solitary, water-logged, sad-eyed policeman-waiting grewsomely on the dock as the tender came alongside. He stood by the gangplank and scrutinised us carefully as we filed ashore. The Illinois man looked about for the triumphal arch, but could not find it. Mr. Peasley explained that they had taken it in on account of the rain.

While the passengers were kept herded into a rather gloomy waiting room, the trunks and larger baggage were brought ashore and sorted out according to the alphabetical labels in an adjoining room to await the customs examination. When the doors opened there was a rush somewhat like the opening of an Oklahoma reservation. In ten minutes the trunks had been passed and were being trundled out to the special train. Above the babel of voices and the rattle of wheels arose the sounds of lamentation and modified cuss words. Mr. Peasley could not find his trunk. It was not with the baggage marked "P." It was not in the boneyard, or the discard, or whatever they call the heap of unmarked stuff piled up at one end of the room. It was not anywhere.

The other passengers, intent upon their private troubles, pawed over their possessions and handed out shillings right and left and followed the line of trucks out to the "luggage vans," and Mr. Peasley was left alone, still demanding his trunk. The station agent and many porters ran hither and thither, looking into all sorts of impossible places, while the locomotive bell rang warningly, and the guard begged Mr. Peasley to get aboard if he wished to go to London. Mr. Peasley took off his hat and leaned his head back and howled for his trunk. The train started and Mr. Peasley, after momentary indecision, made a running leap into our midst. There were six of us in a small padded cell, and five of the six listened for the next fifteen minutes to a most picturesque and impassioned harangue on the subject of the general inefficiency of German steamships and English railways.

And howled for his trunk

"Evidently the trunk was not sent ashore," someone suggested to Mr. Peasley. "If the trunk did not come ashore you could not reasonably expect the station officials to find it and put it aboard the train."

"But why didn't it come ashore?" demanded Mr. Peasley. "Everyone on the boat knew that I was going to get off at Plymouth. It was talked about all the way over. Other people got their trunks, didn't they? Have you heard of any German being shy a trunk? Has anybody else lost anything? No; they went over the passenger list and said, 'If we must hold out a trunk on anyone, let's hold it out on Peasley-old good thing Peasley.'"

Let's hold it out on Peasley

"Are you sure it was put on board at Hoboken?" he was asked.

"Sure thing. I checked it myself, or, rather, I got a fellow that couldn't speak any English to check it for me. Then I saw it lowered into the cellar, or the subway, or whatever they call it."

"Did you get a receipt for it?"

"You bet I did, and right here she is."

He brought out a congested card case and fumbled over a lot of papers, and finally unfolded a receipt about the size of a one-sheet poster. On top was a number and beneath it said in red letters at least two inches tall, "This baggage has been checked to Hamburg."

We called Mr. Peasley's attention to the reading matter, but he said it was a mistake, because he had been intending all the time to get off at Plymouth.

"Nevertheless, your trunk has gone to Hamburg."

"Where is Hamburg?"

"In Germany. The Teuton who checked your baggage could not by any effort of the imagination conceive the possibility of a person starting for anywhere except Hamburg. In two days your trunk will be lying on a dock in Germany."

"Well, there's one consolation," observed Mr. Peasley; "the clothes in that trunk won't fit any German."

When he arrived in London he began wiring for his trunk in several languages. After two days came a message couched in Volapuk or some other hybrid combination, which led him to believe that his property had been started for London.

Mr. Peasley spent a week in the world's metropolis with no clothes except a knockabout travelling outfit and what he called his "Tuxedo," although, over here they say "dinner jacket." In Chicago or Omaha Mr. Peasley could have got along for a week without any embarrassment to himself or others. Even in New York the "Tuxedo" outfit would have carried him through, for it is regarded as a passable apology for evening dress, provided the wearer wishes to advertise himself as a lonesome "stag." But in London there is no compromise. In every hotel lobby or dining-room, every restaurant, theatre or music hall, after the coagulated fog of the daytime settles into the opaque gloom of night, there is but one style of dress for any mortal who does not wish to publicly pose as a barbarian. The man who affects a "Tuxedo" might as well wear a sweater. In fact it would be better for him if he did wear a sweater, for then people would understand that he was making no effort to dress; but when he puts on a bobtail he conveys the impression that he is trying to be correct and doesn't understand the rules.

