THE RUDDER GRANGERS ABROAD AND OTHER STORIES
FRANK R. STOCKTON
I. EUPHEMIA AMONG THE PELICANS II. THE RUDDER GRANGERS IN ENGLAND III. POMONA'S DAUGHTER IV. DERELICT V. THE BAKER OF BARNBURY VI. THE WATER-DEVIL
EUPHEMIA AMONG THE PELICANS.
The sun shone warm and soft, as it shines in winter time in the semi-tropics. The wind blew strong, as it blows whenever and wherever it listeth. Seven pelicans labored slowly through the air. A flock of ducks rose from the surface of the river. A school of mullet, disturbed by a shark, or some other unscrupulous pursuer, sprang suddenly out of the water just before us, and fell into it again like the splashing of a sudden shower.
I lay upon the roof of the cabin of a little yacht. Euphemia stood below, her feet upon the mess-chest, and her elbows resting on the edge of the cabin roof. A sudden squall would have unshipped her; still, if one would be happy, there are risks that must be assumed. At the open entrance of the cabin, busily writing on a hanging-shelf that served as a table, sat a Paying Teller. On the high box which during most of the day covered our stove was a little lady, writing in a note-book. On the forward deck, at the foot of the mast, sat a young man in a state of placidness. His feet stuck out on the bowsprit, while his mildly contemplative eyes went forth unto the roundabout.
At the tiller stood our guide and boatman, his sombre eye steady on the south-by-east. Around the horizon of his countenance there spread a dark and six-days' beard, like a slowly rising thunder-cloud; ever and anon there was a gleam of white teeth, like a bright break in the sky, but it meant nothing. During all our trip, the sun never shone in that face. It never stormed, but it was always cloudy. But he was the best boatman on those waters, and when he stood at the helm we knew we sailed secure. We wanted a man familiar with storms and squalls, and if this familiarity had developed into facial sympathy, it mattered not. We could attend to our own sunshine. At his feet sat humbly his boy of twelve, whom we called "the crew." He was making fancy knots in a bit of rope. This and the occupation of growing up were the only labors in which he willingly engaged.
Euphemia and I had left Rudder Grange, to spend a month or two in Florida, and we were now on a little sloop-yacht on the bright waters of the Indian River. It must not be supposed that, because we had a Paying Teller with us, we had set up a floating bank. With this Paying Teller, from a distant State, we had made acquaintance on our first entrance into Florida. He was travelling in what Euphemia called "a group," which consisted of his wife,—the little lady with the note-book,—the contemplative young man on the forward deck, and himself.
This Paying Teller had worked so hard and so rapidly at his business for several years, and had paid out so much of his health and strength, that it was necessary for him to receive large deposits of these essentials before he could go to work again. But the peculiar habits of his profession never left him. He was continually paying out something. If you presented a conversational check to him in the way of a remark, he would, figuratively speaking, immediately jump to his little window and proceed to cash it, sometimes astonishing you by the amount of small change he would spread out before you.
When he heard of our intention to cruise on Indian River he wished to join his group to our party, and as he was a good fellow we were glad to have him do so. His wife had been, or was still, a schoolteacher. Her bright and cheerful face glistened with information.
The contemplative young man was a distant connection of the Teller, and his first name being Quincy, was commonly called Quee. If he had wanted to know any of the many things the little teacher wished to tell he would have been a happy youth; but his contemplation seldom crystallized into a knowledge of what he did want to know.
"And how can I," she once said to Euphemia and myself, "be expected ever to offer him any light when he can never bring himself to actually roll up a question?"
This was said while I was rolling a cigarette.
The group was greatly given to writing in journals, and making estimates. Euphemia and I did little of this, as it was our holiday, but it was often pleasant to see the work going on. The business in which the Paying Teller was now engaged was the writing of his journal, and his wife held a pencil in her kidded fingers and a little blank-book on her knees.
This was our first day upon the river.
"Where are we?" asked Euphemia. "I know we are on the Indian River, but where is the Indian River?"
"It is here," I said.
"But where is here?" reiterated Euphemia.
"There are only three places in the world," said the teacher, looking up from her book,—"here, there, and we don't know where. Every spot on earth is in one or the other of those three places."
"As far as I am concerned," said Euphemia, "the Indian River is in the last place."
"Then we must hasten to take it out," said the teacher, and she dived into the cabin, soon reappearing with a folding map of Florida. "Here," she said, "do you see that wide river running along part of the Atlantic coast of the State, and extending down as far as Jupiter Inlet? That is Indian River, and we are on it. Its chief characteristics are that it is not a river, but an arm of the sea, and that it is full of fish."
"It seems to me to be so full," said I, "that there is not room for them all—that is, if we are to judge by the way the mullet jump out."
"I think," said the teacher, making a spot with her pencil on the map, "that just now we are about here."
"It is the first time," said Euphemia, "that I ever looked upon an unknown region on the map, and felt I was there."
Our plans for travel and living were very simple. We had provided ourselves on starting with provisions for several weeks, and while on the river we cooked and ate on board our little vessel. When we reached Jupiter Inlet we intended to go into camp. Every night we anchored near the shore. Euphemia and I occupied the cabin of the boat; a tent was pitched on shore for the Teller and his wife; there was another tent for the captain and his boy, and this was shared by the contemplative young man.
Our second night on the river was tinged with incident. We had come to anchor near a small settlement, and our craft had been moored to a rude wharf. About the middle of the night a wind-storm arose, and Euphemia and I were awakened by the bumping of the boat against the wharf-posts. Through the open end of the cabin I could see that the night was very dark, and I began to consider the question whether or not it would be necessary for me to get up, much preferring, however, that the wind should go down. Before I had made up my mind we heard a step on the cabin above us, and then a quick and hurried tramping. I put my head out of the little window by me, and cried—
The voice of the boatman replied out of the darkness:—
"She'll bump herself to pieces against this pier! I'm going to tow you out into the stream." And so he cast us loose, and getting into the little boat which was fastened to our stern, and always followed us as a colt its mother, he towed us far out into the stream. There he anchored us, and rowed away. The bumps now ceased, but the wind still blew violently, the waves ran high, and the yacht continually wobbled up and down, tugging and jerking at her anchor. Neither of us was frightened, but we could not sleep.
"I know nothing can happen," said Euphemia, "for he would not have left us here if everything had not been all right, but one might as well try to sleep in a corn-popper as in this bed."
After a while the violent motion ceased, and there was nothing but a gentle surging up and down.
"I am so glad the wind has lulled," said Euphemia, from the other side of the centre-board partition which partially divided the cabin.
Although I could still hear the wind blowing strongly outside, I too was glad that its force had diminished so far that we felt no more the violent jerking that had disturbed us, and I soon fell asleep.
In the morning, when I awoke, I saw that the sun was shining brightly, and that a large sea-grape bush was hanging over our stern. I sprang out of bed, and found that we had run, stern foremost, upon a sandy beach. About forty feet away, upon the shore, stood two 'possums, gazing with white, triangular faces upon our stranded craft. Except these, and some ducks swimming near us, with seven pelicans flying along on the other side of the river, there was no sign of life within the range of my sight. I was not long in understanding the situation. It had not been the lulling of the storm, but the parting of our cable which had caused the uneasy jerking of our little yacht to cease. We had been blown I knew not how far down the river, for the storm had come from the north, and had stranded I knew not where. Taking out my pocket-compass I found that we were on the eastern shore of the river, and that the wind had changed completely, and was now blowing, not very strong, from the southeast. I made up my mind what must be done. We were probably far from the settlement and the rest of the party, and we must go back. The wind was in our favor, and I knew I could sail the boat. I had never sailed a boat in my life, and was only too glad to have the opportunity, untrammelled by any interference.
I awoke Euphemia and told her what had happened. The two 'possums stood upon the shore, and listened to our conversation. Euphemia was much impressed by the whole affair, and for a time said nothing.
"We must sail her back, I suppose," she remarked at length, "but do you know how to start her?"
"The hardest thing to do is to get her off the beach," I answered, "but I think I can do that."
I rolled up my trousers, and with bare feet jumped out upon the sand. The two 'possums retired a little, but still watched my proceedings. After a great deal of pushing and twisting and lifting, I got the yacht afloat, and then went on board to set the sail. After much pulling and tugging, and making myself very warm, I hoisted the main-sail. I did not trouble myself about the jib, one sail being enough for me to begin with. As the wind was blowing in the direction in which we wished to go, I let the sail out until it stood nearly at right angles with the vessel, and was delighted to see that we immediately began to move through the water. I took the tiller, and steered gradually toward the middle of the river. The wind blew steadily, and the yacht moved bravely on. I was as proud as a man drawn by a conquered lion, and as happy as one who did not know that conquered lions may turn and rend. Sometimes the vessel rolled so much that the end of the boom skimmed the surface of the water, and sometimes the sail gave a little jerk and flap, but I saw no necessity for changing our course, and kept our bow pointed steadily up the river. I was delighted that the direction of the wind enabled me to sail with what might be called a horizontal deck. Of course, as the boatman afterward informed me, this was the most dangerous way I could steer, for if the sail should suddenly "jibe," there would be no knowing what would happen. Euphemia sat near me, perfectly placid and cheerful, and her absolute trust in me gave me renewed confidence and pleasure. "There is one great comfort," she remarked, as she sat gazing into the water,—"if anything should happen to the boat, we can get out and walk."
