Waiting at Tottlepot by J. Ashby-Sterry

An hour to wait! Well that's a nuisance, but I suppose there is no help for it.

I cannot possibly go on without my portmanteau. And they may send the wrong one after all. I believe my friend the dismal porter—the faded misanthrope in corduroys, only telegraphed for a brown portmanteau. There are probably twenty brown portmanteaux at this present moment waiting at Jigby Junction, and if I know anything of railway officials, they will be sure to send the wrong one. So here I must wait.

I suppose I must have made a mistake in the train. No trap, dog-cart, or conveyance of any kind to meet me from Clewmere. Wonder whether they had my telegram. The Faded Misanthrope says he is quite certain nothing has been over from Clewmere since the day before yesterday. And then he says Sir Charles and some of the young ladies came in the waggonette. They waited to see two trains in, he told me, and then drove away saying there must be some mistake. Hope I did not say Tuesday instead of Thursday, or what is far more likely, write Thursday to look like Tuesday. I ask my friend the porter if there is any other way of getting to Clewmere. "No," he says, "it is a longish walk, a matter of twelve or thirteen miles, and a pretty rough road too."

"Now," he says "if it had only been Saturday instead of Thursday, there is Smaggleton's 'bus, as 'ud put you down within five minutes' walk of the lodge. Smaggleton don't run every day, he don't; he only runs o' Saturdays, bein' market day at Stamborough, and a pooty full load he gets there and back, which pays Smaggleton very well. And Smaggleton wants it," he continues, "what with the branch line to Stamborough, Smaggleton's business ain't what it was; he can't afford to turn up his nose at a few farmers and their missusses now-a-days. Smaggleton must take things as they come—the good and the bad, the rough and the smooth—as well as the rest of us. Lor, bless you, Sir, I recollect when Smaggleton used to drive about in his dog-cart, in a light top coat, a white hat and a rose in his button-hole, he always was quite the——"

As I do not feel particularly interested in the rise, progress or downfall of Smaggleton, I am obliged to interrupt my garrulous friend, and ask if they did not let out flys at the Crackleton Arms, hard by. He informs me, they certainly do "in a usual way." But he adds, they have only two flys. One is having something done to the wheels, and the other went away early this morning to take some friends of Squire Bullamore's to a pic-nic. He furthermore tells me that Cudgerry, the carrier, would perhaps be able to give me a lift, but he would not be here till seven o'clock this evening. As they dine at Clewmere at eight, of course Cudgerry is quite out of the question. My friend shakes his head, he retires into a dark, greasy room, which seems to be devoted to lamps, and I continue my walk up and down the platform.

Cannot imagine why they ever built a station at Tottlepot. Nobody ever wants to stop at Tottlepot, there is no trade at Tottlepot—indeed, nobody ought to be allowed to stop at Tottlepot; and Tottlepot as a Station ought to be forthwith disestablished and erased from the railway map of Great Britain. If I had left the train at Jigby Junction, I should not have lost my portmanteau, I could have hired a fly, and should by this time have been quietly lunching at Clewmere Court instead of pacing up and down the Tottlepot platform like a wild beast in his den.

I have often waited at stations before. Every kind of station, little and big, all over the Continent and England, and have generally found that waiting productive of considerable amusement. But Tottlepot is quite a different thing. I think it was Albert Smith who once spoke of the depth of dulness being achieved by "spending a wet Sunday, all by yourself, in a hack cab in the middle of Salisbury Plain." Had he been compelled to wait on a fine Thursday at Tottlepot he would have discovered a depth yet lower. The only thing in my favour is, it is fine. If it were wet I cannot imagine what I should do. There is a small room I see labelled "Waiting-Room." It is about the size of a bathing-machine and half filled with parcels and bandboxes. If you had to wait there you would be compelled to sit with your legs right across the down platform; the only use of that waiting-room would be to keep your hat dry.

