Chapter 16. Omnibuses

by Charles Dickens

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.

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