There was force in this remark, for the Indian River in some of its widest parts is very shallow, and we could now plainly see the bottom, a few feet below us.
"Is that the reason you have seemed so trustful and content?" I asked.
"That is the reason," said Euphemia. On we went and on, the yacht seeming sometimes a little restive and impatient, and sometimes rolling more than I could see any necessity for, but still it proceeded. Euphemia sat in the shadow of the cabin, serene and thoughtful, and I, holding the tiller steadily amidship, leaned back and gazed up into the clear blue sky.
In the midst of my gazing there came a shock that knocked the tiller out of my hand. Euphemia sprang to her feet and screamed; there were screams and shouts on the other side of the sail, which seemed to be wrapping itself about some object I could not see. In an instant another mast beside our own appeared above the main-sail, and then a man with a red face jumped on the forward deck. With a quick, determined air, and without saying a word, or seeming to care for my permission, he proceeded to lower our sail; then he stepped up on top of the cabin, and looking down at me, inquired what in thunder I was trying to do.
I made no answer, but looked steadily before me. Now that the sail was down, I could see what had happened. I had collided with a yacht which we had seen before. It was larger than ours, and contained a grandfather and a grandmother, a father and a mother, several aunts, and a great many children. They had started on the river the same day as ourselves, but did not intend to take so extended a trip as ours was to be. The whole party was now in the greatest confusion. I did not understand what they said, nor did I attend to it. I was endeavoring, for myself, to grasp the situation. Euphemia was calling to me from the cabin, into which she had retreated; the man was still talking to me from the cabin roof, and the people in the other boat were vociferating and screaming; but I paid no attention to any one until I had satisfied myself that nothing serious had happened. I had not run into them head on, but had come up diagonally, and the side of our bow had struck the side of their stern. The collision, as I afterward learned, had happened in this wise: I had not seen the other boat because, lying back as I had been, the sail concealed her from me, and they had not seen us because their boatman was in the forward part of their cabin, collecting materials for breakfast, and the tiller was left in charge of one of the boys, who, like all the rest of his party who sat outside, had discreetly turned his back to the sun.
The grandfather stood up in the stern. He wore a black silk hat, and carried a heavy grape-vine cane. Unsteadily balancing himself on his legs, and shaking his cane at me, he cried:—
"What is the meaning of this, sir? Are you trying to drown a whole family, sir?"
"If he'd run his bowsprit in among you," said the boatman from the cabin roof, "he'd 'a' killed a lot of you before you'd been drowned."
Euphemia screamed to me to come to her; the father was standing on his cabin roof, shouting something to me; the women in the other boat were violently talking among themselves; some of the little children were crying; the girls were hanging to the ladies, and all the boys were clambering on board our boat. It was a time of great excitement, and something must be instantly said by me. My decision was quick.
"Have you any tea?" I said, addressing the old gentleman.
"Tea!" he roared. "What do you mean by that?"
"We have plenty of coffee on board," I answered, "but some of our party can't drink it. If you have any tea, I should like to borrow some. I can send it to you when we reach a store."
From every person of the other party came, as in a chorus, the one word, "Tea?" And Euphemia put her pale face out of the cabin, and said, in a tone of wondering inquiry, "Tea?"
"Did you bang into us this way to borrow tea?" roared the old gentleman.
"I did not intend, of course, to strike you so hard," I said, "and I am sorry I did so, but I should like to borrow some tea."
Euphemia whispered to me:—
"We have tea."
I looked at her, and she locked her lips.
"Of course we can give you some tea, if you want some," said the red-faced boatman, "but I never heerd of a thing like this since I was first born, nor ever shall again, I hope."
"I don't want you to give me any tea," I said. "I shall certainly return it, and a very little will do—just a handful."
The two boats had not drifted apart, for the father, standing on the cabin roof, had held tightly to our rigging, and the boatman, still muttering, went on board his vessel to get the tea. He brought it, wrapped in a piece of a newspaper.
"Here comes your man," he said, pointing to a little boat which was approaching us. "We told him we'd look out for you, but we didn't think you'd come smashing into us like this."
In a few moments our boatman had pulled alongside, his face full of a dark inquiry. He looked at me for authoritative information.
"I came here," I said to him, "after tea."
"Before breakfast, I should say!" cried the old gentleman. And every one of his party burst out laughing.
Much was now said, chiefly by the party of the other part, but our boatman paid little attention to any of it. The boys scrambled on board their own vessel. We pushed apart, hoisted sail, and were soon speeding away.
"Good bye!" shouted the father, a genial man. "Let us know if you want any more groceries, and we'll send them to you."
For six days from our time of starting we sailed down the Indian River. Sometimes the banks were miles apart, and sometimes they were very near each other; sometimes we would come upon a solitary house, or little cluster of dwellings; and then there would be many, many miles of wooded shore before another human habitation was to be seen. Inland, to the west, stretched a vast expanse of lonely forest where panthers, bears, and wild-cats prowled. To the east lay a long strip of land, through whose tall palmettoes came the roar of the great ocean. The blue sky sparkled over us every day; now and then we met a little solitary craft; countless water-fowl were scattered about on the surface of the stream; a school of mullet was usually jumping into the air; an alligator might sometimes be seen steadily swimming across the river, with only his nose and back exposed; and nearly always, either to the right or to the left, going north or going south, were seven pelicans, slowly flopping through the air.
A portion of the river, far southward, called "The Narrows," presented a very peculiar scene. The banks were scarcely fifty feet apart, and yet there were no banks. The river was shut in to the right by the inland shore, and to the left by a far-reaching island, and yet there was no inland shore, nor any island to the left. On either side were great forests of mangrove trees, standing tiptoe on their myriad down-dropping roots, each root midleg in the water. As far as we could see among the trees, there was no sign of ground of any kind—nothing but a grotesque network of roots, on which the forest stood. In this green-bordered avenue of water, which extended nine or ten miles, the thick foliage shut out the breeze, and our boatman was obliged to go ahead in his little boat and tow us along.
"There are Indians out West," said Euphemia, as she sat gazing into the mangroves, "who live on roots, but I don't believe they could live on these. The pappooses would certainly fall through."
At Jupiter Inlet, about a hundred and fifty miles from our point of starting, we went into camp, in which delightful condition we proposed to remain for a week or more. There was no trouble whatever in finding a suitable place for a camp. The spot selected was a point of land swept by cool breezes, with a palmetto forest in the rear of it. On two sides of the point stretched the clear waters of the river, while half a mile to the east was Jupiter Inlet, on each side of which rolled and tumbled the surf of the Atlantic. About a mile away was Jupiter Light-house, the only human habitation within twenty miles. We built a palmetto hut for a kitchen; we set up the tents in a permanent way; we constructed a little pier for the yacht; we built a wash-stand, a table, and a bench. And then, considering that we had actually gone into camp, we got out our fishing-lines.
Fishing was to be the great work here. Near the Inlet, through which the waters of the ocean poured into and out of our river, on a long, sandy beach, we stood in line, two or three hours every day except Sunday, and fished. Such fishing we had never imagined!—there were so many fishes, and they were so big. The Paying Teller had never fished in his life before he came to Florida. He had tried at St. Augustine, with but little success. "If the sport had been to chuck fish into the river," he had said, "that would be more in my line of business; but getting them out of it did not seem to suit me." But here it was quite a different thing. It was a positive delight to him, he said, to be obliged so often to pay out his line.
One day, when tired of struggling with gamy blue-fish and powerful cavalios (if that is the way to spell it), I wound up my line, and looked about to see what the others were doing. The Paying Teller stood near, on tiptoe, as usual, with his legs wide apart, his hat thrown back, his eyes flashing over the water, and his right arm stretched far out, ready for a jerk. Quee was farther along the beach. He had just landed a fish, and was standing gazing meditatively upon it as it lay upon the sand. The hook was still in its mouth, and every now and then he would give the line a little pull, as if to see if there really was a connection between it and the fish. Then he would stand a little longer, and meditate a little more, still looking alternately at the line and the fish. Having made up his mind, at last, that the two things must be separated, he kneeled down upon his flopping prize and proceeded meditatively to extract the hook. The teacher was struggling at her line. Hand over hand she pulled it in. As it came nearer and nearer, her fish swam wildly from side to side, making the tightened line fairly hiss as it swept through the water. But still she pulled and pulled, until, red and breathless, she landed her prize upon the sand.
