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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPomona's Travels - Letter Number Fifteen
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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Fifteen Post by :Truman Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :1899

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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Fifteen

BELL HOTEL, GLOUCESTER

As soon as I jumped on shore, as I told you in my last, and had taken a good grip on Jone's heavy stick, I went for those hogs, for I wanted to drive them off before Jone came ashore, for I didn't want him to think he must come.

I have driven hogs and cows out of lots and yards often enough, as you know yourself, madam, so I just stepped up to the biggest of them and hit him a whack across the head as he was rubbing his nose in among some papers with bits of landscapes on them, as was enough to make him give up studying art for the rest of his life; but would you believe it, madam, instead of running away he just made a bolt at me, and gave me such a push with his head and shoulders he nearly knocked me over? I never was so astonished, for they looked like hogs that you might think could be chased out of a yard by a boy. But I gave the fellow another crack on the back, which he didn't seem to notice, but just turned again to give me another push, and at the same minute the two others stopped rooting among the paint-boxes and came grunting at me.

For the first time in my life I was frightened by hogs. I struck at them as hard as I could, and before I knew what I was about I flung down the stick, made a rush for that gate, and was on top of it in no time, in company with the three other young women that was sitting there already.

"Really," said the one next to me, "I fancied you was going to be gored to atoms before our eyes. Whatever made you go to those nasty beasts?"

I looked at her quite severe, getting my feet well up out of reach of the hogs if they should come near us.

"I saw you was in trouble, miss, and I came to help you. My husband wanted to come, but he has the rheumatism and I wouldn't let him."

The other two young women looked at me as well as they could around the one that was near me, and the one that was farthest off said:

"If the creatures could have been driven off by a woman, we could have done it ourselves. I don't know why you should think you could do it any better than we could."

I must say, madam, that at that minute I was a little humble-minded, for I don't mind confessing to you that the idea of one American woman plunging into a conflict that had frightened off three English women, and coming out victorious, had a good deal to do with my trying to drive away those hogs; and now that I had come out of the little end of the horn, just as the young women had, I felt pretty small, but I wasn't going to let them see that.

"I think that English hogs," said I, "must be savager than American ones. Where I live there is not any kind of a hog that would not run away if I shook a stick at him." The young woman at the other end of the gate now spoke again.

"Everything British is braver than anything American," said she; "and all you have done has been to vex those hogs, and they are chewing up our drawing things worse than they did before."

Of course I fired up at this, and said, "You are very much mistaken about Americans." But before I could say any more she went on to tell me that she knew all about Americans; she had been in America, and such a place she could never have fancied.

"Over there you let everybody trample over you as much as they please. You have no conveniences. One cannot even get a cab. Fancy! Not a cab to be had unless one pays enough for a drive in Hyde Park."

I must say that the hogs charging down on me didn't astonish me any more than to find myself on top of a gate with a young woman charging on my country in this fashion, and it was pretty hard on me to have her pitch into the cab question, because Jone and me had had quite a good deal to say about cabs ourselves, comparing New York and London, without any great fluttering of the stars and stripes; but I wasn't going to stand any such talk as that, and so I said:

"I know very well that our cab charges are high, and it is not likely that poor people coming from other countries are able to pay them; but as soon as our big cities get filled up with wretched, half-starved people, with the children crying for bread at home, and the father glad enough that he's able to get people to pay him a shilling for a drive, and that he's not among the hundreds and thousands of miserable men who have not any work at all, and go howling to Hyde Park to hold meetings for blood or bread, then we will be likely to have cheap cabs as you have."

"How perfectly awful!" said the young woman nearest me; but the one at the other end of the gate didn't seem to mind what I said, but shifted off on another track.

"And then there's your horses' tails," said she; "anything nastier couldn't be fancied. Hundreds of them everywhere with long tails down to their heels, as if they belong to heathens who had never been civilized."

"Heathens?" said I. "If you call the Arabians heathens, who have the finest horses in the world, and wouldn't any more think of cutting off their tails than they would think of cutting their legs off; and if you call the cruel scoundrels who torture their poor horses by sawing their bones apart so as to get a little stuck-up bob on behind, like a moth-eaten paint-brush--if you call them Christians, then I suppose you're right. There is a law in some parts of our country against the wickedness of chopping off the tails of live horses, and if you had such a law here you'd be a good deal more Christian-like than you are, to say nothing of getting credit for decent taste."

By this time I had forgotten all about what Jone and I had agreed upon as to arguing over the differences between countries, and I was just as peppery as a wasp. The young woman at the other end of the gate was rather waspy too, for she seemed to want to sting me wherever she could find a spot uncovered; and now she dropped off her horses' tails, and began to laugh until her face got purple.

"You Americans are so awfully odd," she said. "You say you raise your corn and your plants instead of growing them. It nearly makes me die laughing when I hear one of you Americans say raise when you mean grow."

