A Series of Letters to the Mistress of Rudder Grange from her former Handmaiden
FRANK R. STOCKTON
ILLUSTRATED BY A.B. FROST
In Uniform Binding
RUDDER GRANGE Illustrated by A.B. Frost.
POMONA'S TRAVELS Illustrated by A.B. Frost.
LETTER ONE. Wanted,—a Vicarage
LETTER TWO. On the Four-in-hand
LETTER THREE. Jone overshadows the Waiter
LETTER FOUR. The Cottage at Chedcombe
LETTER FIVE. Pomona takes a Lodger
LETTER SIX. Pomona expounds Americanisms
LETTER SEVEN. The Hayfield
LETTER EIGHT. Jone teaches Young Ladies how to Rake
LETTER NINE. A Runaway Tricycle
LETTER TEN. Pomona slides Backward down the Slope of the Centuries
LETTER ELEVEN. On the Moors
LETTER TWELVE. Stag-hunting on a Tricycle
LETTER THIRTEEN. The Green Placard
LETTER FOURTEEN. Pomona and her David Llewellyn
LETTER FIFTEEN. Hogs and the Fine Arts
LETTER SIXTEEN. With Dickens in London
LETTER SEVENTEEN. Buxton and the Bath Chairs
LETTER EIGHTEEN. Mr. Poplington as Guide
LETTER NINETEEN. Angelica and Pomeroy
LETTER TWENTY. The Countess of Mussleby
LETTER TWENTY-ONE. Edinboro' Town
LETTER TWENTY-TWO. Pomona and her Gilly
LETTER TWENTY-THREE. They follow the Lady of the Lake
LETTER TWENTY-FOUR. Comparisons become Odious to Pomona
LETTER TWENTY-FIVE. The Family-Tree-Man
LETTER TWENTY-SIX. Searching for Dorkminsters
LETTER TWENTY-SEVEN. Their Country and their Custom House
Vignette Heading to Table of Contents
Tail piece to Table of Contents
Vignette Heading to List of Illustrations
Tail-piece to List of Illustrations
Heading and Initial Letter
"Boy, go order me a four-in-hand"
The Landlady with an "underdone visage"
"I looked at the ladder and at the top front seat"
"Down came a shower of rain"
"Ask the waiter what the French words mean"
Vignette Heading and Initial Letter
Jone giving an order
"You Americans are the speediest people"
"That was our house"
Vignette Heading and Initial Letter
"The young lady who keeps the bar"
"I see signs of weakening in the social boom"
At the Abbey
Vignette Heading and Initial Letter
"There, with the bar lady and the Marie Antoinette chambermaid, was Jone"
"At last I did get on my feet"
"Rise, Sir Jane Puddle"
Vignette Heading and initial Letter
"In an instant I was free"
"If you was a man I'd break your head"
"I'm a Home Ruler"
Vignette Heading and Initial Letter
"And with a screech I dashed at those hogs like a steam engine"
"In the winter, when the water is frozen, they can't get over"
"Who do you suppose we met? Mr. Poplington!"
Mr. Poplington looking for luggage
Vignette Heading and Initial Letter
Pomona encourages Jonas
"Stop, lady, and I'll get out"
Vignette Heading and Initial Letter
"Your brother is over there"
To the Cat and Fiddle
"And did you like Chedcombe?"
"Jone looked at him and said that was the Highland costume"
Vignette Heading and Initial Letter
"I didn't say anything, and taking the pole in both hands I gave it a wild twirl over my head"
Pomona drinking it in
Vignette Heading and Initial Letter
"A person who was a family-tree-man"
"This might be a Dorkminster"
Jone didn't carry any hand-bag, and I had only a little one
* * * * *
This series of letters, written by Pomona of "Rudder Grange" to her former mistress, Euphemia, may require a few words of introduction. Those who have not read the adventures and experiences of Pomona in "Rudder Grange" should be told that she first appeared in that story as a very young and illiterate girl, fond of sensational romances, and with some out-of-the-way ideas in regard to domestic economy and the conventions of society. This romantic orphan took service in the "Rudder Grange" family, and as the story progressed she grew up into a very estimable young woman, and finally married Jonas, the son of a well-to-do farmer. Even after she came into possession of a husband and a daughter Pomona did not lose her affection for her former employers.
About a year before the beginning of the travels described in these letters Jonas's father died and left a comfortable little property, which placed Pomona and her husband in independent circumstances. The ideas and ambitions of this eccentric but sensible young woman enlarged with her fortune. As her daughter was now going to school, Pomona was seized with the spirit of emulation, and determined as far as was possible to make the child's education an advantage to herself. Some of the books used by the little girl at school were carefully and earnestly studied by her mother, and as Jonas joined with hearty good-will in the labors and pleasures of this system of domestic study, the family standard of education was considerably raised. In the quick-witted and observant Pomona the improvement showed itself principally in her methods of expression, and although she could not be called at the time of these travels an educated woman, she was by no means an ignorant one.
When the daughter was old enough she was allowed to accept an invitation from her grandmother to spend the summer in the country, and Pomona determined that it was the duty of herself and husband to avail themselves of this opportunity for foreign travel.
Accordingly, one fine spring morning, Pomona, still a young woman, and Jonas, not many years older, but imbued with a semi-pathetic complaisance beyond his years, embarked for England and Scotland, to which countries it was determined to limit their travels. The letters which follow were written in consequence of the earnest desire of Euphemia to have a full account of the travels and foreign impressions of her former handmaiden. Pruned of dates, addresses, signatures, and of many personal and friendly allusions, these letters are here presented as Pomona wrote them to Euphemia.
Letter Number One
The first thing Jone said to me when I told him I was going to write about what I saw and heard was that I must be careful of two things. In the first place, I must not write a lot of stuff that everybody ought to be expected to know, especially people who have travelled themselves; and in the second place, I must not send you my green opinions, but must wait until they were seasoned, so that I can see what they are good for before I send them.
"But if I do that," said I, "I will get tired of them long before they are seasoned, and they will be like a bundle of old sticks that I wouldn't offer to anybody." Jone laughed at that, and said I might as well send them along green, for, after all, I wasn't the kind of a person to keep things until they were seasoned, to see if I liked them. "That's true," said I, "there's a great many things, such as husbands and apples, that I like a good deal better fresh than dry. Is that all the advice you've got to give?"
"For the present," said he; "but I dare say I shall have a good deal more as we go along."
"All right," said I, "but be careful you don't give me any of it green. Advice is like gooseberries, that's got to be soft and ripe, or else well cooked and sugared, before they're fit to take into anybody's stomach."
Jone was standing at the window of our sitting-room when I said this, looking out into the street. As soon as we got to London we took lodgings in a little street running out of the Strand, for we both want to be in the middle of things as long as we are in this conglomerate town, as Jone calls it. He says, and I think he is about right, that it is made up of half a dozen large cities, ten or twelve towns, at least fifty villages, more than a hundred little settlements, or hamlets, as they call them here, and about a thousand country houses scattered along around the edges; and over and above all these are the inhabitants of a large province, which, there being no province to put them into, are crammed into all the cracks and crevices so as to fill up the town and pack it solid.
When we was in London before, with you and your husband, madam, and we lost my baby in Kensington Gardens, we lived, you know, in a peaceful, quiet street by a square or crescent, where about half the inhabitants were pervaded with the solemnities of the past and the other half bowed down by the dolefulness of the present, and no way of getting anywhere except by descending into a movable tomb, which is what I always think of when we go anywhere in the underground railway. But here we can walk to lots of things we want to see, and if there was nothing else to keep us lively the fear of being run over would do it, you may be sure.
But, after all, Jone and me didn't come here to London just to see the town. We have ideas far ahead of that. When we was in London before I saw pretty nearly all the sights, for when I've got work like that to do I don't let the grass grow under my feet, and what we want to do on this trip is to see the country part of England and Scotland. And in order to see English country life just as it is, we both agreed that the best thing to do was to take a little house in the country and live there a while; and I'll say here that this is the only plan of the whole journey that Jone gets real enthusiastic about, for he is a domestic man, as you well know, and if anything swells his veins with fervent rapture it is the idea of living in some one place continuous, even if it is only for a month.