"Hurrah!" shouted the Paying Teller. "That's the biggest blue-fish yet!" But he did not come to take the fish from the hook. He was momentarily expecting a bite.
Euphemia was not to be seen. This did not surprise me, as she frequently gave up fishing long before the others, and went to stroll upon the sea-beach, a few hundred yards away. She was fond of fishing, but it soon tired her. "If you want to know what it is like," she wrote to a friend in the North, "just tie a long string around your boy Charlie, and try to haul him out of the back yard into the house."
But Euphemia was not upon the sea-beach to-day. I walked a mile or so along the sand, but did not find her. She had gone around the little bluff to our shark-line. This was a long rope, like a clothes-line, with a short chain at the end and a great hook, which was baited with a large piece of fish. It was thrown out every day, the land end tied to a stout stake driven into the sand, and the whole business given into the charge of "the crew," who was to report if a shark should bite. But to-day the little rascal had wandered away, and Euphemia was managing the line.
"I thought I would try to catch a shark all by myself," she said. "I wonder if there's one on the hook now. Would you mind feeling the line?"
I laughed as I took the rope from her hand.
"If you had a shark on the hook, my dear," said I, "you would have no doubt upon the subject."
"It would be a splendid thing to catch the first one," she said, "and there must be lots of them in here, for we have seen their back fins so often."
I was about to answer this remark when I began to walk out into the water. I did not at the time know exactly why I did this, but it seemed as if some one had taken me by the hand and was leading me into the depths. But the water splashing above my ankles and a scream from Euphemia made me drop the line, which immediately spun out to its full length, making the stake creak and move in the sand.
"Goodness gracious!" cried Euphemia, her face pale as the beach. "Isn't it horrible? We've got one!"
"Horrible!" I cried. "Didn't you want to get one?" and seizing the axe, which lay near by, I drove the stake deep down into the sand. "Now it will hold him!" I cried. "He can't pull that out!"
"But how are we to pull him in?" exclaimed Euphemia. "This line is as tight as a guitar-string."
This was true. I took hold of the rope, but could make no impression on it. Suddenly it slackened in my hand.
"Hurrah!" I cried, "we may have him yet! But we must play him."
"Play him!" exclaimed Euphemia. "You can never play a huge creature like that. Let me go and call some of the others to help."
"No, no!" I said. "Perhaps we can do it all by ourselves. Wind the line quickly around the top of the stake as I pull it in."
Euphemia knelt down and rapidly wound several yards of the slack cord around the stake. In a few moments it tightened again, jerking itself out of my hand.
"There, now!" said Euphemia. "He is off again! You can never haul him in, now."
"Just wait," I said. "When he finds that he cannot break away he rushes toward shore, trying to bite the line above the chain. Then I must haul it in and you must wind it up. If you and I and the shark continue to act in this way, perhaps, after a time, we may get him into shallow water. But don't scream or shout. I don't want the others to know anything about it."
Sure enough, in a minute or two the line slackened again, when it was rapidly drawn in and wound around the stake.
"There he is!" exclaimed Euphemia. "I can see him just under the water, out there."
The dark form of the shark, appearing at first like the shadow of a little cloud, could be seen near the surface, about fifteen yards away. Then his back fin rose, his tail splashed violently for an instant, and he disappeared. Again the line was loosened, and again the slack was hauled in and wound up. This was repeated, I don't know how many times, when suddenly the shark in his desperation rushed into shallow water and grounded himself. He would have floundered off in a few moments, however, had we not quickly tightened the line. Now we could see him plainly. He was eight or nine feet long and struggled violently, exciting Euphemia so much that it was only by clapping her hand over her mouth that she prevented herself from screaming. I would have pulled the shark farther in shore, but this was impossible, and it was needless to expect him to move himself into shallower water. So, quickly rolling up my trousers, I seized the axe and waded in toward the floundering creature.
"You needn't be afraid to go right up to him," said Euphemia. "So long as he don't turn over on his back he can't bite you."
I had heard this bit of natural history before, but, nevertheless, I went no nearer to the shark than was necessary in order to whack him over the head with the axe. This I did several times, with such effect that he soon became a dead shark.
When I came out triumphant, Euphemia seized me in her arms and kissed me.
"This is perfectly splendid!" she said. "Who can show as big a fish as this one? None of the others can ever crow over you again."
"Until one of them catches a bigger shark," I said.
"Which none of them ever will," said Euphemia, decidedly. "It isn't in them."
The boatman was now seen approaching in his boat to take the party back to camp, and the "crew," having returned to his duty, was sent off in a state of absolute amazement to tell the others to come and look at our prize. Our achievement certainly created a sensation. Even the boatman could find no words to express his astonishment. He waded in and fastened a rope to the shark's tail, and then we all took hold and hauled the great fish ashore.
"What is the good of it now you have got it?" asked Quee.
"Glory is some good!" exclaimed Euphemia.
"And I'm going to have you a belt made from a strip of its skin," I said.
This seemed to Euphemia a capital idea. She would be delighted to have such a trophy of our deed, and the boatman was set to work to cut a suitable strip from the fish. And this belt, having been properly tanned, lined, and fitted with buckles, is now one of her favorite adornments, and cost, I am bound to add, about three times as much as any handsome leathern belt to be bought in the stores.
Every day the Paying Teller, his wife, and Quee carefully set down in their note-books the weight of fish each individual had caught, with all necessary details and specifications relating thereunto; every day we wandered on the beach, or explored the tropical recesses of the palmetto woods; every evening the boatman rowed over to the light-house to have a bit of gossip, and to take thither the fish we did not need; every day the sun was soft and warm, and the sky was blue; and every morning, going oceanward, and every evening, going landward, seven pelicans flew slowly by our camp.
My greatest desire at this time was to shoot a pelican, to have him properly prepared, and to take him to Rudder Grange, where, suitably set up, with his wings spread out, full seven feet from tip to tip, he would be a grand trophy and reminder of these Indian River days. This was the reason why, nearly every morning and every evening, I took a shot at these seven pelicans. But I never hit one of them. We had only a shot-gun, and the pelicans flew at a precautionary distance; but, being such big birds, they always looked to me much nearer than they were. Euphemia earnestly desired that I should have a pelican, and although she always wished I should hit one of these, she was always glad when I did not.
"Think how mournful it would be," she said, "if they should take their accustomed flights, morning and evening, with one of their number missing."
"Repeating Wordsworth's verses, I suppose," remarked the little teacher.
I had been disappointed in the number of pelicans we had seen. I knew that Florida was one of the homes of the pelican, and I had not expected to see these birds merely in small detachments. But our boatman assured me that on our return trip he would give me a chance of seeing and shooting as many pelicans as I could desire. We would touch at Pelican Island, which was inhabited entirely by these birds, and whence the parties of seven were evidently sent out.
When we had had all the fishing we wanted, we broke up our camp, and started northward. We had all been very happy and contented during our ten days' sojourn in this delightful place; but when at last our departure was determined upon, the Paying Teller became possessed with a wild desire to go, go, go. There was some reason, never explained nor fully expressed, why no day, hour, minute, or second should be lost in speeding to the far Northwest. The boatman, too, impelled by what impulse I know not, seemed equally anxious to get home. As for the Paying Teller's "group," it always did exactly as he wished. Therefore, although Euphemia and I would have been glad to linger here and there upon our homeward way, we could not gainsay the desire of the majority of the party, and consequently we sailed northward as fast as wind and sometimes oars would take us.
Only one cause for delay seemed tolerable to the Paying Teller. This was to stop at every post-office. We had received but one mail while in camp, which had been brought in a sail-boat from an office twenty miles away. But the Paying Teller had given and written the most intricate and complex directions for the retention or forwarding of his mail to every postmaster in the country we had passed through, and these directions, as we afterward found, had so puzzled and unsettled the minds of these postmasters that for several weeks his letters had been moving like shuttlecocks up and down the St. John's and Indian rivers—never stopping anywhere, never being delivered, but crossing and recrossing each other as if they were imbued with their owner's desire to go, go, go. Some of the post-offices where we stopped were lonely little buildings with no other habitation near. These we usually found shut up, being opened only on mail-days, and in such cases nothing could be done but to slip a protesting postal into the little slit in the wall apparently intended for letters. Whether these postals were eaten by rats or read by the P.M.'s, we never discovered. Wherever an office was found open, we left behind us an irate postmaster breathing all sorts of contemplated vengeance upon the disturbers of his peace. We heard of letters that had been sent north and sent south, but there never were any at the particular place where we happened to be, and I suppose that the accumulated mail of the Paying Teller may for several years drop gradually upon him through the meshes of the Dead-Letter Office.