Now Jone and me had some talk about growing and raising, and the reasons for and against our way of using the words; but I was ready to throw all this to the winds, and was just about to tell the impudent young woman that we raised our plants just the same as we raised our children, leaving them to do their own growing, when the young woman in the middle of the three, who up to this time hadn't said a word, screamed out:

(Illustration: "AND WITH A SCREECH I DASHED AT THOSE HOGS LIKE A STEAM ENGINE")

"Oh, dear! Oh, dear! He's pulled out my drawing of Wilton Bridge. He'll eat it up. Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Whatever shall I do?"

Instead of speaking I turned quick and looked at the hogs, and there, sure enough, one of them had rooted open a portfolio and had hold of the corners of a colored picture, which, from where I sat, I could see was perfectly beautiful. The sky and the trees and the water was just like what we ourselves had seen a little while ago, and in about half a minute that hog would chew it up and swallow it.

The young woman next to me had an umbrella in her hand. I made a snatch at this and dropped off that gate like a shot. I didn't stop to think about anything except that beautiful picture was on the point of being swallowed up, and with a screech I dashed at those hogs like a steam engine. When they saw me coming with my screech and the umbrella they didn't stop a second, but with three great wiggles and three scared grunts they bolted as fast as they could go. I picked up the picture of the bridge, together with the portfolio, and took them to the young woman who owned them. As the hogs had gone, all three of the women was now getting down from the gate.

"Thank you very much," she said, "for saving my drawings. It was awfully good of you, especially--"

"Oh, you are welcome," said I, cutting her off short; and, handing the other young woman her umbrella, I passed by the impudent one without so much as looking at her, and on the other side of the hedge I saw Jone coming across the grass. I jerked open the gate, not caring who it might swing against, and walked to meet Jone. When I was near enough I called out to know what on earth had become of him that he had left me there so long by myself, forgetting that I hadn't wanted him to come at all; and he told me that he had had a hard time getting on shore, because they found the banks very low and muddy, and when he had landed he was on the wrong side of a hedge, and had to walk a good way around it.

"I was troubled," said he, "because I thought you might come to grief with the hogs."

"Hogs!" said I, so sarcastic, that Jone looked hard at me, but I didn't tell him anything more till we was in the boat, and then I just said right out what had happened. Jone couldn't help laughing.

"If I had known," said he, "that you was on top of a gate discussing horses' tails and cabs I wouldn't have felt in such a hurry to get to you."

"And you would have made a mistake if you hadn't," I said, "for hogs are nothing to such a person as was on that gate."

Old Samivel was rowing slow and looking troubled, and I believe at that minute he forgot the River Wye was crooked.

"That was really hard, madam," he said, "really hard on you; but it was a woman, and you have to excuse women. Now if they had been three Englishmen sitting on that gate they would never have said such things to you, knowing that you was a stranger in these parts and had come on shore to do them a service. And now, madam, I'm glad to see you are beginning to take notice of the landscapes again. Just ahead of us is another bend, and when we get around that you'll see the prettiest picture you've seen yet. This is a crooked river, madam, and that's how it got its name. Wye means crooked."

After a while we came to a little church near the river bank, and here Samivel stopped rowing, and putting his hands on his knees he laughed gayly.

"It always makes me laugh," he said, "whenever I pass this spot. It seems to me like such an awful good joke. Here's that church on this side of the river, and away over there on the other side of the river is the rector and the congregation."

"And how do they get to church?" said I.

"In the summer time," said he, "they come over with a ferry-boat and a rope; but in the winter, when the water is frozen, they can't get over at all. Many's the time I've lain in bed and laughed and laughed when I thought of this church on one side of the river, and the whole congregation and the rector on the other side, and not able to get over."

Toward the end of the day, and when we had rowed nearly twenty miles, we saw in the distance the town of Monmouth, where we was going to stop for the night.

(Illustration: "In the winter, when the water is frozen, they can't get over")

Old Samivel asked us what hotel we was going to stop at, and when we told him the one we had picked out he said he could tell us a better one.

"If I was you," he said, "I'd go to the Eyengel." We didn't know what this name meant, but as the old man said he would take us there we agreed to go.

"I should think you would have a lonely time rowing back by yourself," I said.

"Rowing back?" said he. "Why, bless your soul, lady, there isn't nobody who could row this boat back agen that current and up them rapids. We take the boats back with the pony. We put the boat on a wagon and the pony pulls it back to Ross; and as for me, I generally go back by the train. It isn't so far from Monmouth to Ross by the road, for the road is straight and the river winds and bends."

The old man took us to the inn which he recommended, and we found it was the Angel. It was a nice, old-fashioned, queer English house. As far as I could see, they was all women that managed it, and it couldn't have been managed better; and as far as I could see, we was the only guests, unless there was "commercial gents," who took themselves away without our seeing them.