As we wanted a house in the country we came to London to get it, for London is the place to get everything. Our landlady advised us, when we told her what we wanted, to try and get a vicarage in some little village, because, she said, there are always lots of vicars who want to go away for a month in the summer, and they can't do it unless they rent their houses while they are gone. And in fact, some of them, she said, got so little salary for the whole year, and so much rent for their vicarages while they are gone, that they often can't afford to stay in places unless they go away.
So we answered some advertisements, and there was no lack of them in the papers, and three agents came to see us, but we did not seem to have any luck. Each of them had a house to let which ought to have suited us, according to their descriptions, and although we found the prices a good deal higher than we expected, Jone said he wasn't going to be stopped by that, because it was only for a little while and for the sake of experience—and experience, as all the poets, and a good many of the prose writers besides, tell us, is always dear. But after the agents went away, saying they would communicate with us in the morning, we never heard anything more from them, and we had to begin all over again. There was something the matter, Jone and I both agreed on that, but we didn't know what it was. But I waked up in the night and thought about this thing for a whole hour, and in the morning I had an idea.
"Jone," said I, when we was eating breakfast, "it's as plain as A B C that those agents don't want us for tenants, and it isn't because they think we are not to be trusted, for we'd have to pay in advance, and so their money's safe; it is something else, and I think I know what it is. These London men are very sharp, and used to sizing and sorting all kinds of people as if they was potatoes being got ready for market, and they have seen that we are not what they call over here gentlefolks."
"No lordly airs, eh?" said Jone.
"Oh, I don't mean that," I answered him back; "lordly airs don't go into parsonages, and I don't mean either that they see from our looks or manners that you used to drive horses and milk cows and work in the garden, and that I used to cook and scrub and was maid-of-all-work on a canal-boat; but they do see that we are not the kind of people who are in the habit, in this country, at least, of spending their evenings in the best parlors of vicarages."
"Do you suppose," said Jone, "that they think a vicar's kitchen would suit us better?"
"No," said I, "they wouldn't put us in a vicarage at all; there wouldn't be no place there that would not be either too high or too low for us. It's my opinion that what they think we belong in is a lordly house, where you'd shine most as head butler or a steward, while I'd be the housekeeper or a leading lady's maid."
"By George!" said Jone, getting up from the table, "if any of those fellows would favor me with an opinion like that I'd break his head."
"You'd have a lot of heads to break," said I, "if you went through this country asking for opinions on the subject. It's all very well for us to remember that we've got a house of our own as good as most rectors have over here, and money enough to hire a minor canon, if we needed one in the house; but the people over here don't know that, and it wouldn't make much difference if they did, for it wouldn't matter how nice we lived or what we had so long as they knew we was retired servants."
At this Jone just blazed up and rammed his hands into his pockets and spread his feet wide upon the floor. "Pomona," said he, "I don't mind it in you, but if anybody else was to call me a retired servant I'd—"
"Hold up, Jone," said I, "don't waste good, wholesome anger." Now, I tell you, madam, it really did me good to see Jone blaze up and get red in the face, and I am sure that if he'd get his blood boiling oftener it would be a good thing for his dyspeptic tendencies and what little malaria may be left in his system. "It won't do any good to flare up here," I went on to say to him; "fact's fact, and we was servants, and good ones, too, though I say it myself, and the trouble is we haven't got into the way of altogether forgetting it, or, at least, acting as if we had forgotten it."
Jone sat down on a chair. "It might help matters a little," he said, "if I knew what you was driving at."
"I mean just this," said I, "as long as we are as anxious not to give trouble, or as careful of people's feelings, as good-mannered to servants, and as polite and good-natured to everybody we have anything to do with, as we both have been since we came here, and as it is our nature to be, I am proud to say, we're bound to be set down, at least by the general run of people over here, as belonging to the pick of the nobility and gentry, or as well-bred servants. It's only those two classes that act as we do, and anybody can see we are not special nobles and gents. Now, if we want to be reckoned anywhere in between these two we've got to change our manners."
"Will you kindly mention just how?" said Jone.
"Yes," said I, "I will. In the first place, we've got to act as if we had always been waited on and had never been satisfied with the way it was done; we've got to let people think that we think we are a good deal better than they are, and what they think about it doesn't make the least difference; and then again we've got to live in better quarters than these, and whatever they may be we must make people think that we don't think they are quite good enough for us. If we do all that, agents may be willing to let us vicarages."
"It strikes me," said Jone, "that these quarters are good enough for us. I'm comfortable." And then he went on to say, madam, that when you and your husband was in London you was well satisfied with just such lodgings.
"That's all very well," I said, "for they never moved in the lower paths of society, and so they didn't have to make any change, but just went along as they had been used to go. But if we want to make people believe we belong to that class I should choose, if I had my pick out of English social varieties, we've got to bounce about as much above it as we were born below it, so that we can strike somewhere near the proper average."
"And what variety would you pick out, I'd like to know?" said Jone, just a little red in the face, and looking as if I had told him he didn't know timothy hay from oat straw.
"Well," said I, "it is not easy to put it to you exactly, but it's a sort of a cross between a prosperous farmer without children and a poor country gentleman with two sons at college and one in the British army, and no money to pay their debts with."
"That last is not to my liking," said Jone.
"But the farmer part of the cross would make it all right," I said to him, "and it strikes me that a mixture like that would just suit us while we are staying over here. Now, if you will try to think of yourself as part rich farmer and part poor gentleman, I'll consider myself the wife of the combination, and I am sure we will get along better. We didn't come over here to be looked upon as if we was the bottom of a pie dish and charged as if we was the upper crust. I'm in favor of paying a little more money and getting a lot more respectfulness, and the way to begin is to give up these lodgings and go to a hotel such as the upper middlers stop at. From what I've heard, the Babylon Hotel is the one for us while we are in London. Nobody will suspect that any of the people at that hotel are retired servants."
This hit Jone hard, as I knew it would, and he jumped up, made three steps across the room, and rang the bell so that the people across the street must have heard it, and up came the boy in green jacket and buttons, with about every other button missing, and I never knew him to come up so quick before.
"Boy," said Jone to him, as if he was hollering to a stubborn ox, "go order me a four-in-hand."
But this letter is so long I must stop for the present.
Letter Number Two
When Jone gave the remarkable order mentioned in my last letter I did not correct him, for I wouldn't do that before servants without giving him a chance to do it himself; but before either of us could say another word the boy was gone.
"Mercy on us," I said, "what a stupid blunder! You meant four-wheeler."
"Of course I did," he said; "I was a little mad and got things mixed, but I expect the fellow understood what I meant."
"You ought to have called a hansom any way," I said, "for they are a lot more stylish to go to a hotel in than in a four-wheeler."
"If there was six-wheelers I would have ordered one," said he. "I don't want anybody to have more wheels than we have."
At this moment the landlady came into the room with a sarcastic glimmer on her underdone visage, and, says she, "I suppose you don't understand about the vehicles we have in London. The four-in-hand is what the quality and coach people use when—" As I looked at Jone I saw his legs tremble, and I know what that means. If I was a wanderin' dog and saw Jone's legs tremble, the only thoughts that would fill my soul would be such as cluster around "Home, Sweet Home." Jone was too much riled by the woman's manner to be willing to let her think he had made a mistake, and he stopped her short. "Look here," he said to her, "I don't ask you to come here to tell me anything about vehicles. When I order any sort of a trap I want it." When I heard Jone say trap my soul lifted itself and I knew there was hope for us. The stiffness melted right out of the landlady, and she began to look soft and gummy.
"If you want to take a drive in a four-in-hand coach, sir," she said, "there's two or three of them starts every morning from Trafalgar Square, and it's not too late now, sir, if you go over there immediate."
"Go?" said Jone, throwing himself into a chair, "I said, order one to come. Where I live that sort of vehicle comes to the door for its passengers."
The woman looked at Jone with a venerative uplifting of her eyebrows. "I can't say, sir, that a coach will come, but I'll send the boy. They go to Dorking, and Seven Oaks, and Virginia Water—"
"I want to go to Virginia Water," said Jone, as quick as lightning.
"Now, then," said I, when the woman had gone, "what are you going to do if the coach comes?"
"Go to Virginia Water in it," said Jone, "and when we come back we can go to the hotel. I made a mistake, but I've got to stand by it or be called a greenhorn."