There were a great many points of interest which we had passed on our downward trip, the boatman assuring us that, with the wind we had, and which might cease at any moment, the great object was to reach Jupiter as soon as possible, and that we would stop at the interesting places on the way up. But now the wind, according to his reasoning, made it necessary that we should again push forward as fast as we could; and, as I said before, the irresistible attraction of the Northwest so worked upon the Paying Teller that he was willing to pause nowhere, during the daytime, but at a post-office. At one place, however, I was determined to land. This was Pelican Island. The boatman, paying no attention to his promise to stop here and give me an opportunity to shoot one of these birds, declared, when near the place, that it would never do, with such a wind, to drop anchor for a trifle like a pelican. The Paying Teller and Quee also strongly objected to a stop; and, while the teacher had a great desire to investigate the subject of ornithology, especially when exemplified by such a subject as a pelican, she felt herself obliged to be loyal to her "group," and so quietly gave her voice to go on. But I, supported by Euphemia, remained so firm that we anchored a short distance from Pelican Island.
None of the others had any desire to go ashore, and so I, with the gun and Euphemia, took the boat and rowed to the island. While we were here the others determined to sail to the opposite side of the river to look for a little post-office, the existence of which the boatman had not mentioned until it had been determined to make this stoppage here.
As we approached the island we saw hundreds of pelicans, some flying about, some sitting on trunks and branches of dead trees, and some waddling about on the shore.
"You might as well shoot two of them," said Euphemia, "and then we will select the better one to take to Rudder Grange."
The island was very boggy and muddy, and, before I had found a good place to land, and had taken up the gun from the bow of the boat, every pelican in sight took wing and flew away. I stood up and fired both barrels at the retreating flock. They swerved and flew oceanward, but not one of them fell. I helped Euphemia on shore, and then, gun in hand, I made my way as well as I could to the other end of the island. There might be some deaf old fellows left who had not made up their minds to fly. The ground was very muddy, and drift-wood and under-brush obstructed my way. Still, I pressed on, and went nearly half around the island, finding, however, not a single pelican.
Soon I heard Euphemia's voice, calling loud. She seemed to be about the centre of the island, and I ran toward her.
"I've got one!" I heard her cry, before I came in sight of her. She was sitting at the root of a crooked, dead tree. In front of her she held, one hand grasping each leg, what seemed to me to be an ungainly and wingless goose. All about her the ground was soft and boggy. Her clothes were muddy, her face was red, and the creature she held was struggling violently.
"What on earth have you got?" I exclaimed, approaching as near as I could, "and how did you get out there?"
"Don't you come any closer!" she cried. "You'll sink up to your waist! I got here by treading on the little hummocks and holding on to that dead branch; but don't you take hold of it, for you'll break it off, and then I can't get back."
"But what is that thing?" I repeated.
"It's a young pelican," she replied. "I found a lot of nests on the ground over there, and this was in one of them. I chased it all about, until it flopped out here and hid itself on the other side of this tree. Then I came out quietly and caught it. But how am I going to get it to you?"
This seemed, indeed, a problem. Euphemia declared that she needed both hands to work her way back by the means of the long, horizontal limb which had assisted her passage to the place where she sat, and she also needed both hands to hold her prize. It was likewise plain that I could not get to her. Indeed, I could not see how her light steps had taken her over the soft and marshy ground that lay between us. I suggested that she should throw the pelican to me. This she declined to do.
"I could never throw it so far," she said, "and it would surely get away. I don't want to lose this pelican, for I believe it is the last one on the island. If there are other young ones, they have scuttled off by this time, and I should dreadfully hate to go back to the yacht without any pelican at all."
"I don't call that much of one," I said.
"It's a real pelican for all that," she replied, "and about as curious a bird as I ever saw. Its wings won't stretch out seven feet, to be sure."
"About seven inches," I suggested.
"But it is a great deal easier to carry a young one like this," she persisted, "and I expect a baby pelican is a much more uncommon sight in the North than a grown one."
"No doubt of it," I said. "We must keep him now you've got him. Can't you kill him?"
"I've no way of killing him," returned Euphemia. "I wonder if you could shoot him if I were to hold him out."
This, with a shot-gun, I positively declined to do. Even if I had had a rifle, I suggested that she might swerve. For a few moments we remained nonplussed. I could not get to Euphemia at all, and she could not get to me unless she released her bird, and this she was determined not to do.
"Euphemia," I said, presently, "the ground seems hard a little way in front of you. If you step over there, I will go out on this strip, which seems pretty solid. Then I'll be near enough to you for you to swing the bird to me, and I'll catch hold of him."
Euphemia arose and did as I told her, and we soon found ourselves about six feet apart. She took the bird by one leg and swung it toward me. With outstretched arm I caught it by the other foot, but as I did so I noticed that Euphemia was growing shorter, and also felt myself sinking in the bog. Instantly I entreated Euphemia to stand perfectly still, for, if we struggled or moved, there was no knowing into what more dreadful depths we might get. Euphemia obeyed me, and stood quite still, but I could feel that she clutched the pelican with desperate vigor.
"How much farther down do you think we shall sink?" she asked, her voice trembling a little.
"Not much farther," I said. "I am sure there is firm ground beneath us, but it will not do to move. If we should fall down, we might not be able to get up again."
"How glad I am," she said, "that we are not entirely separated, even if it is only a baby pelican that joins us!"
"Indeed, I am glad!" I said, giving the warm pressure to the pelican's leg that I would have given to Euphemia's hand, if I could have reached her. Euphemia looked up at me so confidently that I could but believe that in some magnetic way that pressure had been transmitted through the bird.
"Do you think they will come back?" she said, directly.
"Oh, yes," I replied, "there's no manner of doubt of that."
"They'll be dreadfully cross," she said.
"I shouldn't wonder," I replied. "But it makes very little difference to me whether they are or not."
"It ought to make a difference to you," said Euphemia. "They might injure us very much."
"If they tried anything of the kind," I replied, "they'd find it worse for them than for us."
"That is boasting," said Euphemia, a little reproachfully, "and it does not sound like you."
I made no answer to this, and then she asked:—
"What do you think they will do when they come?"
"I think they will put a plank out here and pull us out."
Euphemia looked at me an instant, and then her eyes filled with tears.
"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed, "it's dreadful! You know they couldn't do it. Your mind is giving way!"
She sobbed, and I could feel the tremor run through the pelican.
"What do you mean?" I cried, anxiously. "My mind giving way?"
"Yes—yes," she sobbed. "If you were in your right senses—you'd never think—that pelicans could bring a plank."
I looked at her in astonishment.
"Pelicans!" I exclaimed. "Did you think I meant the pelicans were coming back?"
"Of course," she said. "That's what I was asking you about."
"I wasn't thinking of pelicans at all," I answered "I was talking of the people in the yacht."
Euphemia looked at me, and then the little pelican between us began to shake violently as we laughed.
"I know people sometimes do lose their minds when they get into great danger," she said, apologetically.
"Hello!" came a voice from the water. "What are you laughing about?"
"Come and see," I shouted back, "and perhaps you will laugh, too."
The three men came; they had to wade ashore; and when they came they laughed. They brought a plank, and with a good deal of trouble they drew us out, but Euphemia would not let go of her leg of the little pelican until she was sure I had a tight hold of mine.
Day after day we now sailed northward, until we reached the little town at which we had embarked. Here we discarded our blue flannels and three half-grown beards, and slowly made our way through woods and lakes and tortuous streams to the upper waters of the St. John's. In this region the population of the river shores seemed to consist entirely of alligators, in which monsters Euphemia was greatly interested. But she seldom got a near view of one, for the sportsmen on our little steamer blazed away at every alligator as soon as it came into distant sight; and, although the ugly creatures were seldom hit, they made haste to tumble into the water or disappear among the tall reeds. Euphemia was very much annoyed at this.
"I shall never get a good close look at an alligator at all," she said. "I am going to speak to the captain."
The captain, a big, good-natured man, listened to her, and entirely sympathized with her.
"Tom," said he to the pilot, "when you see another big 'gator on shore, don't sing out to nobody, but call me, and slow up."
It was not long before chocolate-colored Tom called to the captain, and rang the bell to lessen speed.
"Gentlemen," said the captain, walking forward to the group of sportsmen, "there's a big 'gator ahead there, but don't none of you fire at him. He's copyrighted."
The men with the guns did not understand him, but none of them fired, and Euphemia and the other ladies soon had the satisfaction of seeing an enormous alligator lying on the bank, within a dozen yards of the boat. The great creature raised its head, and looked at us in apparent amazement at not being shot at. Then, probably considering that we did not know the customs of the river, or were out of ammunition, he slowly slipped away among the reeds with an air as if, like Mr. Turveydrop, he had done his duty in showing himself, and if we did not take advantage of it, it was no affair of his.