There is not a refreshment room, there is not even a book-stall. I cannot even cheer myself with an ancient bath bun, a glass of cloudy beer, or two penny-worth of acidulated drops. (If there happened to be a refreshment room at Tottlepot that is exactly the kind of refreshment they would give you). Neither can I pass away the time by purchasing a penny paper, and taking a free read of all the novels and publications awaiting purchasers. There are no advertisements, no lovely oil paintings of sea-side resorts, which are all the more charming from being not the least like the place they are supposed to represent; there are no bills of entertainments; no auctioneers' and house-agents' notices; no posters concerning hotels, nor glass-cases containing photographic specimens. It is just the place for Mark Tapley to come to as station-master. And he, with all his power of being jolly under the most disadvantageous circumstances, would probably be found under the wheels of a passing express within a fortnight.

And talking about the station-master reminds me I have not yet seen him. Possibly my friend, the Faded Misanthrope in corduroys, is station-master. If so, he has to clean the lamps, send telegrams, take and issue tickets, look after the baggage, attend to the signals, cultivate his garden, pay visits to the Crackleton Arms, and superintend the traffic of the station generally. I do not wonder at his appearing to be somewhat depressed. The only thing of a lively nature I see about the place is a fine black cat, with enormous green eyes, which might be utilised as "caution" signals when the porter, in consequence of his multifarious duties, was unable to reach the signal-box. This cat was evidently very much pleased to see me indeed. It followed me up and down the platform like a dog, and it purred like a saw-pit in full work.

A very tiny pale governess, with two big bouncing rosy girls, in the highest of spirits, the shortest of petticoats and the longest of hair, cross the line. I fancy those young ladies are daughters of the Vicar, and I may meet their excellent mamma at dinner to-night. The governess passes demurely through the side wicket. One of her charges tries to do a sort of Blondin feat by walking along the glistening iron rail and falls down; the eldest boldly clambers over the five-barred gate and shows a shapely pair of legs, clad in sable hose and snow-white frilled pantalettes. "What did I tell you, Lil?" says the governess in the mildest voice to the first. "Very well, Gil, wait till we get home!" she remarks in yet sweeter tones to the second. The two children rejoin her at once and take her hand, and disappear down the lane. I am left to wonder how she acquires this influence over them, for they are as tall as she is and infinitely stronger—they could eat her, were they so minded. I wonder too what will happen to Gil when they get home? Will mamma be told? No, I fancy this mild little governess is quite equal to controlling, unaided, these big bouncing girls.

My friend the porter has by this time got through a quantity of business of a varied nature, and is enjoying a little light relaxation by digging violently in his garden. He has taken off his jacket, and a good deal of his depression seems to have been removed at the same time—it must be depressing to be compelled to reside in a somewhat tight corduroy jacket all your life—and as he digs he hums to himself a sort of merry dirge. I endeavour to enter into the spirit of the thing, and sympathise with him in his relaxation. I say cheerfully, as if I knew all about it, "Ah! nice fine weather for the——!" I cannot for the life of me think what it is nice fine weather for. My friend says, "Eh?" I observe he is not so respectful in his private as in his porterial capacity. I reply, "Quite so!" whereupon he rejoins, "Ha! but we could do wi' a bit o' rain for the——." Cannot catch remainder of his sentence; but I never yet met a gardener who couldn't "do wi' a bit o' rain" for something or other.

We begin to be quite voluble on the subject of plants and crops. I find he knows so much more on the subject than I do, but I merely nod my head and smile weakly and presently move quietly away. When I reach the other end of the platform I hear the sharp jingle of the telegraph bell and the jerk of the signal levers. Presently a very prim and neat station-master appears, who looks as if he had just been turned out of one of the band-boxes in the waiting room. There is also a very active boy porter, who is apparently trying to run over the station-master with a truck. My old friend is walking slowly along the platform. He has left the gay horticulturist in the garden, and has assumed the Faded Misanthrope with his corduroy jacket. He tells me that the train is now coming—the one that will bring my portmanteau. The train presently stops; a few dazed agriculturists, and a very stout fussy old lady, half-a-dozen milk cans, and my portmanteau are put out.

I am gazing at the latter to be quite sure it is my own, when I hear myself addressed by name. I turn round and see a smart groom whose face I know well. "Anything else beside the portmanteau, sir?" he says, touching his hat. "Sir Charles is outside with the waggonette; the new pair is a little bit fresh, and he don't like to leave 'em."

That is all right. I think to myself I shall dine at Clewmere after all.