I was in hopes the four-in-hand wouldn't come, but in less than ten minutes there drove up to our door a four-horse coach which, not having half enough passengers, was glad to come such a little ways to get some more. There was a man in a high hat and red coat, who was blowing a horn as the thing came around the corner, and just as I was looking into the coach and thinking we'd have it all to ourselves, for there was nobody in it, he put a ladder up against the top, and says he, touching his hat, "There's a seat for you, madam, right next the coachman, and one just behind for the gentleman. 'Tain't often that, on a fine morning like this, such seats as them is left vacant on account of a sudden case of croup in a baronet's family."
I looked at the ladder and I looked at that top front seat, and I tell you, madam, I trembled in every pore, but I remembered then that all the respectable seats was on top, and the farther front the nobbier, and as there was a young woman sitting already on the box-seat, I made up my mind that if she could sit there I could, and that I wasn't going to let Jone or anybody else see that I was frightened by style and fashion, though confronted by it so sudden and unexpected. So up that ladder I went quick enough, having had practice in hay-mows, and sat myself down between the young woman and the coachman, and when Jone had tucked himself in behind me the horner blew his horn and away we went.
I tell you, madam, that box-seat was a queer box for me. I felt as though I was sitting on the eaves of a roof with a herd of horses cavoorting under my feet. I never had a bird's-eye view of horses before. Looking down on their squirming bodies, with the coachman almost standing on his tiptoes driving them, was so different from Jone's buggy and our tall gray horse, which in general we look up to, that for a good while I paid no attention to anything but the danger of falling out on top of them. But having made sure that Jone was holding on to my dress from behind, I began to take an interest in the things around me.
Knowing as much as I thought I did about the bigness of London, I found that morning that I never had any idea of what an everlasting town it is. It is like a skein of tangled yarn—there doesn't seem to be any end to it. Going in this way from Nelson's Monument out into the country, it was amazing to see how long it took to get there. We would go out of the busy streets into a quiet rural neighborhood, or what looked like it, and the next thing we knew we'd be in another whirl of omnibuses and cabs, with people and shops everywhere; and we'd go on and through this and then come to another handsome village with country houses, and the street would end in another busy town; and so on until I began to think there was no real country, at least, in the direction we was going. It is my opinion that if London was put on a pivot and spun round in the State of Texas until it all flew apart, it would spread all over the State and settle up the whole country.
At last we did get away from the houses and began to roll along on the best made road I ever saw, with a hedge on each side and the greenest grass in the fields, and the most beautiful trees, with the very trunks covered with green leaves, and with white sheep and handsome cattle and pretty thatched cottages, and everything in perfect order, looking as if it had just been sprinkled and swept. We had seen English country before, but that was from the windows of a train, and it was very different from this sort of thing, where we went meandering along lanes, for that is what the roads look like, being so narrow.
Just as I was getting my whole soul full of this lovely ruralness, down came a shower of rain without giving the least notice. I gave a jump in my seat as I felt it on me, and began to get ready to get down as soon as the coachman should stop for us all to get inside; but he didn't stop, but just drove along as if the sun was shining and the balmy breezes blowing, and then I looked around and not a soul of the eight people on the top of that coach showed the least sign of expecting to get down and go inside. They all sat there just as if nothing was happening, and not one of them even mentioned the rain. But I noticed that each of them had on a mackintosh or some kind of cape, whereas Jone and I never thought of taking anything in the way of waterproof or umbrellas, as it was perfectly clear when we started.
I looked around at Jone, but he sat there with his face as placid as a piece of cheese, looking as if he had no more knowledge it was raining than the two Englishmen on the seat next him. Seeing he wasn't going to let those men think he minded the rain any more than they did, I determined that I wouldn't let the young woman who was sitting by me have any notion that I minded it, and so I sat still, with as cheerful a look as I could screw up, gazing at the trees with as gladsome a countenance as anybody could have with water trickling down her nose, her cheeks dripping, and dewdrops on her very eyelashes, while the dampness of her back was getting more and more perceptible as each second dragged itself along. Jone turned up the hood of my coat, and so let down into the back of my neck what water had collected in it; but I didn't say anything, but set my teeth hard together and fixed my mind on Columbia, happy land, and determined never to say anything about rain until some English person first mentioned it.
But when one of the flowers on my hat leaned over the brim and exuded bloody drops on the front of my coat I began to weaken, and to think that if there was nothing better to do I might get under one of the seats; but just then the rain stopped and the sun shone. It was so sudden that it startled me; but not one of those English people mentioned that the rain had stopped and the sun was shining, and so neither did Jone or I. We was feeling mighty moist and unhappy, but we tried to smile as if we was plants in a greenhouse, accustomed to being watered and feeling all the better for it.
I can't write you all about the coach drive, which was very delightful, nor of that beautiful lake they call Virginia Water, and which I know you have a picture of in your house. They tell me it is artificial, but as it was made more than a hundred years ago, it might now be considered natural. We dined at an inn, and when we got back to town, with two more showers on the way, I said to Jone that I thought we'd better go straight to the Babylon Hotel, which we intended to start out for, although it was a long way round to go by Virginia Water, and see about engaging a room; and as Jone agreed I asked the coachman if he would put us down there, knowing that he'd pass near it. He agreed to this, would be an advertisement for his coach.
When we got on the street where the Babylon Hotel was he whipped up his horses so that they went almost on a run, and the horner blew his horn until his eyes seemed bursting, and with a grand sweep and a clank and a jingle we pulled up at the front of the big hotel. Out marched the head porter in a blue uniform, and out ran two under-porters with red coats, and down jumped the horner and put up his ladder, and Jone and I got down, after giving the coachman half-a-crown, and receiving from the passengers a combined gaze of differentialism which had been wholly wanting before. The men in the red coats looked disappointed when they saw we had no baggage, but the great doors was flung open and we went straight up to the clerk's desk.
When we was taken to look at rooms I remembered that there was always danger of Jone's tendency to thankful contentment getting the better of him, and I took the matter in hand myself. Two rooms good enough for anybody was shown us, but I was not going to take the first thing that was offered, no matter what it was. We settled the matter by getting a first-class room, with sofas and writing-desks and everything convenient, for only a little more than we was charged for the other rooms, and the next morning we went there.
When we went back to our lodgings to pack up, and I looked in the glass and saw what a smeary, bedraggled state my hat and head was in, from being rained on, I said to Jone, "I don't see how those people ever let such a person as me have a room at their hotel."
"It doesn't surprise me a bit," said Jone; "nobody but a very high and mighty person would have dared to go lording it about that hotel with her hat feathers and flowers all plastered down over her head. Most people can be uppish in good clothes, but to look like a scare-crow and be uppish can't be expected except from the truly lofty."
"I hope you are right," I said, and I think he was.
We hadn't been at the Babylon Hotel, where we are now, for more than two days when I said to Jone that this sort of thing wasn't going to do. He looked at me amazed. "What on earth is the matter now?" he said. "Here is a room fit for a royal duke, in a house with marble corridors and palace stairs, and gorgeous smoking-rooms, and a post-office, and a dining-room pretty nigh big enough for a hall of Congress, with waiters enough to make two military companies, and the bills of fare all in French. If there is anything more you want, Pomona—"
"Stop there" said I; "the last thing you mention is the rub. It's the dining-room; it's in that resplendent hall that we've got to give ourselves a social boom or be content to fold our hands and fade away forever."
"Which I don't want to do yet," said Jone, "so speak out your trouble."
"The trouble this time is you," said I, "and your awful meekness. I never did see anybody anywhere as meek as you are in that dining-room. A half-drowned fly put into the sun to dry would be overbearing and supercilious compared to you. When you sit down at one of those tables you look as if you was afraid of hurting the chair, and when the waiter gives you the bill of fare you ask him what the French words mean, and then he looks down on you as if he was a superior Jove contemplating a hop-toad, and he tells you that this one means beef and the other means potatoes, and brings you the things that are easiest to get. And you look as if you was thankful from the bottom of your heart that he is good enough to give you anything at all. All the airs I put on are no good while you are so extra humble. I tell him I don't want this French thing—when I don't know what it is—and he must bring me some of the other—which I never heard of—and when it comes I eat it, no matter what it turns out to be, and try to look as if I was used to it, but generally had it better cooked. But, as I said before, it is of no use—your humbleness is too much for me. In a few days they will be bringing us cold victuals, and recommending that we go outside somewhere and eat them, as all the seats in the dining-room are wanted for other people."