"If we only had a fellow like that for a trophy!" ejaculated Euphemia.
"He'd do very well for a trophy," I answered, "but if, in order to get him, I had to hold him by one leg while you held him by another, I should prefer a baby pelican."
Our trip down the St. John's met with no obstacles except those occasioned by the Paying Teller's return tickets. He had provided himself and his group with all sorts of return tickets from the various points he had expected to visit in Florida. These were good only on particular steamboats, and could be used only to go from one particular point to another. Fortunately he had lost several of them, but there were enough left to give us a good deal of trouble. We did not wish to break up the party, and consequently we embarked and disembarked whenever the Paying Teller's group did so; and thus, in time, we all reached that widespread and sandy city which serves for the gate of Florida.
From here, the Paying Teller and his group, with complicated tickets, the determinate scope and purpose of which no one man living could be expected to understand, hurried wildly toward the far Northwest; while we, in slower fashion, returned to Rudder Grange.
There, in a place of honor over the dining-room door, stands the baby pelican, its little flippers wide outstretched.
"How often I think," Euphemia sometimes says, "of that moment of peril, when the only actual bond of union between us was that little pelican!"
THE RUDDER GRANGERS IN ENGLAND.
It was mainly due to Pomona that we went to Europe at all. For years Euphemia and I had been anxious to visit the enchanted lands on the other side of the Atlantic, but the obstacles had always been very great, and the matter had been indefinitely postponed. Pomona and Jonas were still living with us, and their little girl was about two years old. Pomona continued to read a great deal, but her husband's influence had diverted her mind toward works of history and travel, and these she devoured with eager interest. But she had not given up her old fancy for romance. Nearly everything she read was mingled in her mind with Middle Age legends and tales of strange adventure. Euphemia's frequent reference to a trip to Europe had fired Pomona's mind, and she was now more wildly anxious for the journey than any of us. She believed that it would entirely free Jonas from the chills and fever that still seemed to permeate his being. And besides this, what unutterable joy to tread the sounding pavements of those old castles of which she had so often read! Pomona further perceived that my mental and physical systems required the rest and change of scene which could be given only by a trip to Europe. When this impression had been produced upon Euphemia's mind, the matter, to all intents and purposes, was settled. A tenant, who I suspect was discovered and urged forward by the indefatigable Pomona, made an application for a year's lease of our house and farm. In a business view I found I could make the journey profitable, and there seemed to be no reason why we should not go, and go now.
It appeared to be accepted as a foregone conclusion by Euphemia and Pomona that the latter, with her husband and child, should accompany us; but of this I could not, at first, see the propriety.
"We shall not want servants on a trip like that," I said; "and although I like Jonas and Pomona very much, they are not exactly the people I should prefer as travelling companions."
"If you think you are going to leave Pomona behind," said Euphemia, "you are vastly mistaken. Oceans and continents are free to her, and she will follow us at a distance if we don't let her go with us. She was quite content not to go with us to Florida, but she is just one tingle from head to foot to go to Europe. We have talked the whole thing over, and I know that she will be of the greatest possible use and comfort to me in ever so many ways; and Jonas will be needed to take care of the baby. Jonas has money, and they will pay a great part of their own expenses, and will not cost us much, and you needn't be afraid that Pomona will make us ashamed of ourselves, if we happen to be talking to the Dean of Westminster or the Archbishop of Canterbury, by pushing herself into the conversation."
"Indeed," said I, "if we ever happen to be inveigled into a confab with those dignitaries, I hope Pomona will come to the front and take my place."
The only person not entirely satisfied with the proposed journey was Jonas.
"I don't like trapsin' round," said he, "from place to place, and never did. If I could go to some one spot and stay there with the child, while the rest of you made trips, I'd be satisfied, but I don't like keepin' on the steady go."
This plan was duly considered, and the suitability of certain points was discussed. London was not believed sufficiently accessible for frequent return trips; Paris could scarcely be called very central; Naples would not be suitable at all times of the year, and Cairo was a little too far eastward. A number of minor places were suggested, but Jonas announced that he had thought of a capital location, and being eagerly asked to name it, he mentioned Newark, New Jersey.
"I'd feel at home there," he said, "and it's about as central as any place, when you come to look on the map of the world."
But he was not allowed to remain in his beloved New Jersey, and we took him with us to Europe.
We did not, like the rest of the passengers on the steamer, go directly from Liverpool to London, but stopped for a couple of days in the quaint old town of Chester. "If we don't see it now," said Euphemia, "we never shall see it. When we once start back we shall be raving distracted to get home, and I wouldn't miss Chester for anything."
"There is an old wall there," said the enthusiastic Pomona to her husband, "built by Julius Caesar before the Romans became Catholics, that you kin walk on all round the town; an' a tower on it which the king of England stood on to see his army defeated, though of course it wasn't put up for that purpose; besides, more old-timenesses which the book tells of than we can see in a week."
"I hope," said Jonas, wearily shifting the child from one arm to the other, "that there'll be some good place there to sit down."
When we reached Chester, we went directly to the inn called "The Gentle Boar," which was selected by Euphemia entirely on account of its name, and we found it truly a quaint and cosey little house. Everything was early English and delightful. The coffee-rooms, the bar-maids, the funny little apartments, the old furniture, and "a general air of the Elizabethan era," as Euphemia remarked.
"I should almost call it Henryan," said Pomona, gazing about her in rapt wonderment.
We soon set out on our expeditions of sight-seeing, but we did not keep together. Euphemia and I made our way to the old cathedral. The ancient verger who took us about the edifice was obliged to show us everything, Euphemia being especially anxious to see the stall in the choir which had belonged to Charles Kingsley, and was much disturbed to find that under the seat the monks of the fifteenth century had carved the subject of one of Baron Munchausen's most improbable tales.
"Of course," said she, "they did not know that Charles Kingsley was to have this stall, or they would have cut something more appropriate."
"Those old monks 'ad a good deal of fun in them," said the verger, "hand they were particular fond of showing up quarrels between men and their wives, which they could do, you see, without 'urting each other's feelings. These queer carvings are hunder the seats, which turn hup in this way, and I've no doubt they looked at them most of the time they were kneeling on the cold floor saying their long, Latin prayers."
"Yes, indeed!" said Euphemia. "It must have been a great comfort to the poor fellows."
"We went all through that cathedral," exclaimed Pomona, when she came in the next day. "The old virgin took us everywhere."
"Verger," exclaimed Euphemia.
"Well, he looked so like a woman in his long gown," said Pomona, "I don't wonder I mixed him. We put two shillin's in his little box, though one was enough, as I told Jonas, and then he took us round and pointed out all the beautiful carvin's and things on the choir, the transits, and the nave, but when Jonas stopped before the carved figger of the devil chawin' up a sinner, and asked if that was the transit of a knave, the old feller didn't know what he meant. An' then we wandered alone through them ruined cloisters and subterraneal halls, an' old tombstones of the past, till I felt I don't know how. There was a girl in New Jersey who used to put on airs because her family had lived in one place for a hundred years. When I git back I'll laugh that girl to scorn."
After two days of delight in this quaint old town we took the train Londonward. Without consultation Jonas bought tickets for himself and wife, while I bought Euphemia's and mine. Consequently our servants travelled first-class, while we went in a second-class carriage. We were all greatly charmed with the beautiful garden country through which we passed. It was harvest time, and Jonas was much impressed by the large crops gathered from the little fields.
"I might try to do something of that kind when I go back," he afterward said, "but I expect I'd have to dig a little hole for each grain of wheat, and hoe it, and water it, and tie the blade to a stick if it was weakly."
"An' a nice easy time you'd have of it," said Pomona; "for you might plant your wheat field round a stump, and set there, and farm all summer, without once gettin' up."
"And that is Windsor!" exclaimed Euphemia, as we passed within view of that royal castle. "And there lives the Sovereign of our Mother Country!"
I was trying to puzzle out in what relationship to the Sovereign this placed us, when Euphemia continued:—
"I am bound to go to Windsor Castle! I have examined into every style of housekeeping, French flats and everything, and I must see how the Queen lives. I expect to get ever so many ideas."
"All right," said I; "and we will visit the royal stables, too, for I intend to get a new buggy when we get back."
We determined that on reaching London we would go directly to lodgings, not only because this was a more economical way of living, but because it was the way in which many of Euphemia's favorite heroes and heroines had lived in London.
"I want to keep house," she said, "in the same way that Charles and Mary Lamb did. We will toast a bit of muffin or a potted sprat, and we'll have a hamper of cheese and a tankard of ale, just like those old English poets and writers."
"I think you are wrong about the hamper of cheese," I said. "It couldn't have been as much as that, but I have no doubt we'll have a jolly time."
