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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Flat Iron For A Farthing - Chapter 4. Aunt Maria--The Enemy Routed--London Town
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A Flat Iron For A Farthing - Chapter 4. Aunt Maria--The Enemy Routed--London Town Post by :samuraiwarrior Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :3271

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A Flat Iron For A Farthing - Chapter 4. Aunt Maria--The Enemy Routed--London Town

CHAPTER IV. AUNT MARIA--THE ENEMY ROUTED--LONDON TOWN

Aunt Maria was my father's sister. She was married to a wealthy gentleman, and had a large family of children. It was from her that we originally got Nurse Bundle; and anecdotes of her and of my cousins, and wonderful accounts of London (where they lived), had long figured conspicuously in Mrs. Bundle's nursery chronicles.

Aunt Maria came, and Uncle Ascott came with her.

It is not altogether without a reason that I speak of them in this order. Aunt Maria was the active partner of their establishment. She was a clever, vigorous, well-educated, inartistic, kindly, managing woman. She was not exactly "meddling," but when she thought it her duty to interfere in a matter, no delicacy of scruples, and no nervousness baulked the directness of her proceedings. When she was most sweeping or uncompromising, Uncle Ascott would say, "My dear Maria!" But it was generally from a spasm of nervous cowardice, and not from any deliberate wish to interrupt Aunt Maria's course of action. He trusted her entirely.

Aunt Maria was very shrewd, and that long interview with Nurse Bundle in her own room was hardly needed to acquaint her with the condition of domestic politics in our establishment. She "took in" the Burtons with one glance. The ladies "fell out" the following evening. The Burtons left Dacrefield the next morning, and at lunch Aunt Maria "pulled them to pieces" with as little remorse as a cook would pluck a partridge. I never saw Miss Eliza Burton again.

Aunt Maria did not fondle or spoil me. She might perhaps have shown more tenderness to her brother's only and motherless child; but, after Miss Burton, hers was a fault on the right side. She had a kindly interest in me, and she showed it by asking me to pay her a visit in London.

"It will do the child good, Regie," she said to my father. "He will be with other children, and all our London sights will be new to him. I will take every care of him, and you must come up and fetch him back. It will do you good too."

"To be sure!" chimed in Uncle Ascott, patting me good-naturedly on the head; "Master Reginald will fancy himself in Fairy Land. There are the Zoological Gardens, and Madame Tussaud's Waxwork Exhibition, and the Pantomime, and no one knows what besides! We shall make him quite at home! He and Helen are just the same age, I think, and Polly's a year or so younger, eh, mamma?"

"Nineteen months," said Aunt Maria, decisively; and she turned once more to my father, upon whom she was urging certain particulars.

It was with unfeigned joy that I heard my father say,

"Well, thank you, Maria. I do think it will do him good. And I'll certainly come and look you and Robert up myself."

There was only one drawback to my pleasure, when the much anticipated time of my first visit to London came. Aunt Maria did not like dogs; Uncle Ascott too said that "they were very rural and nice for the country, but that they didn't do in a town house. Besides which, Regie," he added, "such a pretty dog as Rubens would be sure to be stolen. And you wouldn't like that."

"I will take good care of Rubens, my boy," added my father; and with this promise I was obliged to content myself.

The excitement and pleasure of the various preparations for my visit were in themselves a treat. There had been some domestic discussion as to a suitable box for my clothes, and the matter was not quickly settled. There happened to be no box of exactly the convenient size in the house, and it was proposed to pack my things with Nurse Bundle's in one of the larger cases. This was a disappointment to my dignity; and I ventured to hint that I "should like a trunk all to myself, like a grown-up gentleman," without, however, much hope that my wishes would be fulfilled. The surprise was all the pleasanter when, on the day before our departure, there arrived by the carrier's cart from our nearest town a small, daintily-finished trunk, with a lock and key to it, and my initials in brass nails upon the outside. It was a parting gift from my father.

"I like young ladies and gentlemen to have things nice about 'em," Nurse Bundle observed, as we prepared to pack my trunk. "Then they takes a pride in their things, and so it stands to reason they takes more care of 'em."

To this excellent sentiment I gave my heartiest assent, and proceeded to illustrate it by the fastidious care with which I selected and folded the clothes I wished to take. As I examined my socks for signs of wear and tear, and then folded them by the ingenious process of grasping the heels and turning them inside out, in imitation of Nurse Bundle, an idea struck me, based upon my late reading and approaching prospects of travel.

"Nurse," said I, "I think I should like to learn to darn socks, because, you know, I might want to know how, if I was cast away on a desert island."

"If ever you find yourself on a desolate island, Master Reginald," said Nurse Bundle, "just you write straight off to me, and I'll come and do them kind of things for you."