"Well," said Jone, "I must say I do feel a little overshadowed when I go into that dining-room and see those proud and haughty waiters, some of them with silver chains and keys around their necks, showing that they are lords of the wine-cellar, and all of them with an air of lofty scorn for the poor beings who have to sit still and be waited on; but I'll try what I can do. As far as I am able, I'll hold up my end of the social boom."
You may think I break off my letters sudden, madam, like the instalments in a sensation weekly, which stops short in the most harrowing parts, so as to make certain the reader will buy the next number; but when I've written as much as I think two foreign stamps will carry—for more than fivepence seems extravagant for a letter—I generally stop.
Letter Number Three
At dinner-time the day when I had the conversation with Jone mentioned in my last letter, we was sitting in the dining-room at a little table in a far corner, where we'd never been before. Not being considered of any importance they put us sometimes in one place and sometimes in another, instead of giving us regular seats, as I noticed most of the other people had, and I was looking around to see if anybody was ever coming to wait on us, when suddenly I heard an awful noise.
I have read about the rumblings of earthquakes, and although I never heard any of them, I have felt a shock, and I can imagine the awfulness of the rumbling, and I had a feeling as if the building was about to sway and swing as they do in earthquakes. It wasn't all my imagining, for I saw the people at the other tables near us jump, and two waiters who was hurrying past stopped short as if they had been jerked up by a curb bit. I turned to look at Jone, but he was sitting up straight in his chair, as solemn and as steadfast as a gate-post, and I thought to myself that if he hadn't heard anything he must have been struck deaf, and I was just on the point of jumping up and shouting to him, "Fly, before the walls and roof come down upon us!" when that awful noise occurred again. My blood stood frigid in my veins, and as I started back I saw before me a waiter, his face ashy pale, and his knees bending beneath him. Some people near us were half getting up from their chairs, and I pushed back and looked at Jone again, who had not moved except that his mouth was open. Then I knew what it was that I thought was an earthquake—it was Jone giving an order to the waiter.
I bit my lips and sat silent; the people around kept on looking at us, and the poor man who was receiving the shock stood trembling like a leaf. When the volcanic disturbance, so to speak, was over, the waiter bowed himself, as if he had been a heathen in a temple, and gasping, "Yes, sir, immediate," glided unevenly away. He hadn't waited on us before, and little thought, when he was going to stride proudly pass our table, what a double-loaded Vesuvius was sitting in Jone's chair. I leaned over the table and said to Jone that if he would stick to that we could rent a bishopric if we wanted to, and I was so proud I could have patted him on the back. Well, after that we had no more trouble about being waited on, for that waiter of ours went about as if he had his neck bared for the fatal stroke and Jone was holding the cimeter.
The head waiter came to us before we was done dinner and asked if we had everything we wanted and if that table suited us, because if it did we could always have it. To which Jone distantly thundered that if he would see that it always had a clean tablecloth it would do well enough.
Even the man who stood at the big table in the middle of the room and carved the cold meats, with his hair parted in the middle, and who looked as if he were saying to himself, as with a bland dexterity and tastefulness he laid each slice upon its plate, "Now, then, the socialistic movement in Paris is arrested for the time being, and here again I put an end to the hopes of Russia getting to the sea through Afghanistan, and now I carefully spread contentment over the minds of all them riotous Welsh miners," even he turned around and bowed to us as we passed him, and once sent a waiter to ask if we'd like a little bit of potted beef, which was particularly good that day.
Jone kept up his rumblings, though they sounded more distant and more deep under ground, and one day at luncheon an elderly woman, who was sitting alone at a table near us, turned to me and spoke. She was a very plain person, with her face all seamed and rough with exposure to the weather, like as if she had been captain to a pilot boat, and with a general appearance of being a cook with good recommendations, but at present out of a place. I might have wondered at such a person being at such a hotel, but remembering what I had been myself I couldn't say what mightn't happen to other people.
"I'm glad to see," said she, "that you sent away that mutton, for if more persons would object to things that are not properly cooked we'd all be better served. I suppose that in your country most people are so rich that they can afford to have the best of everything and have it always. I fancy the great wealth of American citizens must make their housekeeping very different from ours."
Now I must say I began to bristle at being spoken to like that. I'm as proud of being an American as anybody can be, but I don't like the home of the free thrown into my teeth every time I open my mouth. There's no knowing what money Jone and I have lost through giving orders to London cabmen in what is called our American accent. The minute we tell the driver of a hansom where we want to go, that place doubles its distance from the spot we start from. Now I think the great reason Jone's rumbling worked so well was that it had in it a sort of Great British chest-sound, as if his lungs was rusty. The waiter had heard that before and knew what it meant. If he had spoken out in the clear American fashion I expect his voice would have gone clear through the waiter without his knowing it, like the person in the story, whose neck was sliced through and who didn't know it until he sneezed and his head fell off.
"Yes, ma'am," said I, answering her with as much of a wearied feeling as I could put on, "our wealth is all very well in some ways, but it is dreadful wearing on us. However, we try to bear up under it and be content."
"Well," said she, "contentment is a great blessing in every station, though I have never tried it in yours. Do you expect to make a long stay in London?"
As she seemed like a civil and well-meaning woman, and was the first person who had spoken to us in a social way, I didn't mind talking to her, and I told her we was only stopping in London until we could find the kind of country house we wanted, and when she asked what kind that was, I described what we wanted and how we was still answering advertisements and going to see agents, who was always recommending exactly the kind of house we did not care for.
"Vicarages are all very well," said she, "but it sometimes happens, and has happened to friends of mine, that when a vicar has let his house he makes up his mind not to waste his money in travelling, and he takes lodgings near by and keeps an eternal eye upon his tenants. I don't believe any independent American would fancy that."
"No, indeed," said I; and then she went on to say that if we wanted a small country house for a month or two she knew of one which she believed would suit us, and it wasn't a vicarage either. When I asked her to tell me about it she brought her chair up to our table, together with her mug of beer, her bread and cheese, and she went into particulars about the house she knew of.
"It is situated," said she, "in the west of England, in the most beautiful part of our country. It is near one of the quaintest little villages that the past ages have left us, and not far away are the beautiful waters of the Bristol Channel, with the mountains of Wales rising against the sky on the horizon, and all about are hills and valleys, and woods and beautiful moors and babbling streams, with all the loveliness of cultivated rurality merging into the wild beauties of unadorned nature." If these was not exactly her words, they express the ideas she roused in my mind. She said the place was far enough away from railways and the stream of travel, and among the simple peasantry, and that in the society of the resident gentry we would see English country life as it is, uncontaminated by the tourist or the commercial traveller.
I can't remember all the things she said about this charming cottage in this most supremely beautiful spot, but I sat and listened, and the description held me spell-bound, as a snake fascinates a frog; with this difference, instead of being swallowed by the description, I swallowed it.
When the old woman had given us the address of the person who had the letting of the cottage, and Jone and me had gone to our room, I said to him, before we had time to sit down:
"What do you think?"
"I think," said he, "that we ought to follow that old woman's advice and go and look at this house."
"Go and look at it?" I exclaimed. "Not a bit of it. If we do that, we are bound to see something or hear something that will make us hesitate and consider, and if we do that, away goes our enthusiasm and our rapture. I say, telegraph this minute and say we'll take the house, and send a letter by the next mail with a postal order in it, to secure the place."
Jone looked at me hard, and said he'd feel easier in his mind if he understood what I was talking about.
"Never mind understanding," I said. "Go down and telegraph we'll take the house. There isn't a minute to lose!"
"But," said Jone, "if we find out when we get there—"
"Never mind that," said I. "If we find out when we get there it isn't all we thought it was, and we're bound to do that, we'll make the best of what doesn't suit us because it can't be helped; but if we go and look at it it's ten to one we won't take it."
"How long are we to take it for?" said Jone.
"A month anyway, and perhaps longer," I told him, giving him a push toward the door.
