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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPomona's Travels - Letter Number Four
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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Four Post by :Ndoki Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :542

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Pomona's Travels - 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 shut up in a box, which she only opens now and then to show to her descendants. In every room and on the stairs there was a general air of antiquated freshness, mingled with the odors of English breakfast tea and recollections of the story of Cranford, which, if Jone and me had been alone, would have made me dance from the garret of that house to the cellar. Every sentiment of romance that I had in my soul bubbled to the surface, and I felt as if I was one of my ancestors before she emigrated to the colonies. I could not say what I thought, but I pinched Jone's arm whenever I could get a chance, which relieved me a little; and when Miss Pondar had come to me with a little courtesy, and asked me what time I would like to have dinner, and told me what she had taken the liberty of ordering, so as to have everything ready by the time I came, and Mrs. Shutterfield had gone, after begging to know what more she could do for us, and we had gone to our own room, I let out my feelings in one wild scream of delirious gladness that would have been heard all the way to the railroad station if I had not covered my head with two pillows and the corner of a blanket.

After we had dinner, which was as English as the British lion, and much more to our taste than anything we had had in London, Jone went out to smoke a pipe, and I had a talk with Miss Pondar about fish, meat, and groceries, and about housekeeping matters in general. Miss Pondar, whose general aspect of minister's wife began to wear off when I talked to her, mingles respectfulness and respectability in a manner I haven't been in the habit of seeing. Generally those two things run against each other, but they don't in her.

When she asked what kind of wine we preferred I must say I was struck all in a heap, for wines to Jone and me is like a trackless wilderness without compass or binnacle light, and we seldom drink them except made hot, with nutmeg grated in, for colic; but as I wanted her to understand that if there was any luxuries we didn't order it was because we didn't approve of them, I told her that we was total abstainers, and at that she smiled very pleasant and said that was her persuasion also, and that she was glad not to be obliged to handle intoxicating drinks, though, of course, she always did it without objection when the family used them. When I told Jone this he looked a little blank, for foreign water generally doesn't agree with him. I mentioned this afterwards to Miss Pondar, and she said it was very common in total abstaining families, when water didn't agree with any one of them, especially if it happened to be the gentleman, to take a little good Scotch whiskey with it; but when I told this to Jone he said he would try to bear up under the shackles of abstinence.

This morning, when I was talking with Miss Pondar about fish, and trying to show her that I knew something about the names of English fishes, I said that we was very fond of whitebait. At this she looked astonished for the first time.

"Whitebait?" said she. "We always looked upon that as belonging entirely to the nobility and gentry." At this my back began to bristle, but I didn't let her know it, and I said, in a tone of emphatic mildness, that we would have whitebait twice a week, on Tuesday and Friday. At this Miss Pondar gave a little courtesy and thanked me very much, and said she would attend to it.

When Jone and me came back after taking a long walk that morning I saw a pair of Church of England prayer-books, looking as if they had just been neatly dusted, lying on the parlor table, where they hadn't been before, for I had carefully looked over every book. I think that when it was borne in upon Miss Pondar's soul that we was accustomed to having whitebait as a regular thing she made up her mind we was all right, and that nothing but the Established Church would do for us. Before, she might have thought we was Wesleyans.

Our maid Hannah is very nice to look at, and does her work as well as anybody could do it, and, like most other English servants, she's in a state of never-ending thankfulness, but as I can never understand a word she says except "Thank you very much," I asked Jone if he didn't think it would be a good thing for me to try to teach her a little English.

"Now then," said he, "that's the opening of a big subject. Wait until I fill my pipe and we'll discourse upon it." It was just after luncheon, and we was sitting in the summer-house at the end of the garden, looking out over the roses and pinks and all sorts of old-timey flowers growing as thick as clover heads, with an air as if it wasn't the least trouble in the world to them to flourish and blossom. Beyond the flowers was a little brook with the ducks swimming in it, and beyond that was a field, and on the other side of that field was a park belonging to the lord of the manor, and scattered about the side of a green hill in the park was a herd of his lordship's deer. Most of them was so light-colored that I fancied I could almost see through them, as if they was the little transparent bugs that crawl about on leaves. That isn't a romantic idea to have about deers, but I can't get rid of the notion whenever I see those little creatures walking about on the hills.