"Well," said I, "only mind you bring Rubens, if I haven't got him."

For I had dim ideas that some Robinson Crusoe adventures might befall me before I returned home from this present expedition.

My father's place was about sixty miles from London. Mr. and Mrs. Ascott had come down in their own carriage, and were to return the same way.

I was to go with them, and Nurse Bundle also. She was to sit in the rumble of the carriage behind. Every particular of each new arrangement afforded me great amusement; and I could hardly control my impatience for the eventful day to arrive.

It came at last. There was very early breakfast for us all in the dining-room. No appetite, however, had I; and very cruel I thought Aunt Maria for insisting that I should swallow a certain amount of food, as a condition of being allowed to go at all. My enforced breakfast over, I went to look for Rubens. Ever since the day when it was first settled that I should go, the dear dog had kept close, very close at my heels. That depressed and aimless wandering about which always afflicts the dogs of the household when any of the family are going away from home was strong upon him. After the new trunk came into my room, Rubens took into his head a fancy for lying upon it; and though the brass nails must have been very uncomfortable, and though my bed was always free to him, on the box he was determined to be, and on the box he lay for hours together.

It was on the box that I found him, in the portico, despite the cords which now added a fresh discomfort to his self-chosen resting-place. I called to him, but though he wagged his tail he seemed disinclined to move, and lay curled up with one eye shut and one fixed on the carriage at the door.

"He's been trying to get into the carriage, sir," said the butler.

"You want to go too, poor Ruby, don't you?" I said; and I went in search of meats to console him.

He accepted a good breakfast from my hands with gratitude, and then curled himself up with one eye watchful as before. The reason of his proceedings was finally made evident by his determined struggles to accompany us at the last; and it was not till he had been forcibly shut up in the coach-house that we were able to start. My grief at parting with him was lessened by the distraction of another question.

Of all places about our equipage, I should have preferred riding with the postilion. Short of that, I was most anxious to sit behind in the rumble with my nurse. This favour was at length conceded, and after a long farewell from my father, gilded with a sovereign in my pocket, I was, with a mountain of wraps, consigned to the care of Nurse Bundle in the back seat.

The dew was still on the ground, the birds sang their loudest, the morning air was fresh and delicious, and before we had driven five miles on our way I could have eaten three such breakfasts as the one I had rejected at six o'clock. In the first two villages through which we drove people seemed to be only just getting up and beginning the day's business. In one or two "genteel" houses the blinds were still down; in reference to which I resolved that when _I grew up I would not waste the best part of the day in bed, with the sun shining, the birds singing, the flowers opening, and country people going about their business, all beyond my closed windows.

"Nurse, please, I should like always to have breakfast at six o'clock. Do you hear, Nursey?" I added, for Mrs. Bundle feigned to be absorbed in contemplating a flock of sheep which were being driven past us.

"Very well, my dear. We'll see."

That "we'll see" of Nurse Bundle's was a sort of moral soothing-syrup which she kept to allay inconvenient curiosity and over-pertinacious projects in the nursery.

I had soon reason to decide that if I had breakfast at six, luncheon would not be unacceptable at half-past ten, at about which time I lost sight of the scenery and confined my attention to a worsted workbag in which Nurse Bundle had a store of most acceptable buns. Halting shortly after this to water the horses, a glass of milk was got for me from a wayside inn, over the door of which hung a small gate, on whose bars the following legend was painted:--


"This gate hangs well
And hinders none.
Refresh and pay,
And travel on."


"Did you put that up?" I inquired of the man who brought my milk.

"No, sir. It's been there long enough," was his reply.

"What does 'hinders none' mean?" I asked.

The man looked back, and considered the question.

"It means as it's not in the way of nothing. It don't hinder nobody," he replied at last.

"It couldn't if it wanted to," said I; "for it doesn't reach across the road. If it did, I suppose it would be a tollbar."

"He's a rum little chap, that!" said the waiter to Nurse Bundle, when he had taken back my empty glass. And he unmistakably nodded at me.

"What is a rum little chap, Nurse?" I inquired when we had fairly started once more.

"It's very low language," said Mrs. Bundle, indignantly; and this fact depressed me for several miles.

At about half-past eleven we rattled into Farnham, and stopped to lunch at "The Bush." I was delighted to get down from my perch, and to stretch my cramped legs by running about in the charming garden behind that celebrated inn. Dim bright memories are with me still of the long-windowed parlour opening into a garden verdant with grass, and stately yew hedges, and formal clipped trees; gay, too, with bright flowers, and mysterious with a walk winding under an arch of the yew hedge to the more distant bowling-green. On one side of this arch an admirably-carved stone figure in broadcoat and ruffles played perpetually upon a stone fiddle to an equally spirited shepherdess in hoop and high heels, who was for ever posed in dancing posture upon her pedestal and never danced away. As I wandered round the garden whilst luncheon was being prepared, I was greatly taken with these figures, and wondered if it might be that they were an enchanted prince and princess turned to stone by some wicked witch, envious of their happiness in the peaceful garden amid the green alleys and fragrant flowers. As I ate my luncheon I felt as if I were consuming what was their property, and pondered the supposition that some day the spell might be broken, and the stone-bound couple came down from those high pedestals, and go dancing and fiddling into the Farnham streets.

