Frank Richard Stockton.

Pomona's Travels A Series of Letters to the Mistress of Rudder Grange from her Former Handmaiden online

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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.

[Illustration: "DOWN CAME A SHOWER OF RAIN"]

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."

[Illustration: "Ask the waiter what the French words mean"]

"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_


[Illustration]

LONDON

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.

[Illustration: Jone giving an order]

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.

[Illustration: The Carver]

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."

[Illustration: "You Americans are the speediest people"]

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_


CHEDCOMBE, SOMERSETSHIRE

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.

[Illustration: "THAT WAS OUR HOUSE"]

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


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Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonPomona's Travels A Series of Letters to the Mistress of Rudder Grange from her Former Handmaiden → online text (page 2 of 13)