At that time it was hardly raining at all, just a little mist, with the sun coming into the summer-house every now and then, making us feel very comfortable and contented.

"Now," said Jone, when he had got his pipe well started, "what I want to talk about is the amount of reformation we expect to do while we're sojourning in the kingdom of Great Britain."

"Reformation!" said I; "we didn't come here to reform anything."

"Well," said Jone, "if we're going to busy our minds with these people's shortcomings and long-goings, and don't try to reform them, we're just worrying ourselves and doing them no good, and I don't think it will pay. Now, for instance, there's that rosy-cheeked Hannah. She's satisfied with her way of speaking English, and Miss Pondar understands it and is satisfied with it, and all the people around here are satisfied with it. As for us, we know, when she comes and stands in the doorway and dimples up her cheeks, and then makes those sounds that are more like drops of molasses falling on a gong than anything else I know of, we know that she is telling us in her own way that the next meal, whatever it is, is ready, and we go to it."

"Yes," said I, "and as I do most of my talking with Miss Pondar, and as we shall be here for such a short time anyway, it may be as well--"

"What I say about Hannah," said Jone, interrupting me as soon as I began to speak about a short stay, "I have to say about everything else in England that doesn't suit us. As long as Hannah doesn't try to make us speak in her fashion I say let her alone. Of course, we shall find a lot of things over here that we shall not approve of--we knew that before we came--and when we find we can't stand their ways and manners any longer we can pack up and go home, but so far as I'm concerned I'm getting along very comfortable so far."

"Oh, so am I," I said to him, "and as to interfering with other people's fashions, I don't want to do it. If I was to meet the most paganish of heathens entering his temple with suitable humbleness I wouldn't hurt his feelings on the subject of his religion, unless I was a missionary and went about it systematic; but if that heathen turned on me and jeered at me for attending our church at home, and told me I ought to go down on my marrow-bones before his brazen idols, I'd whang him over the head with a frying-pan or anything else that came handy. That's the sort of thing I can't stand. As long as the people here don't snort and sniff at my ways I won't snort and sniff at theirs."

"Well," said Jone, "that is a good rule, but I don't know that it's going to work altogether. You see, there are a good many people in this country and only two of us, and it will be a lot harder for them to keep from sniffing and snorting than for us to do it. So it's my opinion that if we expect to get along in a good-humored and friendly way, which is the only decent way of living, we've got to hold up our end of the business a little higher than we expect other people to hold up theirs."

I couldn't agree altogether with Jone about our trying to do better than other people, but I said that as the British had been kind enough to make their country free to us, we wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth unless it kicked. To which Jone said I sometimes got my figures of speech hind part foremost, but he knew what I meant.

We've lived in our cottage two weeks, and every morning when I get up and open our windows, which has little panes set in strips of lead, and hinges on one side so that it works like a door, and look out over the brook and the meadows and the thatched roofs, and see the peasant men with their short jackets and woollen caps, and the lower part of their trousers tied round with twine, if they don't happen to have leather leggings, trudging to their work, my soul is filled with welling emotions as I think that if Queen Elizabeth ever travelled along this way she must have seen these great old trees and, perhaps, some of these very houses; and as to the people, they must have been pretty much the same, though differing a little in clothes, I dare say; but, judging from Hannah, perhaps not very much in the kind of English they spoke.

I declare that when Jone and me walk about through the village, and over the fields, for there is a right of way--meaning a little path--through most all of them, and when we go into the old church, with its yew-trees, and its gravestones, and its marble effigies of two of the old manor lords, both stretched flat on their backs, as large as life, the gentleman with the end of his nose knocked off and with his feet crossed to show he was a crusader, and the lady with her hands clasped in front of her, as if she expected the generations who came to gaze on her tomb to guess what she had inside of them, I feel like a character in a novel.

I have kept a great many of my joyful sentiments to myself, because Jone is too well contented as it is, and there is a great deal yet to be seen in England. Sometimes we hire a dogcart and a black horse named Punch, from the inn in the village, and we take long drives over roads that are almost as smooth as bowling alleys. The country is very hilly, and every time we get to the top of a hill we can see, spread about us for miles and miles, the beautiful hills and vales, and lordly residences and cottages, and steeple tops, looking as though they had been stuck down here and there, to show where villages had been planted.

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