"All right," said he, and he went and telegraphed. I believe if Jone was told he could go anywhere and stay for a month he'd choose that place from among all the most enchanting spots on the earth where he couldn't stay so long. As for me, the one thing that held me was the romanticness of the place. From what the old woman said I knew there couldn't be any mistake about that, and if I could find myself the mistress of a romantic cottage near an ancient village of the olden time I would put up with most everything except dirt, and as dirt and me seldom keeps company very long, even that can't frighten me.
When I saw the old woman at luncheon the next day and told her what we had done she was fairly dumfounded.
"Really! really!" she said, "you Americans are the speediest people I ever did see. Why, an English person would have taken a week to consider that place before taking it."
"And lost it, ten to one," said I.
She shook her head.
"Well," said she, "I suppose it's on account of your habits, and you can't help it, but it's a poor way of doing business."
Now I began to think from this that her conscience was beginning to trouble her for having given so fairy-like a picture of the house, and as I was afraid that she might think it her duty to bring up some disadvantages, I changed the conversation and got away as soon as I could. When we once get seated at our humble board in our rural cot I won't be afraid of any bugaboos, but I didn't want them brought up then. I can generally depend upon Jone, but sometimes he gets a little stubborn.
We didn't see this old person any more, and when I asked the waiter about her the next day he said he was sure she had left the hotel, by which I suppose he must have meant he'd got his half-crown. Her fading away in this fashion made it all seem like a myth or a phantasm, but when, the next morning, we got a receipt for the money Jone sent, and a note saying the house was ready for our reception, I felt myself on solid ground again, and to-morrow we start, bag and baggage, for Chedcombe, which is the name of the village where the house is that we have taken. I'll write to you, madam, as soon as we get there, and I hope with all my heart and soul that when we see what's wrong with it—and there's bound to be something—that it may not be anything bad enough to make us give it up and go floating off in voidness, like a spider-web blown before a summer breeze, without knowing what it's going to run against and stick to, and, what is more, probably lose the money we paid in advance.
Letter Number Four
Last winter Jone and I read all the books we could get about the rural parts of England, and we knew that the country must be very beautiful, but we had no proper idea of it until we came to Chedcombe. I am not going to write much about the scenery in this part of the country, because, perhaps, you have been here and seen it, and anyway my writing would not be half so good as what you could read in books, which don't amount to anything.
All I'll say is that if you was to go over the whole of England, and collect a lot of smooth green hills, with sheep and deer wandering about on them; brooks, with great trees hanging over them, and vines and flowers fairly crowding themselves into the water; lanes and roads hedged in with hawthorn, wild roses, and tall purple foxgloves; little woods and copses; hills covered with heather; thatched cottages like the pictures in drawing-books, with roses against their walls, and thin blue smoke curling up from the chimneys; distant views of the sparkling sea; villages which are nearly covered up by greenness, except their steeples; rocky cliffs all green with vines, and flowers spreading and thriving with the fervor and earnestness you might expect to find in the tropics, but not here—and then, if you was to put all these points of scenery into one place not too big for your eye to sweep over and take it all in, you would have a country like that around Chedcombe.
I am sure the old lady was right when she said it was the most beautiful part of England. The first day we was here we carried an umbrella as we walked through all this verdant loveliness, but yesterday morning we went to the village and bought a couple of thin mackintoshes, which will save us a lot of trouble opening and shutting umbrellas.
When we got out at the Chedcombe station we found a man there with a little carriage he called a fly, who said he had been sent to take us to our house. There was also a van to carry our baggage. We drove entirely through the village, which looked to me as if a bit of the Middle Ages had been turned up by the plough, and on the other edge of it there was our house, and on the doorstep stood a lady, with a smiling eye and an umbrella, and who turned out to be our landlady. Back of her was two other females, one of them looking like a minister's wife, while the other one I knew to be a servant-maid, by her cap.
The lady, whose name was Mrs. Shutterfield, shook hands with us and seemed very glad to see us, and the minister's wife took our hand bags from us and told the men where to carry our trunks. Mrs. Shutterfield took us into a little parlor on one side of the hall, and then we three sat down, and I must say I was so busy looking at the queer, delightful room, with everything in it—chairs, tables, carpets, walls, pictures, and flower-vases—all belonging to a bygone epoch, though perfectly fresh, as if just made, that I could scarcely pay attention to what the lady said. But I listened enough to know that Mrs. Shutterfield told us that she had taken the liberty of engaging for us two most excellent servants, who had lived in the house before it had been let to lodgers, and who, she was quite sure, would suit us very well, though, of course, we were at liberty to do what we pleased about engaging them. The one that I took for the minister's wife was a combination of cook and housekeeper, by the name of Miss Pondar, and the other was a maid in general, named Hannah. When the lady mentioned two servants it took me a little aback, for we had not expected to have more than one, but when she mentioned the wages, and I found that both put together did not cost as much as a very poor cook would expect in America, and when I remembered we as now at work socially booming ourselves, and that it wouldn't do to let this lady think that we had not been accustomed to varieties of servants, I spoke up and said we would engage the two estimable women she recommended, and was much obliged to her for getting them.
Then we went over that house, down stairs and up, and of all the lavender-smelling old-fashionedness anybody ever dreamed of, this little house has as much as it can hold. It is fitted up all through like one of your mother's bonnets, which she bought before she was married and never wore on account of a funeral in the family, but kept shut up in a box, which she only opens now and then to show to her descendants. In every room and on the stairs there was a general air of antiquated freshness, mingled with the odors of English breakfast tea and recollections of the story of Cranford, which, if Jone and me had been alone, would have made me dance from the garret of that house to the cellar. Every sentiment of romance that I had in my soul bubbled to the surface, and I felt as if I was one of my ancestors before she emigrated to the colonies. I could not say what I thought, but I pinched Jone's arm whenever I could get a chance, which relieved me a little; and when Miss Pondar had come to me with a little courtesy, and asked me what time I would like to have dinner, and told me what she had taken the liberty of ordering, so as to have everything ready by the time I came, and Mrs. Shutterfield had gone, after begging to know what more she could do for us, and we had gone to our own room, I let out my feelings in one wild scream of delirious gladness that would have been heard all the way to the railroad station if I had not covered my head with two pillows and the corner of a blanket.
After we had dinner, which was as English as the British lion, and much more to our taste than anything we had had in London, Jone went out to smoke a pipe, and I had a talk with Miss Pondar about fish, meat, and groceries, and about housekeeping matters in general. Miss Pondar, whose general aspect of minister's wife began to wear off when I talked to her, mingles respectfulness and respectability in a manner I haven't been in the habit of seeing. Generally those two things run against each other, but they don't in her.
When she asked what kind of wine we preferred I must say I was struck all in a heap, for wines to Jone and me is like a trackless wilderness without compass or binnacle light, and we seldom drink them except made hot, with nutmeg grated in, for colic; but as I wanted her to understand that if there was any luxuries we didn't order it was because we didn't approve of them, I told her that we was total abstainers, and at that she smiled very pleasant and said that was her persuasion also, and that she was glad not to be obliged to handle intoxicating drinks, though, of course, she always did it without objection when the family used them. When I told Jone this he looked a little blank, for foreign water generally doesn't agree with him. I mentioned this afterwards to Miss Pondar, and she said it was very common in total abstaining families, when water didn't agree with any one of them, especially if it happened to be the gentleman, to take a little good Scotch whiskey with it; but when I told this to Jone he said he would try to bear up under the shackles of abstinence.
This morning, when I was talking with Miss Pondar about fish, and trying to show her that I knew something about the names of English fishes, I said that we was very fond of whitebait. At this she looked astonished for the first time.
"Whitebait?" said she. "We always looked upon that as belonging entirely to the nobility and gentry." At this my back began to bristle, but I didn't let her know it, and I said, in a tone of emphatic mildness, that we would have whitebait twice a week, on Tuesday and Friday. At this Miss Pondar gave a little courtesy and thanked me very much, and said she would attend to it.
When Jone and me came back after taking a long walk that morning I saw a pair of Church of England prayer-books, looking as if they had just been neatly dusted, lying on the parlor table, where they hadn't been before, for I had carefully looked over every book. I think that when it was borne in upon Miss Pondar's soul that we was accustomed to having whitebait as a regular thing she made up her mind we was all right, and that nothing but the Established Church would do for us. Before, she might have thought we was Wesleyans.
