1888: A Jonah Williams Adventure

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Newly appointed political cartoonist Jonah Williams journeys "across the pond" to England on assignment from the New York Times. In the heart of London, Jonah is captivated by the Victorian city and all it has to offer; including its history, culture, and danger.

Adventure / Mystery
Joseph Greer
Age Rating:


Liverpool looks no different that Savannah.

That was the first thing Jonah thought as he stepped onto the gangplank and off the passenger ship S.S. Republic. He surveyed the scene around him and witnessed loads of cotton, wrapped tight with hemp twine, stacked high on the docks. The array of steamships that surrounded the busy harbor bore a similar cotton burden, packed to the wheels with the snowy fabric. Save for the cool weather, Liverpool looked no different than the South.

Jonah was pleased to be egressing from the ship, as the ocean voyage left him pale and sickly throughout the four-week trip. Although he count handle and mount a horse, stormy ocean travel did not agree with Jonah’s stomach muscles. He inhaled deeply; the docks smelled of fish and coal.

Let’s get on, Mr. Williams!”

The commanding voice behind Jonah startled him; his boss didn’t like waiting. Jonah made his way down the gangplank onto English soil. His boss, celebrated political cartoonist Thomas Nast, followed behind.

Jonah had been working for Nast less than three months. The grizzled old German kept a natural tense atmosphere around him, as being the head cartoonist for the New York Times required sand and grit; no time was to be wasted on Thomas Nast’s schedule. Jonah scored the apprenticeship just this last winter, after the large blizzard had sped through New York City and dropped several feet of snow on the city. It was a lucky yet sorrowful winter.

He checked his pocket watch; the same blessed watch his own father had given to him, and which saved his life years back by deflecting a bullet. Jonah rubbed his finger over the gold embossed eagle on the front cover and looked to the greying skies. The two men had plenty of time. Jonah recalled the telegram in his head; they had a five hour train trip to London from the Liverpool station, where Mr. Nast and “guest” would be picked up by a coach and taken to the new Savoy Hotel.

The porter handed down the two large steamer trunks and Jonah’s bag, a carpet-sewn string sack that carried all that was necessary. Jonah always packed light, even for a long oversea assignment. He felt is wasn’t necessary to load himself up with Sunday-best garments, sporting wear, wool pants or other trinkets; Mr. Nast’s two full, very large steamer trunks conveyed the opposite of Jonah’s humble sack; it also betrayed the man’s need for ego and vanity.

A short coach ride saw the two men poured out on the Liverpool Station of the Great Central railway, a line that ran fast down to London. The “railway mania” of England saw nearly ten thousand miles of track laid down in a few years, keeping the small country closer together. Jonah recalled the vastness of the American landscape, taking over three days’ train ride to get to New York City; he’d be in London now in less than a quarter of a day. The spry locomotive Iron Duke whistled its departing tune, and the men stepped onto the carriages. A porter took their tickets and whisked them away to their waiting box.

The opulent box accommodations made Jonah nearly whistle in awe. Plush, red-velvet seats awaited his aching back, and a small side table carved with wooden lions held a porcelain tea set adorned with… more lions. Nast commanded the porter to make the hot tea while Jonah opened the window.

“Close that window, it’s not good weather here.” Nast’s order was firm.

Jonah shut the window. He gazed out at the passing industrial city of Liverpool. He was too far away to make out Wellington’s Column, a tall granite monument to the great Irish-born Duke. The large coal city shrank from view with each chug of the locomotive’s wheels. Liverpool was vastly becoming a contender for a world city, even being called the “New York of Europe” in most papers.

More like Savannah, thought Jonah.

The Iron Duke chugged down the small gauge tracks, giving the passengers on each side an open view of the lush fields around the outer parts of the smoky city. Jonah saw roaming cattle, bound for the steakhouses, playfully eating the grass and swishing their lazy tails about to ward off curious flies. A magnificent 16th-century Tudor house, Speke Hall, passed by.

The old days of England was something Jonah was intrigued by, as his own America was but a toddler on the world stage. Just over one hundred years of being a democracy don’t trump a thousand-year monarchy, and Jonah decided to absorb as much of the culture, history, and cuisine Victorian England had to offer. Speke Hall, which had been around since the time of ole King Henry the head-chopper, spoke to Jonah in hushed tones. The past and events that those wattle-and-daub walls had seen; and he was going straight to the center of Britain’s enormous heart- London.

Jonah couldn’t wait to see what the city offered. His twenty-seven year old self felt ten years younger.

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