We got into a four-wheeled cab, Jonas on the seat with the driver, and the luggage on top. I gave the man a card with the address of the house to which we had been recommended. There was a number, the name of a street, the name of a place, the name of a square, and initials denoting the quarter of the town.
"It will confuse the poor man dreadfully," said Euphemia. "It would have been a great deal better just to have said where the house was."
The man, however, drove to the given address without mistake. The house was small, but as there were no other lodgers, there was room enough for us. Euphemia was much pleased with the establishment. The house was very well furnished, and she had expected to find things old and stuffy, as London lodgings always were in the books she had read.
"But if the landlady will only steal our tea," she said, "it will make it seem more like the real thing."
As we intended to stay some time in London, where I had business to transact for the firm with which I was engaged, we immediately began to make ourselves as much at home as possible. Pomona, assisted by Jonas, undertook at once the work of the house. To this the landlady, who kept a small servant, somewhat objected, as it had been her custom to attend to the wants of her lodgers.
"But what's the good of Jonas an' me bein' here," said Pomona to us, "if we don't do the work? Of course, if there was other lodgers, that would be different, but as there's only our own family, where's the good of that woman and her girl doin' anything?"
And so, as a sort of excuse for her being in Europe, she began to get the table ready for supper, and sent Jonas out to see if there was any place where he could buy provisions. Euphemia and I were not at all certain that the good woman of the house would be satisfied with this state of things; but still, as Jonas and Pomona were really our servants, it seemed quite proper that they should do our work. And so we did not interfere, although Euphemia found it quite sad, she said, to see the landlady standing idly about, gazing solemnly upon Pomona as she dashed from place to place engaged with her household duties.
After we had been in the house for two or three days, Pomona came into our sitting-room one evening and made a short speech.
"I've settled matters with the woman here," she said, "an' I think you'll like the way I've done it. I couldn't stand her follerin' me about, an' sayin' 'ow they did things in Hingland, while her red-faced girl was a-spendin' the days on the airy steps, a-lookin' through the railin's. 'Now, Mrs. Bowlin',' says I, 'it'll just be the ruin of you an' the death of me if you keep on makin' a picter of yourself like that lonely Indian a-sittin' on a pinnacle in the jographys, watchin' the inroads of civilization, with a locomotive an' a cog-wheel in front, an' the buffalo an' the grisly a-disappearin' in the distance. Now it'll be much better for all of us,' says I, 'if you'll git down from your peak, and try to make up your mind that the world has got to move. Aint there some place where you kin go an' be quiet an' comfortable, an' not a-woundin' your proud spirit a-watchin' me bake hot rolls for breakfast an' sich?' An' then she says she'd begun to think pretty much that way herself, an' that she had a sister a-livin' down in the Sussex Mews, back of Gresham Terrace, Camberwell Square, Hankberry Place, N.W. by N., an' she thought she might as well go there an' stay while we was here. An' so I says that was just the thing, and the sooner done the happier she'd be. An' I went up stairs and helped her pack her trunk, which is a tin one, which she calls her box, an' I got her a cab, an' she's gone."
"What!" I cried; "gone! Has she given up her house entirely to us?"
"For the time bein' she has," answered Pomona, "for she saw very well it was better thus, an' she's comin' every week to git her money, an' to see when we're goin' to give notice. An' the small girl has been sent back to the country."
It was impossible for Euphemia and myself to countenance this outrageous piece of eviction; but in answer to our exclamations of surprise and reproach, Pomona merely remarked that she had done it for the woman's own good, and, as she was perfectly satisfied, she didn't suppose there was any harm done; and, at any rate, it would be "lots nicer" for us. And then she asked Euphemia what she was going to have for breakfast the next morning, so that Jonas could go out to the different mongers and get the things.
"Now," said Euphemia, when Pomona had gone down stairs, "I really feel as if I had a foothold on British soil. It doesn't seem as if it was quite right, but it is perfectly splendid."
And so it was. From that moment we set up an English Rudder Grange in the establishment which Pomona had thus rudely wrenched, as it were, from the claws of the British Lion. We endeavored to live as far as possible in the English style, because we wanted to try the manners and customs of every country. We had tea for breakfast and ale for luncheon, and we ate shrimps, prawns, sprats, saveloys, and Yarmouth bloaters. We "took in the Times," and, to a certain extent, we endeavored to cultivate the broad vowels. Some of these things we did not like, but we felt bound to allow them a fair trial.
We did not give ourselves up to sight-seeing as we had done at Chester, because now there was plenty of time to see London at our leisure. In the mornings I attended to my business, and in the afternoons Euphemia and I generally went out to visit some of the lions of the grand old city.
Pomona and Jonas also went out whenever a time could be conveniently arranged, which was done nearly every day, for Euphemia was anxious they should see everything. They almost always took their child, and to this Euphemia frequently objected.
"What's the good," she said, "of carrying a baby not two years old to the Tower of London, the British Museum, and the Chapel of Henry VII.? She can't take any interest in the smothered princes, or the Assyrian remnants. If I am at home, I can look after her as well as not."
"But you see, ma'am," said Pomona, "we don't expect the baby'll ever come over here ag'in, an' when she gits older, I'll tell her all about these things, an' it'll expan' her intelleck a lot more when she feels she's seed 'em all without knowin' it. To be sure, the monnyments of bygone days don't always agree with her; for Jone set her down on the tomb of Chaucer the other day, an' her little legs got as cold as the tomb itself, an' I told him that there was too big a difference between a tomb nigh four hundred years old an' a small baby which don't date back two years, for them to be sot together that way; an' he promised to be more careful after that. He gouged a little piece out of Chaucer's tomb, an' as we went home we bought a copy of the old gentleman's poems, so as we could see what reason there was for keepin' him so long, an' at night I read Jone two of the Canterbury Tales. 'You wouldn't 'a' thought,' says Jone, 'jus' by lookin' at that little piece of plaster, that the old fellow could 'a' got up such stories as them.'"
"What I want to see more'n anything else," said Pomona to us one day, "is a real lord, or some kind of nobleman of high degree. I've allers loved to read about 'em in books, and I'd rather see one close to, than all the tombs and crypts and lofty domes you could rake together; an' I don't want to see 'em neither in the streets, nor yet in a House of Parliament, which aint in session; for there, I don't believe, dressin' in common clothes as they do, that I could tell 'em from other people. What I want is to penetrate into the home of one of 'em, and see him as he really is. It's only there that his noble blood'll come out."
"Pomona," cried Euphemia, in accents of alarm, "don't you try penetrating into any nobleman's home. You will get yourself into trouble, and the rest of us, too."
"Oh, I'm not a-goin' to git you into any trouble, ma'am," said Pomona; "you needn't be afeard of that." And she went about her household duties.
A few days after this, as Euphemia and I were going to the Tower of London in a Hansom cab—and it was one of Euphemia's greatest delights to be bowled over the smooth London pavements in one of these vehicles, with the driver out of sight, and the horse in front of us just as if we were driving ourselves, only without any of the trouble, and on every corner one of the names of the streets we had read about in Dickens and Thackeray, and with the Sampson Brasses, and the Pecksniffs, and the Mrs. Gamps, and the Guppys, and the Sir Leicester Dedlocks, and the Becky Sharps, and the Pendennises, all walking about just as natural as in the novels—we were surprised to see Pomona hurrying along the sidewalk alone. The moment our eyes fell upon her a feeling of alarm arose within us. Where was she going with such an intent purpose in her face, and without Jonas? She was walking westward, and we were going to the east. At Euphemia's request I stopped the cab, jumped out, and ran after her, but she had disappeared in the crowd.
"She is up to mischief," said Euphemia.
But it was of no use to worry our minds on the subject, and we soon forgot, in the ancient wonders of the Tower, the probable eccentricities of our modern handmaid.
We returned; night came on; but Pomona was still absent. Jonas did not know where she was, and was very much troubled; and the baby, which had been so skilfully kept in the background by its mother that, so far, it had never annoyed us at all, now began to cry, and would not be comforted. Euphemia, with the assistance of Jonas, prepared the evening meal, and when we had nearly eaten it, Pomona came home. Euphemia asked no questions, although she was burning with curiosity to know where Pomona had been, considering that it was that young woman's duty to inform her without being asked.
When Pomona came in to wait on us, she acted as if she expected to be questioned, and was perfectly willing to answer, but Euphemia stood upon her dignity, and said nothing. At last Pomona could endure it no longer, and standing with a tray in her hand, she exclaimed:—
"I'm sorry I made you help git the dinner, ma'am, and I wouldn't 'a' done it for anything, but the fact is I've been to see a lord, an' was kep' late."
"What!" cried Euphemia, springing to her feet; "you don't mean that!"
And I was so amazed that I sat and looked at Pomona without saying a word.