They showed no symptoms of moving whilst we remained, and, duly refreshed, we now proceeded on our way. I rejected the offer of a seat inside the carriage with scorn, and Nurse and I clambered back to our perch. No easy matter for either of us, by the way!--Nurse Bundle being so much too large, and I so much too small, to compass the feat with anything approaching to ease.

I was greatly pleased with the dreary beauties of Bagshot Heath, and Nurse Bundle (to whom the whole journey was familiar) enlivened this part of our way by such anecdotes of Dick Turpin, the celebrated highwayman, as she deemed suitable for my amusement. With what interest I gazed at the little house by the roadside where Turpin was wont to lodge, and where, arriving late one night, he demanded beef-steak for supper in terms so peremptory that, there being none in the house, the old woman who acted as his housekeeper was obliged to walk, then and there, to the nearest town to procure it! This and various other incidents of the robber's career I learned from Nurse Bundle, who told me that traditions of his exploits and character were still fresh in the neighbouring villages.

At Virginia Water we dined and changed horses. We stayed here longer than was necessary, that I might see the lake and the ship; and Uncle Ascott gave sixpence to an old man with a wooden leg who told us all about it. And still I declined an inside place, and went back with Nurse Bundle to the rumble. Early rising and the long drive began to make me sleepy. The tame beauties of the valley of the Thames drew little attention from my weary eyes; and I do not remember much about the place where we next halted, except that the tea tasted of hay, and that the bread and butter were good.

I gazed dreamily at Hounslow, despite fresh tales of Dick Turpin; and all the successive "jogs" by which Nurse called my incapable attention to the lamplighters, the shops, the bottles in the chemists' windows, and Hyde Park, failed to rouse me to any intelligent appreciation of the great city, now that I had reached it. After a long weary dream of rattle and bustle, and dim lamps, and houses stretching upwards like Jack's beanstalk through the chilly and foggy darkness, the carriage stopped with one final jolt in a quiet and partially-lighted square; and I was lifted down, and staggered into a house where the light was as abundant and overpowering as it was feeble and inefficient without, and, cramped in my limbs, and smothered with shawls, I could only beg in my utter weariness to be put to bed.

Aunt Maria was always sensible, and generally kind.

"Bring him at once to his room, Mrs. Bundle," she said, "and get his clothes off, and I will bring him some hot wine and water and a few rusks." As in a dream, I was undressed, my face and hands washed, my prayers said in a somewhat perfunctory fashion, and my evening hymn commuted in consideration of my fatigues for the beautiful verse, "I will lay me down in peace, and take my rest," etc.; and by the time that I sank luxuriously between the clean sheets, I was almost sufficiently restored to appreciate the dainty appearance of my room. Then Aunt Maria brought me the hot wine and water flavoured with sleep-giving cloves, and Nurse folded my clothes, and tucked me up, and left me, with the friendly reflection of the lamps without to keep me company.

I do not think I had really been to sleep, but I believe I was dozing, when I fancied that I heard the familiar sound of Rubens lapping water from the toilette jug in my room at home. Just conscious that I was not there, and that Rubens could not be here, the sound began to trouble me. At first I was too sleepy to care to look round. Then as I became more awake and the sound not less distinct, I felt fidgety and frightened, and at last called faintly for Nurse Bundle.

Then the sound stopped. I could hardly breathe, and had just resolved upon making a brave sally for assistance, when--plump! _something alighted on my bed, and, wildly impossible as it seemed, Rubens himself waggled up to my pillow, and began licking my face as if his life depended on laying my nose and all other projecting parts of my countenance flat with my cheeks.

How he had got to London we never knew. As he made an easy escape from the coach-house at Dacrefield, it was always supposed that he simply followed the carriage, and had the wit to hide himself when we stopped on the road. He was terribly tired. He might well be thirsty!

I levied large contributions on the box of rusks which Aunt Maria had left by my bedside, for his benefit, and he supped well.

Then he curled himself up in his own proper place at my feet. He was intensely self-satisfied, and expressed his high idea of his own exploit by self-gratulatory "grumphs," as after describing many mystic circles, and scraping up the fair Marseilles quilt on some plan of his own, he brought his nose and tail together in a satisfactory position in his nest, and we passed our first night in London in dreamless and profound sleep.

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