We was sorry to have old Samivel leave us, and we bid him a most friendly good-by, and promised if we ever knew of anybody who wanted to go down the River Wye we would recommend them to ask at Ross for Samivel Jones to row them.

We found the landlady of the Angel just as good to us as if we had been her favorite niece and nephew. She hired us a carriage the next day, and we was driven out to Raglan Castle, through miles and miles of green and sloping ruralness. When we got there and rambled through those grand old ruins, with the drawbridge and the tower and the courtyard, my soul went straight back to the days of knights and ladies, and prancing steeds, and horns and hawks, and pages and tournaments, and wild revels and vaulted halls.

The young man who had charge of the place seemed glad to see how much we liked it, as is natural enough, for everybody likes to see us pleased with the particular things they have on hand.

"You haven't anything like this in your country," said he. But to this I said nothing, for I was tired of always hearing people speak of my national denomination as if I was something in tin cans, with a label pasted on outside; but Jone said it was true enough that we didn't have anything like it, for if we had such a noble edifice we would have taken care of it, and not let it go to rack and ruin in this way.

Jone has an idea that it don't show good sense to knock a bit of furniture about from garret to cellar until most of its legs are broken, and its back cracked, and its varnish all peeled off, and then tie ribbons around it, and hang it up in the parlor, and kneel down to it as a relic of the past. He says that people who have got old ruins ought to be very thankful that there is any of them left, but it's no use in them trying to fill up the missing parts with brag.

We took the train and went to Chepstow, which is near the mouth of the Wye, and as the railroad ran near the river nearly all the way we had lots of beautiful views, though, of course, it wasn't anything like as good as rowing along the stream in a boat. The next day we drove to the celebrated Tintern Abbey, and on the way the road passed two miles and a half of high stone wall, which shut in a gentleman's place. What he wanted to keep in or keep out by means of a wall like that, we couldn't imagine; but the place made me think of a lunatic asylum.

The road soon became shady and beautiful, running through woods along the river bank and under some great crags called the Wyndcliffe, and then we came to the Abbey and got out.

Of all the beautiful high-pointed archery of ancient times, this ruined Abbey takes the lead. I expect you've seen it, madam, or read about it, and I am not going to describe it; but I will just say that Jone, who had rather objected to coming out to see any more old ruins, which he never did fancy, and only came because he wouldn't have me come by myself, was so touched up in his soul by what he saw there, and by wandering through this solemn and beautiful romance of bygone days, he said he wouldn't have missed it for fifty dollars.

We came back to Gloucester to-day, and to-morrow we are off for Buxton. As we are so near Stratford and Warwick and all that, Jone said we'd better go there on our way, but I wouldn't agree to it. I am too anxious to get him skipping round like a colt, as he used to, to stop anywhere now, and when we come back I can look at Shakespeare's tomb with a clearer conscience.

* * * * *

LONDON.

After all, the weather isn't the only changeable thing in this world, and this letter, which I thought I was going to send to you from Gloucester, is now being finished in London. We was expecting to start for Buxton, but some money that Jone had ordered to be sent from London two or three days before didn't come, and he thought it would be wise for him to go and look after it. So yesterday, which was Saturday, we started off for London, and came straight to the Babylon Hotel, where we had been before.

Of course we couldn't do anything until Monday, and this morning when we got up we didn't feel in very good spirits, for of all the doleful things I know of, a Sunday in London is the dolefullest. The whole town looks as if it was the back door of what it was the day before, and if you want to get any good out of it, you feel as if you had to sneak in by an alley, instead of walking boldly up the front steps.

Jone said we'd better go to Westminster Abbey to church, because he believed in getting the best there was when it didn't cost too much, but I wouldn't do it.

(Illustration: "Who do you suppose we met? Mr. Poplington!")

"No," said I. "When I walk in that religious nave and into the hallowed precincts of the talented departed, the stone passages are full of cloudy forms of Chaucers, Addisons, Miltons, Dickenses, and all those great ones of the past; and I would hate to see the place filled up with a crowd of weekday lay people in their Sunday clothes, which would be enough to wipe away every feeling of romantic piety which might rise within my breast."

As we didn't go to the Abbey, and was so long making up our minds where we should go, it got too late to go anywhere, and so we stayed in the hotel and looked out into a lonely and deserted street, with the wind blowing the little leaves and straws against the tight-shut doors of the forsaken houses. As I stood by that window I got homesick, and at last I could stand it no longer, and I said to Jone, who was smoking and reading a paper:

"Let's put on our hats and go out for a walk, for I can't mope here another minute."

So down we went, and coming up the front steps of the front entrance who do you suppose we met? Mr. Poplington! He was stopping at that hotel, and was just coming home from church, with his face shining like a sunset on account of the comfortableness of his conscience after doing his duty.

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