Our maid Hannah is very nice to look at, and does her work as well as anybody could do it, and, like most other English servants, she's in a state of never-ending thankfulness, but as I can never understand a word she says except "Thank you very much," I asked Jone if he didn't think it would be a good thing for me to try to teach her a little English.
"Now then," said he, "that's the opening of a big subject. Wait until I fill my pipe and we'll discourse upon it." It was just after luncheon, and we was sitting in the summer-house at the end of the garden, looking out over the roses and pinks and all sorts of old-timey flowers growing as thick as clover heads, with an air as if it wasn't the least trouble in the world to them to flourish and blossom. Beyond the flowers was a little brook with the ducks swimming in it, and beyond that was a field, and on the other side of that field was a park belonging to the lord of the manor, and scattered about the side of a green hill in the park was a herd of his lordship's deer. Most of them was so light-colored that I fancied I could almost see through them, as if they was the little transparent bugs that crawl about on leaves. That isn't a romantic idea to have about deers, but I can't get rid of the notion whenever I see those little creatures walking about on the hills.
At that time it was hardly raining at all, just a little mist, with the sun coming into the summer-house every now and then, making us feel very comfortable and contented.
"Now," said Jone, when he had got his pipe well started, "what I want to talk about is the amount of reformation we expect to do while we're sojourning in the kingdom of Great Britain."
"Reformation!" said I; "we didn't come here to reform anything."
"Well," said Jone, "if we're going to busy our minds with these people's shortcomings and long-goings, and don't try to reform them, we're just worrying ourselves and doing them no good, and I don't think it will pay. Now, for instance, there's that rosy-cheeked Hannah. She's satisfied with her way of speaking English, and Miss Pondar understands it and is satisfied with it, and all the people around here are satisfied with it. As for us, we know, when she comes and stands in the doorway and dimples up her cheeks, and then makes those sounds that are more like drops of molasses falling on a gong than anything else I know of, we know that she is telling us in her own way that the next meal, whatever it is, is ready, and we go to it."
"Yes," said I, "and as I do most of my talking with Miss Pondar, and as we shall be here for such a short time anyway, it may be as well—"
"What I say about Hannah," said Jone, interrupting me as soon as I began to speak about a short stay, "I have to say about everything else in England that doesn't suit us. As long as Hannah doesn't try to make us speak in her fashion I say let her alone. Of course, we shall find a lot of things over here that we shall not approve of—we knew that before we came—and when we find we can't stand their ways and manners any longer we can pack up and go home, but so far as I'm concerned I'm getting along very comfortable so far."
"Oh, so am I," I said to him, "and as to interfering with other people's fashions, I don't want to do it. If I was to meet the most paganish of heathens entering his temple with suitable humbleness I wouldn't hurt his feelings on the subject of his religion, unless I was a missionary and went about it systematic; but if that heathen turned on me and jeered at me for attending our church at home, and told me I ought to go down on my marrow-bones before his brazen idols, I'd whang him over the head with a frying-pan or anything else that came handy. That's the sort of thing I can't stand. As long as the people here don't snort and sniff at my ways I won't snort and sniff at theirs."
"Well," said Jone, "that is a good rule, but I don't know that it's going to work altogether. You see, there are a good many people in this country and only two of us, and it will be a lot harder for them to keep from sniffing and snorting than for us to do it. So it's my opinion that if we expect to get along in a good-humored and friendly way, which is the only decent way of living, we've got to hold up our end of the business a little higher than we expect other people to hold up theirs."
I couldn't agree altogether with Jone about our trying to do better than other people, but I said that as the British had been kind enough to make their country free to us, we wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth unless it kicked. To which Jone said I sometimes got my figures of speech hind part foremost, but he knew what I meant.
We've lived in our cottage two weeks, and every morning when I get up and open our windows, which has little panes set in strips of lead, and hinges on one side so that it works like a door, and look out over the brook and the meadows and the thatched roofs, and see the peasant men with their short jackets and woollen caps, and the lower part of their trousers tied round with twine, if they don't happen to have leather leggings, trudging to their work, my soul is filled with welling emotions as I think that if Queen Elizabeth ever travelled along this way she must have seen these great old trees and, perhaps, some of these very houses; and as to the people, they must have been pretty much the same, though differing a little in clothes, I dare say; but, judging from Hannah, perhaps not very much in the kind of English they spoke.
I declare that when Jone and me walk about through the village, and over the fields, for there is a right of way—meaning a little path—through most all of them, and when we go into the old church, with its yew-trees, and its gravestones, and its marble effigies of two of the old manor lords, both stretched flat on their backs, as large as life, the gentleman with the end of his nose knocked off and with his feet crossed to show he was a crusader, and the lady with her hands clasped in front of her, as if she expected the generations who came to gaze on her tomb to guess what she had inside of them, I feel like a character in a novel.
I have kept a great many of my joyful sentiments to myself, because Jone is too well contented as it is, and there is a great deal yet to be seen in England. Sometimes we hire a dogcart and a black horse named Punch, from the inn in the village, and we take long drives over roads that are almost as smooth as bowling alleys. The country is very hilly, and every time we get to the top of a hill we can see, spread about us for miles and miles, the beautiful hills and vales, and lordly residences and cottages, and steeple tops, looking as though they had been stuck down here and there, to show where villages had been planted.
Letter Number Five
This morning, when Jone was out taking a walk and I was talking to Miss Pondar, and getting her to teach me how to make Devonshire clotted cream, which we have for every meal, putting it on everything it will go on, into everything it will go into, and eating it by itself when there is nothing it will go on or into; and trying to find out why it is that whitings are always brought on the table with their tails stuck through their throats, as if they had committed suicide by cutting their jugular veins in this fashion, I saw, coming along the road to our cottage, a pretty little dogcart with two ladies in it. The horse they drove was a pony, and the prettiest creature I ever saw, being formed like a full-sized horse, only very small, and with as much fire and spirit and gracefulness as could be got into an animal sixteen hands high. I heard afterward that he came from Exmoor, which is about twelve miles from here, and produces ponies and deers of similar size and swiftness. They stopped at the door, and one of them got out and came in. Miss Pondar told me she wished to see me, and that she was Mrs. Locky, of the "Bordley Arms" in the village.
"The innkeeper's wife?" said I; to which Miss Pondar said it was, and I went into the parlor. Mrs. Locky was a handsome-looking lady, and wearing as stylish clothes as if she was a duchess, and extremely polite and respectful.
She said she would have asked Mrs. Shutterfield to come with her and introduce her, but that lady was away from home, and so she had come by herself to ask me a very great favor.
When I begged her to sit down and name it she went on to say there had come that morning to the inn a very large party in a coach-and-four, that was making a trip through the country, and as they didn't travel on Sunday they wanted to stay at the "Bordley Arms" until Monday morning.
"Now," said she, "that puts me to a dreadful lot of trouble, because I haven't room to accommodate them all, and even if I could get rooms for them somewhere else they don't want to be separated. But there is one of the best rooms at the inn which is occupied by an elderly gentleman, and if I could get that room I could put two double beds in it and so accommodate the whole party. Now, knowing that you had a pleasant chamber here that you don't use, I thought I would make bold to come and ask you if you would lodge Mr. Poplington until Monday?"
"What sort of a person is this Mr. Poplington, and is he willing to come here?"
"Oh, I haven't asked him yet," said she, "but he is so extremely good-natured that I know he will be glad to come here. He has often asked me who lived in this extremely picturesque cottage."
"You must have an answer now?" said I.
"Oh, yes," said she, "for if you cannot do me this favor I must go somewhere else, and where to go I don't know."
Now I had begun to think that the one thing we wanted in this little home of ours was company, and that it was a great pity to have that nice bedroom on the second floor entirely wasted, with nobody ever in it. So, as far as I was concerned, I would be very glad to have some pleasant person in the house, at least for a day or two, and I didn't believe Jone would object. At any rate it would put a stop, at least for a little while, to his eternally saying how Corinne, our daughter, would enjoy that room, and how nice it would be if we was to take this house for the rest of the season and send for her. Now, Corinne's as happy as she can be at her grand-mother's farm, and her school will begin before we're ready to come home, and, what is more, we didn't come here to spend all our time in one place.