"Yes," cried Pomona, her eyes sparkling with excitement, "I've seen a lord, and trod his floors, and I'll tell you all about it. You know I was boun' to do it, and I wanted to go alone, for if Jone was with me he'd be sure to put in some of his queer sayin's an' ten to one hurt the man's feelin's, and cut off the interview. An' as Jone said this afternoon he felt tired, with some small creeps in his back, an' didn't care to go out, I knew my time had come, and said I'd go for a walk. Day before yesterday I went up to a policeman an' I asked him if he could tell me if a lord, or a earl, or a duke lived anywhere near here. First he took me for crazy, an' then he began to ask questions which he thought was funny, but I kep' stiff to the mark, an' I made him tell me where a lord did live,—about five blocks from here. So I fixed things all ready an' today I went there."
"You didn't have the assurance to suppose he'd see you?" cried Euphemia.
"No, indeed, I hadn't," said Pomona, "at least under common circumstances. You may be sure I racked my brains enough to know what I should do to meet him face to face. It wouldn't do to go in the common way, such as ringin' at the front door and askin' for him, an' then offerin' to sell him furniter-polish for his pianner-legs. I knowed well enough that any errand like that would only bring me face to face with his bailiff, or his master of hounds, or something of that kind. So, at last, I got a plan of my own, an' I goes up the steps and rings the bell, an' when the flunkey, with more of an air of gen'ral upliftedness about him than any one I'd seen yet, excep' Nelson on top of his pillar, opened the door an' looked at me, I asked him,—
"'Is Earl Cobden in?'
"At this the man opened his eyes, an' remarked:—
"'What uv it if he is?'
"Then I answers, firmly:—
"'If he's in, I want yer to take him this letter, an' I'll wait here.'"
"You don't mean to say," cried Euphemia, "that you wrote the earl a letter?"
"Yes, I did," continued Pomona, "and at first the man didn't seem inclined to take it. But I held it out so steady that he took it an' put it on a little tray, whether nickel-plated or silver I couldn't make out, and carried it up the widest and splendidest pair o' stairs that I ever see in a house jus' intended to be lived in. When he got to the fust landin' he met a gentleman, and give him the letter. When I saw this I was took aback, for I thought it was his lordship a-comin' down, an' I didn't want to have no interview with a earl at his front door. But the second glance I took at him showed me that it wasn't him. He opened it, notwithstanding', an' read it all through from beginnin' to end. When he had done it he looked down at me, and then he went back up stairs a-follered by the flunk, which last pretty soon came down ag'in an' told me I was to go up. I don't think I ever felt so much like a wringed-out dish-cloth as I did when I went up them palatial stairs. But I tried to think of things that would prop me up. P'r'aps, I thought, my ancient ancestors came to this land with his'n; who knows? An' I might 'a' been switched off on some female line, an' so lost the name an' estates. At any rate, be brave! With such thoughts as these I tried to stiffen my legs, figgeratively speakin'. We went through two or three rooms (I hadn't time to count 'em) an' then I was showed into the lofty presence of the earl. He was standin' by the fire-place, an' the minnit my eyes lit upon him I knowed it was him."
"Why, how was that?" cried Euphemia and myself almost in the same breath.
"I knowed him by his wax figger," continued Pomona, "which Jone and I see at Madame Tussaud's wax-works. They've got all the head people of these days there now, as well as the old kings and the pizeners. The clothes wasn't exactly the same, though very good on each, an' there was more of an air of shortenin' of the spine in the wax figger than in the other one. But the likeness was awful strikin'.
"'Well, my good woman,' says he, a-holdin' my open letter in his hand, 'so you want to see a lord, do you?'"
"What on earth did you write to him?" exclaimed Euphemia. "You mustn't go on a bit further until you have told what was in your letter."
"Well," said Pomona, "as near as I can remember, it was like this: 'William, Lord Cobden, Earl of Sorsetshire an' Derry. Dear Sir. Bein' brought up under Republican institutions, in the land of the free—' I left out 'the home of the brave' because there wasn't no use crowin' about that jus' then—'I haven't had no oppertunity of meetin' with a individual of lordly blood. Ever since I was a small girl takin' books from the circulatin' libery, an' obliged to read out loud with divided sillerbles, I've drank in every word of the tales of lords and other nobles of high degree, that the little shops where I gen'rally got my books, an' some with the pages out at the most excitin' parts, contained. An' so I asks you now, Sir Lord—' I did put humbly, but I scratched that out, bein' an American woman—'to do me the favor of a short audience. Then, when I reads about noble earls an' dukes in their brilliant lit halls an' castles, or mounted on their champin' chargers, a-leadin' their trusty hordes to victory amid the glittering minarets of fame, I'll know what they looks like.' An' then I signed my name.
"'Yes, sir,' says I, in answer to his earlship's question," said Pomona, taking up her story, "'I did want to see one, upon my word.'
"'An' now that you have seen him,' says he, 'what do you think of him?'
"Now, I had made up my mind before I entered this ducal pile, or put my foot on one ancestral stone, that I'd be square and honest through the whole business, and not try no counterfeit presentiments with the earl. So I says to him:—
"'The fust thing I thinks is, that you've got on the nicest suit of clothes that I've ever seed yit, not bein' exactly Sunday clothes, and yit fit for company, an' if money can buy 'em—an' men's clothes is cheap enough here, dear only knows—I'm goin' to have a suit jus' like it for Jone, my husband.' It was a kind o' brown mixed stuff, with a little spot of red in it here an' there, an' was about as gay for plain goods, an' as plain for gay goods, as anythin' could be, an' 'twas easy enough to see that it was all wool. 'Of course,' says I, 'Jone'll have his coat made different in front, for single-breasted, an' a buttonin' so high up is a'most too stylish for him, 'specially as fashions 'ud change afore the coat was wore out. But I needn't bother your earlship about that.'
"'An' so,' says he, an' I imagine I see an air of sadness steal over his features, 'it's my clothes, after all, that interest you?'
"'Oh, no,' says I, 'I mention them because they come up fust. There is, no doubt, qualities of mind and body—'
"'Well, we won't go into that,' said his earlship, 'an' I want to ask you a question. I suppose you represent the middle class in your country?'
"'I don't know 'zactly where society splits with us,' says I, 'but I guess I'm somewhere nigh the crack.'
"'Now don't you really believe,' says he, 'that you and the people of your class would be happier, an' feel safer, politically speakin', if they had among 'em a aristocracy to which they could look up to in times of trouble, as their nat'ral born gardeens? I ask yer this because I want to know for myself what are the reel sentiments of yer people.'
"'Well, sir,' says I, 'when your work is done, an' your kitchen cleaned up, an' your lamp lit, a lord or a duke is jus' tip-top to read about, if the type aint too fine an' the paper mean beside, which it often is in the ten-cent books; but, further than this, I must say, we aint got no use for 'em.' At that he kind o' steps back, and looks as if he was goin' to say somethin', but I puts in quick: 'But you mustn't think, my earl,' says I, 'that we undervallers you. When we remembers the field of Agincourt; and Chevy Chase; an' the Tower of London, with the block on which three lords was beheaded, with the very cuts in it which the headsman made when he chopped 'em off, as well as two crooked ones a-showin' his bad licks, which little did he think history would preserve forever; an' the old Guildhall, where down in the ancient crypt is a-hangin' our Declaration of Independence along with the Roman pots and kittles dug up in London streets; we can't forgit that if it hadn't 'a' been for your old ancestral lines as roots, we'd never been the flourishin' tree we is.'
"'Well,' said his earlship, when I'd got through, an' he kind o' looked as if he didn't know whether to laugh or not, 'if you represent the feelin's of your class in your country, I reckon they're not just ready for a aristocracy yit.'
"An' with that he give me a little nod, an' walked off into another room. It was pretty plain from this that the interview was brought to a close, an' so I come away. The flunk was all ready to show me out, an' he did it so expeditious, though quite polite, that I didn't git no chance to take a good look at the furniter and carpets, which I'd 'a' liked to have done. An' so I've talked to a real earl, an' if not in his ancestral pile, at any rate in the gorgeousest house I ever see. An' the brilliantest dream of my youth has come true."
When she had finished I rose and looked upon her.
"Pomona," said I, "we may yet visit many foreign countries. We may see kings, queens, dukes, counts, sheikhs, beys, sultans, khedives, pashas, rajahs, and I don't know what potentates besides, and I wish to say just this one thing to you. If you don't want to get yourself and us into some dreadful scrape, and perhaps bring our journeys to a sudden close, you must put a curb on your longing for communing with beings of noble blood."