An Englishman begins to blossom about half-past seven p.m. The men seen in the streets during the day seem a pretty dingy lot compared with a well-dressed stream along Fifth Avenue. Many of the tall hats bear a faithful resemblance to fur caps. The trousers bag and the coat collars are bunched in the rear and all the shoes seem about two sizes too large. Occasionally you see a man on his way to a train and he wears a shapeless bag of a garment made of some loosely woven material that looks like gunnysack, with a cap that resembles nothing so much as a welsh rabbit that has "spread." To complete the picture, he carries a horse blanket. He thinks it is a rug, but it isn't. It is a horse blanket.

If the Englishman dressed for travel is the most sloppy of all civilised beings, so the Englishman in his night regalia is the most correct and irreproachable of mortals. He can wear evening clothes without being conscious of the fact that he is "dressed up." The trouble with the ordinary American who owns an open-faced suit is that he wears it only about once a month. For two days before assuming the splendour of full dress he broods over the approaching ordeal. As the fateful night draws near he counts up his studs and investigates the "white vest" situation. In the deep solitude of his room he mournfully climbs into the camphor-laden garments, and when he is ready to venture forth, a tall collar choking him abov

e, the glassy shoes pinching him below, he is just as much at ease as he would be in a full suit of armour, with casque and visor.

"Dressed down" and "Dressed up"

However, all this is off the subject. Here was Mr. Peasley in London, desirous of "cutting a wide gash," as he very prettily termed it, plenty of good money from Iowa burning in his pocket, and he could not get out and "associate" because of a mere deficiency in clothing.

At the first-class theatres his "bowler" hat condemned him and he was sent into the gallery. When he walked into a restaurant the head waiter would give him one quick and searching glance and then put him off in some corner, behind a palm. Even in the music halls the surrounding "Johnnies" regarded him with wonder as another specimen of the eccentric Yankee.

His bowler hat condemned him

We suggested to Mr. Peasley that he wear a placard reading "I have some clothes, but my trunk is in Hamburg." He said that as soon as his swell duds arrived he was going to put them on and revisit all of the places at which he had been humiliated and turned down, just to let the flunkeys know that they had been mistaken.

Mr. Peasley was greatly rejoiced to learn one day that he could attend a football game without wearing a special uniform. So he went out to see a non-brutal game played according to the Association rules. The gentle pastime known as football in America is a modification and overdevelopment of the Rugby game as played in Great Britain. The Association, or "Seeker" game, which is now being introduced in the United States as a counter-irritant for the old-fashioned form of manslaughter, is by far the more popular in England. The Rugby Association is waning in popularity, not because of any outcry against the character of the play or any talk of "brutality," but because the British public has a more abiding fondness for the Association game.

In America we think we are football crazy because we have a few big college games during October and November of each year. In Great Britain the football habit is something that abides, the same as the tea habit.

We are hysterical for about a month and then we forget the game unless we belong to the minority that is trying to debrutalise it and reduce the death rate.

Here it was, February in London, and on the first Saturday after our arrival forty-five Association games and thirty-eight Rugby games were reported in the London papers. At sixteen of the principal Association games the total attendance was over two hundred and fifty thousand and the actual receipts at these same games amounted to about $45,000. There were two games at each of which the attendance was over thirty thousand, with the receipts exceeding $5,000. A very conservative estimate of the total attendance at the games played on this Saturday would be five hundred thousand. In other words, on one Saturday afternoon in February the attendance at football games was equal to the total attendance at all of the big college games during an entire season in the United States. No wonder that the English newspapers are beginning to ask editorially "Is football a curse?" There is no clamour regarding the roughness of the game, but it is said to cost too much money and to take up too much time for the benefits derived.

The game to which Mr. Peasley conducted us was played in rather inclement weather-that is, inclement London weather-which means that it was the most terrible day that the imagination can picture-a dark, chilly, drippy day, with frequent downpours. It has been said that one cannot obtain icewater in London. This is a mistake. We obtained it by the hogshead.