While I was thinking of these things I was looking out of the window at the lady in the dogcart who was holding the reins. She was as pretty as a picture, and wore a great straw hat with lovely flowers in it. As I had to give an answer without waiting for Jone to come home, and I didn't expect him until luncheon time, I concluded to be neighborly, and said we would take the gentleman to oblige her. Even if the arrangement didn't suit him or us, it wouldn't matter much for that little time. At which Mrs. Locky was very grateful indeed, and said she would have Mr. Poplington's luggage sent around that afternoon, and that he would come later.
As she got up to go I said to her, "Is that young lady out there one of the party who came with the coach and four?"
"Oh, no," said Mrs. Locky, "she lives with me. She is the young lady who keeps the bar."
I expect I opened my mouth and eyes pretty wide, for I was never so astonished. A young lady like that keeping the bar! But I didn't want Mrs. Locky to know how much I was surprised, and so I said nothing about it.
When they had gone and I had stood looking after them for about a minute, I remembered I hadn't asked whether Mr. Poplington would want to take his meals here, or whether he would go to the inn for them. To be sure, she only asked me to lodge him, but as the inn is more than half a mile from here, he may want to be boarded. But this will have to be found out when he comes, and when Jone comes home it will have to be found out what he thinks about my taking a lodger while he's out taking a walk.
Letter Number Six
When Jone came home and I told him a gentleman was coming to live with us, he thought at first I was joking; and when he found out that I meant what I said he looked very blue, and stood with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground, considering.
"He's not going to take his meals here, is he?"
"I don't think he expects that," I said, "for Mrs. Locky only spoke of lodging."
"Oh, well," said Jone, looking as if his clouds was clearing off a little, "I don't suppose it will matter to us if that room is occupied over Sunday, but I think the next time I go out for a stroll I'll take you with me."
I didn't go out that afternoon, and sat on pins and needles until half-past five o'clock. Jone wanted me to walk with him, but I wouldn't do it, because I didn't want our lodger to come here and be received by Miss Pondar. At half-past five there came a cart with the gentleman's luggage, as they call it here, and I was glad Jone wasn't at home. There was an enormous leather portmanteau which looked as if it had been dragged by a boy too short to lift it from the ground, half over the world; a hat-box, also of leather, but not so draggy looking; a bundle of canes and umbrellas, a leather dressing-case, and a flat, round bathing-tub. I had the things taken up to the room as quickly as I could, for if Jone had seen them he'd think the gentleman was going to bring his family with him.
It was nine o'clock and still broad daylight when Mr. Poplington himself came, carrying a fishing-rod put up in parts in a canvas bag, a fish-basket, and a small valise. He wore leather leggings and was about sixty years old, but a wonderful good walker. I thought, when I saw him coming, that he had no rheumatism whatever, but I found out afterward that he had a little in one of his arms. He had white hair and white side-whiskers and a fine red face, which made me think of a strawberry partly covered with Devonshire clotted cream. Jone and I was sitting in the summer-house, he smoking his pipe, and we both went to meet the gentleman. He had a bluff way of speaking, and said he was much obliged to us for taking him in; and after saying that it was a warm evening, a thing which I hadn't noticed, he asked to be shown to his room. I sent Hannah with him, and then Jone and I went back to the summer-house.
I didn't know exactly why, but I wasn't in as good spirits as I had been, and when Jone spoke he didn't make me feel any better.
"It seems to me," said he, "that I see signs of weakening in the social boom. That man considers us exactly as we considered our lodging-house keeper in London. Now, it doesn't strike me that that sample person you was talking about, who is a cross between a rich farmer and a poor gentleman, would go into the lodging-house business." I couldn't help agreeing with Jone, and I didn't like it a bit. The gentleman hadn't said anything or done anything that was out of the way, but there was a benignant loftiness about him which grated on the inmost fibres of my soul.
"I'll tell you what we'll do," said I, turning sharp on Jone, "we won't charge him a cent. That'll take him down, and show him what we are. We'll give him the room as a favor to Mrs. Locky, considering her in the light of a neighbor and one who sent us a cucumber."
"All right," said Jone, "I like that way of arranging the business. Up goes the social boom again!"
Just as we was going up to bed Miss Pondar came to me and said that the gentleman had called down to her and asked if he could have a new-laid egg for his breakfast, and she asked if she should send Hannah early in the morning to see if she could get a perfectly fresh egg from one of the cottages. "I thought, ma'am, that perhaps you might object to buying things on Sunday."
"I do," I said. "Does that Mr. Poplington expect to have his breakfast here? I only took him to lodge."
"Oh, ma'am," said Miss Pondar, "they always takes their breakfasts where they has their rooms. Dinner and luncheon is different, and he may expect to go to the inn for them."
"Indeed!" said I. "I think he may, and if he breakfasts here he can take what we've got. If the eggs are not fresh enough for him he can try to get along with some bacon. He can't expect that to be fresh."
Knowing that English people take their breakfast late, Jone and I got up early, so as to get through before our lodger came down. But, bless me, when we went to the front door to see what sort of a day it was we saw him coming in from a walk. "Fine morning," said he, and in fact there was only a little drizzle of rain, which might stop when the sun got higher; and he stood near us and began to talk about the trout in the stream, which, to my utter amazement, he called a river.
"Do you take your license by the day or week?" he said to Jone.
"License!" said Jone, "I don't fish."
"Really!" exclaimed Mr. Poplington. "Oh, I see, you are a cycler."
"No," said Jone, "I'm not that, either, I'm a pervader."
"Really!" said the old gentleman; "what do you mean by that?"
"I mean that I pervade the scenery, sometimes on foot and sometimes in a trap. That's my style of rural pleasuring."
"But you do fish at home," I said to Jone, not wishing the English gentleman to think my husband was a city man, who didn't know anything about sport.
"Oh, yes," said Jone, "I used to fish for perch and sunfish."
"Sunfish?" said Mr. Poplington. "I don't know that fish at all. What sort of a fly do you use?"
"I don't fish with any flies at all," said Jone; "I bait my hook with worms."
Mr. Poplington's face looked as if he had poured liquid shoe-blacking on his meat, thinking it was Worcestershire sauce. "Fancy! Worms! I'd never take a rod in my hands if I had to use worms. Never used a worm in my life. There's no sort of science in worm fishing."
"There's double sport," said Jone, "for first you've got to catch your worm. Then again, I hate shams; if you have to catch fish there's no use cheating them into the bargain."
"Cheat!" cried Mr. Poplington. "If I had to catch a whale I'd fish for him with a fly. But you Americans are strange people. Worms, indeed!"
"We don't all use worms," said Jone; "there's lots of fly fishers in America, and they use all sorts of flies. If we are to believe all the Californians tell us some of the artificial flies out there must be as big as crows."
"Really?" said Mr. Poplington, looking hard at Jone, with a little twinkling in his eyes. "And when gentlemen fish who don't like to cheat the fishes, what size of worms do they use?"
"Well," said Jone, "in the far West I've heard that the common black snake is the favorite bait. He's six or seven feet long, and fishermen that use him don't have to have any line. He's bait and line all in one."
Mr. Poplington laughed. "I see you are fond of a joke," said he, "and so am I, but I'm also fond of my breakfast."
"I'm with you there," said Jone, and we all went in.
Mr. Poplington was very pleasant and chatty, and of course asked a great many questions about America. Nearly all English people I've met want to talk about our country, and it seems to me that what they do know about it isn't any better, considered as useful information, than what they don't know. But Mr. Poplington has never been to America, and so he knows more about us than those Englishmen who come over to write books, and only have time to run around the outside of things, and get themselves tripped up on our ragged edges.
He said he had met a good many Americans, and liked them, but he couldn't see for the life of him why they do some things English people don't do, and don't do things English people do do. For instance, he wondered why we don't drink tea for breakfast. Miss Pondar had made it for him, knowing he'd want it, and he wonders why Americans drink coffee when such good tea as that was comes in their reach.
Now, if I had considered Mr. Poplington as a lodger it might have nettled me to have him tell me I didn't know what was good, but remembering that we was giving him hospitality, and not board, and didn't intend to charge him a cent, but was just taking care of him out of neighborly kindness, I was rather glad to have him find a little fault, because that would make me feel as if I was soaring still higher above him the next morning, when I should tell him there was nothing to pay.