"That's true, sir," said Pomona, thoughtfully, "an' I made a pretty close shave of it this time, for when I was talkin' to the earl, I was just on the p'int of tellin' him that I had such a high opinion of his kind o' folks that I once named a big black dog after one of 'em, but I jus' remembered in time, an' slipped on to somethin' else. But I trembled worse than a peanut woman with a hackman goin' round the corner to ketch a train an' his hubs just grazin' the legs of her stand. An' so I promise you, sir, that I'll put my heel on all hankerin' after potentates."
And so she made her promise. And, knowing Pomona, I felt sure that she would keep it—if she could.
In the pretty walk, bordered by bright flowers and low, overhanging shrubbery, which lies back of the Albert Memorial, in Kensington Gardens, London, Jonas sat on a green bench, with his baby on his knee. A few nurses were pushing baby-carriages about in different parts of the walk, and there were children playing not far away. It was drawing toward the close of the afternoon, and Jonas was thinking it was nearly time to go home, when Pomona came running to him from the gorgeous monument, which she had been carefully inspecting.
"Jone," she cried, "do you know I've been lookin' at all them great men that's standin' round the bottom of the monnyment, an' though there's over a hundred of 'em, I'm sure, I can't find a American among 'em! There's poets, an' artists, an' leadin' men, scraped up from all parts, an' not one of our illustrious dead. What d'ye think of that?"
"I can't believe it," said Jonas. "If we go home with a tale like that we'll hear the recruiting-drum from Newark to Texas, and, ten to one, I'll be drafted."
"You needn't be makin' fun," said Pomona; "you come an' see for yourself. Perhaps you kin' find jus' one American, an' then I'll go home satisfied."
"All right," said Jonas.
And, putting the child on the bench, he told her he'd be back in a minute, and hurried after Pomona, to give a hasty look for the desired American.
Corinne, the offspring of Jonas and Pomona, had some peculiarities. One of these was that she was accustomed to stay where she was put. Ever since she had been old enough to be carried about, she had been carried about by one parent or the other; and, as it was frequently necessary to set her down, she had learned to sit and wait until she was taken up again. She was now nearly two years old, very strong and active, and of an intellect which had already begun to tower. She could walk very well, but Jonas took such delight in carrying her that he seldom appeared to recognize her ability to use her legs. She could also talk, but how much her parents did not know. She was a taciturn child, and preferred to keep her thoughts to herself, and, although she sometimes astonished us all by imitating remarks she had heard, she frequently declined to repeat the simplest words that had been taught her.
Corinne remained on the bench about a minute after her father had left her, and then, contrary to her usual custom, she determined to leave the place where she had been put. Turning over on her stomach, after the manner of babies, she lowered her feet to the ground. Having obtained a foothold, she turned herself about and proceeded, with sturdy steps, to a baby-carriage near by which had attracted her attention. This carriage, which was unattended, contained a baby, somewhat smaller and younger than Corinne, who sat up and gazed with youthful interest at the visitor who stood by the side of her vehicle. Corinne examined, with a critical eye, the carriage and its occupant. She looked at the soft pillow at the baby's back, and regarded with admiration the afghan crocheted in gay colors which was spread over its lap, and the spacious gig-top which shielded it from the sun. She stooped down and looked at the wheels, and stood up and gazed at the blue eyes and canary hair of the little occupant. Then, in quiet but decided tones, Corinne said:—
The other baby looked at her, but made no movement to obey. After waiting a few moments, an expression of stern severity spreading itself the while over her countenance, Corinne reached over and put her arms around the fair-haired child. Then, with all her weight and strength, she threw herself backward and downward. The other baby, being light, was thus drawn bodily out of its carriage, and Corinne sat heavily upon the ground, her new acquaintance sprawling in her lap. Notwithstanding that she bore the brunt of the fall upon the gravel, Corinne uttered no cry; but, disengaging herself from her encumbrance, she rose to her feet. The other baby imitated her, and Corinne, taking her by the hand, led her to the bench where she herself had been left.
"Dit up!" said Corinne.
This, however, the other baby was unable to do; but she stood quite still, evidently greatly interested in the proceedings. Corinne left her and walked to the little carriage, into which she proceeded to climb. After some extraordinary exertions, during which her fat legs were frequently thrust through the spokes of the wheels and ruthlessly drawn out again, she tumbled in. Arranging herself as comfortably as she knew how, she drew the gay afghan over her, leaned back upon the soft pillow, gazed up at the sheltering gig-top, and resigned herself to luxurious bliss. At this supreme moment, the nurse who had had charge of the carriage and its occupant came hurrying around a corner of the path. She had been taking leave of some of her nurse-maid friends, and had stayed longer than she had intended. It was necessary for her to take a suitable leave of these ladies, for that night she was going on a journey. She had been told to take the baby out for an airing, and to bring it back early. Now, to her surprise, the afternoon had nearly gone, and hurrying to the little carriage she seized the handle at the back and rapidly pushed it home, without stopping to look beneath the overhanging gig-top, or at the green bench, with which her somewhat worried soul had no concern. If anything could add to Corinne's ecstatic delight, it was this charming motion. Closing her eyes contentedly, she dropped asleep.
The baby with canary hair looked at the receding nurse and carriage with widening eyes and reddening cheeks. Then, opening her mouth, she uttered the cry of the deserted; but the panic-stricken nurse did not hear her, and, if she had, what were the cries of other children to her? Her only business was to get home quickly with her young charge.
About five minutes after these events, Jonas and Pomona came hurrying along the path. They, too, had stayed away much longer than they had intended, and had suddenly given up their search for the American, whom they had hoped to find in high relief upon the base of the Albert Memorial. Stepping quickly to the child, who still stood sobbing by the bench, Jonas exclaimed, "You poor itty—!"
And then he stopped suddenly. Pomona also stood for a second, and then she made a dash at the child, and snatched it up. Gazing sharply at its tear-smeared countenance, she exclaimed, "What's this?"
The baby did not seem able to explain what it was, and only answered by a tearful sob. Jonas did not say a word; but, with the lithe quickness of a dog after a rat, he began to search behind and under benches, in the bushes, on the grass, here, there, and everywhere.
About nine o'clock that evening, Pomona came to us with tears in her eyes, and the canary-haired baby in her arms, and told us that Corinne was lost. They had searched everywhere; they had gone to the police; telegrams had been sent to every station; they had done everything that could be done, but had found no trace of the child.
"If I hadn't this," sobbed Pomona, holding out the child, "I believe I'd go wild. It isn't that she can take the place of my dear baby, but by a-keepin' hold of her I believe we'll git on the track of Corinne."
We were both much affected by this news, and Euphemia joined Pomona in her tears.
"Jonas is scourin' the town yet," said Pomona. "He'll never give up till he drops. But I felt you ought to know, and I couldn't keep this little thing in the night-air no longer. It's a sweet child, and its clothes are lovely. If it's got a mother, she's bound to want to see it before long; an' if ever I ketch sight of her, she don't git away from me till I have my child."
"It is a very extraordinary case," I said. "Children are often stolen, but it is seldom we hear of one being taken and another left in its place, especially when the children are of different ages, and totally unlike."
"That's so," said Pomona. "At first, I thought that Corinne had been changed off for a princess, or something like that, but nobody couldn't make anybody believe that my big, black-haired baby was this white-an'-yaller thing."
"Can't you find any mark on her clothes," asked Euphemia, "by which you could discover her parentage? If there are no initials, perhaps you can find a coronet or a coat of arms."
"No," said Pomona, "there aint nothin'. I've looked careful. But there's great comfort to think that Corinne's well stamped."
"Stamped!" we exclaimed. "What do you mean by that?"
"Why, you see," answered Pomona, "when Jone an' I was goin' to bring our baby over here among so many million people, we thought there might be danger of its gittin' lost or mislaid, though we never really believed any such thing would happen, or we wouldn't have come. An' so we agreed to mark her, for I've often read about babies bein' stole an' kept two or three years, and when found bein' so changed their own mothers didn't know 'em. Jone said we'd better tattoo Corinne, for them marks would always be there, but I wouldn't agree to have the little creature's skin stuck with needles, not even after Jone said we might give her chloryform; so we agreed to stamp initials on her with Perkins's Indelible Dab. It is intended to mark sheep, but it don't hurt, and it don't never come off. We put the letters on the back of her heels, where they wouldn't show, for she's never to go barefoot, an' where they'd be easy got at if we wanted to find 'em. We put R.G. on one heel for the name of the place, and J.P. on the other heel for Jonas an' me. If, twenty years from now," said Pomona, her tears welling out afresh, "I should see a young woman with eyes like Corinne's, an' that I felt was her, a-walking up to the bridal altar, with all the white flowers, an' the floatin' veils, an' the crowds in the church, an' the music playin', an' the minister all ready, I'd jist jerk that young woman into the vestry-room, an' have off her shoes an' stockin's in no time. An' if she had R.G. on one heel, an' J.P. on the other, that bridegroom could go home alone."