In spite of the fact that the weather was bad beyond description, seventeen thousand spectators attended the game and saw it through to a watery finish.

Mr. Peasley looked on and was much disappointed. He said they used too many players and the number of fatalities was not at all in keeping with the advertised importance of the game. It was a huge crowd, but the prevailing spirit of solemnity worried Mr. Peasley. He spoke to a native standing alongside of him and asked:-"What's the matter with you folks over here? Don't you know how to back up a team? Where are all of your flags and ribbons, your tally-hos and tin horns? Is this a football game or a funeral?"

"Why should one wear ribbons at a football game?" asked the Englishman.

"Might as well put a little ginger into the exercises," suggested Mr. Peasley. "Do you sing during the game?"

"Heavens, no. Sing? Why should one sing during a football game? In what manner is vocal music related to an outdoor pastime of this character?"

"You ought to go to a game in Iowa City. We sing till we're black in the face-all about 'Eat 'em up, boys,' 'Kill 'em in their tracks,' and 'Buck through the line.' What's the use of coming to a game if you stand around all afternoon and don't take part? Have you got any yells?"

"What are those?"

"Can you beat that?" asked Mr. Peasley, turning to us. "A football game without any yells!"

The game started. By straining our eyes we could make out through the deep gloom some thirty energetic young men, very lightly clad, splashing about in all directions, and kicking in all sorts of aimless directions. Mr. Peasley said it was a mighty poor excuse for football. No one was knocked out; there was no bucking the line; there didn't even seem to be a doctor in evidence. We could not follow the fine points of the contest. Evidently some good plays were being made, for occasionally a low, growling sound-a concerted murmur-would arise from the multitude banked along the side lines.

"What is the meaning of that sound they are making?" asked Mr. Peasley, turning to the native standing alongside of him.

"They are cheering," was the reply.

"They are what?"

"Cheering."

"Great Scott! Do you call that cheering? At home, when we want to encourage the boys we get up on our hind legs and make a noise that you can hear in the next township. We put cracks in the azure dome. Cheering! Why, a game of croquet in the court house yard is eight times as thrilling as this thing. Look at those fellows juggling the ball with their feet. Why doesn't somebody pick it up and butt through that crowd and start a little rough work?"

The native gave Mr. Peasley one hopeless look and moved away.

We could not blame our companion for being disappointed over the cheering. An English cheer is not the ear-splitting demoniacal shriek, such as an American patriot lets out when he hears from another batch of precincts.

The English cheer is simply a loud grunt, or a sort of guttural "Hey! hey!" or "Hurray!"

When an English crowd cheers the sound is similar to that made by a Roman mob in the wings of a theatre.

After having once heard the "cheering" one can understand the meaning of a passage in the Parliamentary report, reading about as follows: "The gentleman hoped the house would not act with haste. (Cheers). He still had confidence in the committee (cheers), but would advise a careful consideration (cheers), etc."

It might be supposed from such a report that Parliament was one continuous "rough house," but we looked in one day and it is more like a cross between a Presbyterian synod and bee-keepers' convention.

About four o'clock we saw a large section of the football crowd moving over toward a booth at one end of the grounds. Mr. Peasley hurried after them, thinking that possibly someone had started a fight on the side and that his love of excitement might be gratified after all. Presently he returned in a state of deep disgust.

"Do you know why all those folks are flockin' over there?" he asked. "Goin' after their tea. Tea! Turnin' their backs on a football game to go and get a cup of tea! Why, that tea thing over there is worse than the liquor habit. Do you know, when the final judgment day comes and Gabriel blows his horn and all of humanity is bunched up, waitin' for the sheep to be cut out from the goats and put into a separate corral, some Englishman will look at his watch and discover that it's five o'clock and then the whole British nation will turn its back on the proceedings and go off looking for tea."

After we had stood in the rain for about an hour someone told Mr. Peasley that one team or the other had won by three goals to nothing, and we followed the moist throng out through the big gates.

"Come with me," said Mr. Peasley, "and I will take you to the only dry place in London."

So we descended to the "tuppenny tube."

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