So I took it all good-natured, and said to him, "Well, Americans like to have the very best things that can be got out of every country. We're like bees flying over the whole world, looking into every blossom to see what sweetness there is to be got out of it. From the lily of France we sip their coffee, from the national flower of India, whatever it is, we take their chutney sauce, and as to those big apple tarts, baked in a deep dish, with a cup in the middle to hold up the upper crust, and so full of apples, and so delicious with Devonshire clotted cream on them that if there was any one place in the world they could be had I believe my husband would want to go and live there forever, they are what we extract from the rose of England."
Mr. Poplington laughed like anything at this, but said there was a great many other things that he could show us and tell us about which would be very well worth while sipping from the rose of England.
After breakfast he went to church with us, and as we was coming home—for he didn't seem to have the least idea of going to the inn for his luncheon—he asked if we didn't find the services very different from those in America.
"Yes," said I, "they are about as different from Quaker services as a squirting fountain is from a corked bottle. The Methodists and Unitarians and Reformed Dutch and Campbellites and Hard-shell Baptists have different services too, but in the Episcopal churches things are all pretty much the same as they did this morning. You forget, sir, that in our country there are religions to suit all sizes of minds. We haven't any national religion any more than we have a national flower."
"But you ought to have," said he; "you ought to have an established church."
"You may be sure we'll have it," said Jone, "as soon as we agree as to which one it ought to be."
Letter Number Seven
Last Sunday afternoon Mr. Poplington asked us if we would not like to walk over to a ruined abbey about four miles away, which he said was very interesting. It seemed to me that four miles there and four miles back was a pretty long walk, but I wanted to see the abbey, and I wasn't going to let him think that a young American woman couldn't walk as far as an elderly English gentleman; so I agreed and so did Jone. The abbey is a wonderful place, and I never thought of being tired while wandering in the rooms and in the garden, where the old monks used to live and preach, and give food to the poor, and keep house without women—which was pious enough, but must have been untidy. But the thing that surprised me the most was what Mr. Poplington told us about the age of the place. It was not built all at once, and it's part ancient and part modern, and you needn't wonder, madam, that I was astonished when he said that the part called modern was finished just three years before America was discovered. When I heard that I seemed to shrivel up as if my country was a new-born babe alongside of a bearded patriarch; but I didn't stay shrivelled long, for it can't be denied that a new-born babe has a good deal more to look forward to than a patriarch has.
It is amazing how many things in this part of the country we'd never have thought of if it hadn't been for Mr. Poplington. At dinner he told us about Exmoor and the Lorna Doone country, and the wild deer hunting that can be had nowhere else in England, and lots of other things that made me feel we must be up and doing if we wanted to see all we ought to see before we left Chedcombe. When I went upstairs I said to Jone that Mr. Poplington was a very different man from what I thought he was.
"He's just as nice as he can be, and I'm going to charge him for his room and his meals and for everything he's had."
Jone laughed, and asked me if that was the way I showed people I liked them.
"We intended to humble him by not charging him anything," I said, "and make him feel he had been depending on our bounty; but now I wouldn't hurt his feelings for the world, and I'll make out his bill in the morning myself. Women always do that sort of thing in England."
As you asked me, madam, to tell you everything that happened on our travels, I'll go on about Mr. Poplington. After breakfast on Monday morning he went over to the inn, and said he would come back and pack up his things; but when he did come back he told us that those coach-and-four people had determined not to leave Chedcombe that day, but was going to stay and look at the sights in the neighborhood, and that they would want the room for that night. He said this had made him very angry, because they had no right to change their minds that way after having made definite arrangements in which other people besides themselves was concerned; and he had said so very plainly to the gentleman who seemed to be at the head of the party.
"I hope it will be no inconvenience to you, madam," he said, "to keep me another night."
"Oh, dear, no," said I; "and my husband was saying this morning that he wished you was going to stay with us the rest of our time here."
"Really!" exclaimed Mr. Poplington. "Then I'll do it. I'll go to the inn this minute and have the rest of my luggage brought over here. If this is any punishment to Mrs. Locky she deserves it, for she shouldn't have told those people they could stay longer without consulting me."
In less than an hour there came a van to our cottage with the rest of his luggage. There must have been over a dozen boxes and packages, besides things tied up and strapped; and as I saw them being carried up one at a time, I said to Miss Pondar that in our country we'd have two or three big trunks, which we could take about without any trouble.
"Yes, ma'am," said she; but I could see by her face that she didn't believe luggage would be luggage unless you could lug it, but was too respectful to say so.
When Mr. Poplington got settled down in our spare room he blossomed out like a full-blown friend of the family, and accordingly began to give us advice. He said we should go as soon as we could and see Exmoor and all that region of country, and that if we didn't mind he'd like to go with us; to which we answered, of course, we should like that very much, and asked him what he thought would be the best way to go. So we had ever so much talk about that, and although we all agreed it would be nicer not to take a public coach, but travel private, we didn't find it easy to decide as to the manner of travel. We all agreed that a carriage and horses would be too expensive, and Jone was rather in favor of a dogcart for us if Mr. Poplington would like to go on horseback; but the old gentleman said it would be too much riding for him, and if we took a dogcart he'd have to take another one. But this wouldn't be a very sociable way of travelling, and none of us liked it.
"Now," exclaimed Mr. Poplington, striking his hand on the table, "I'll tell you exactly how we ought to go through that country—we ought to go on cycles."
"Bicycles?" said I.
"Tricycles, if you like," he answered, "but that's the way to do it. It'll be cheap, and we can go as we like and stop when we like. We'll be as free and independent as the Stars and Stripes, and more so, for they can't always flap when they like and stop flapping when they choose. Have you ever tried it, madam?"
I replied that I had, a little, because my daughter had a tricycle, and I had ridden on it for a short distance and after sundown, but as for regular travel in the daytime I couldn't think of it.
At this Jone nearly took my breath away by saying that he thought that the bicycle idea was a capital one, and that for his part he'd like it better than any other way of travelling through a pretty country. He also said he believed I could work a tricycle just as well as not, and that if I got used to it I would think it fine.
I stood out against those two men for about a half an hour, and then I began to give in a little, and think that it might be nice to roll along on my own little wheels over their beautiful smooth roads, and stop and smell the hedges and pick flowers whenever I felt like it; and so it ended in my agreeing to do the Exmoor country on a tricycle while Mr. Poplington and Jone went on bicycles. As to getting the machines, Mr. Poplington said he would attend to that. There was people in London who hired them to excursionists, and all he had to do was to send an order and they would be on hand in a day or two; and so that matter was settled and he wrote to London. I thought Mr. Poplington was a little old for that sort of exercise, but I found he had been used to doing a great deal of cycling in the part of the country where he lives; and besides, he isn't as old as I thought he was, being not much over fifty. The kind of air that keeps a country always green is wonderful in bringing out early red and white in a person.
"Everything happens wonderfully well, madam," said he, coming in after he had been to post his letter in a red iron box let into the side of the Wesleyan chapel, "doesn't it? Now here we're not able to start on our journey for two or three days, and I have just been told that the great hay-making in the big meadow to the south of the village is to begin to-morrow. They make the hay there only every other year, and they have a grand time of it. We must be there, and you shall see some of our English country customs."
We said we'd be sure to be in for that sort of thing.
I wish, madam, you could have seen that great hayfield. It belongs to the lord of the manor, and must have twenty or thirty acres in it. They've been three or four days cutting the grass on it with a machine, and now there's been nearly two days with hardly any rain, only now and then some drizzling, and a good, strong wind, which they think here is better for the hay-making than sunshine, though they don't object to a little sun. All the people in the village who had legs good enough to carry them to that field went to help make hay. It was a regular holiday, and as hay is clean, nearly everybody was dressed in good clothes. Early in the morning some twenty regular farm laborers began raking the hay at one end of the field, stretching themselves nearly the whole way across it, and as the day went on more and more people came, men and women, high and low. All the young women and some of the older ones had rakes, and the way they worked them was amazing to see, but they turned over the hay enough to dry it. As to schoolgirls and boys, there was no end of them in the afternoon, for school let out early. Some of them worked, but most of them played and cut up monkey-shines on the hay. Even the little babies was brought on the field, and nice, soft beds made for them under the trees at one side.