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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPomona's Travels - Letter Number Fourteen
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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Fourteen Post by :add2it Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :858

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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Fourteen

BELL HOTEL, GLOUCESTER

We came to this queer old English town, not because it is any better than so many other towns, but because Mr. Poplington told us it was a good place for our headquarters while we was seeing the River Wye and other things in the neighborhood. This hotel is the best in the town and very well kept, so that Jone made his usual remark about its being a good place to stay in. We are near the point where the four principal streets of the town, called Northgate, Eastgate, Southgate, and Westgate, meet, and if there was nothing else to see it would be worth while to stand there and look at so much Englishism coming and going from four different quarters.

There is another hotel here, called the New Inn, that was recommended to us, but I thought we would not want to go there, for we came to see old England, and I don't want to see its new and shiny things, so we came to the Bell, as being more antique. But I have since found out that the New Inn was built in 1450 to accommodate the pilgrims who came to pay their respects to the tomb of Edward II. in the fine old cathedral here. But though I should like to live in a four-hundred-and forty-year-old house, we are very well satisfied where we are.

Two very good things come from Gloucester, for it is the well-spring of Sunday schools and vaccination. They keep here the horns of the cow that Dr. Jenner first vaccinated from, and not far from our hotel is the house of Robert Raikes. This is an old-fashioned timber house, and looks like a man wearing his skeleton outside of his skin. We are sorry Mr. Poplington couldn't come here with us, for he could have shown us a great many things; but he stayed at Chedcombe to finish his fishing, and he said he might meet us at Buxton, where he goes every year for his arm.

To see the River Wye you must go down it, so with just one handbag we took the train for the little town of Ross, which is near the beginning of the navigable part of the river--I might almost say the wadeable part, for I imagine the deepest soundings about Ross are not more than half a yard. We stayed all night at a hotel overlooking the valley of the little river, and as the best way to see this wonderful stream is to go down it in a rowboat, as soon as we reached Ross we engaged a boat and a man for the next morning to take us to Monmouth, which would be about a day's row, and give us the best part of the river. But I must say that when we looked out over the valley the prospect was not very encouraging, for it seemed to me that if the sun came out hot it would dry up that river, and Jone might not be willing to wait until the next heavy rain.

While we was at Chedcombe I read the "Maid of Sker," because its scenes are laid in the Bristol Channel, about the coast near where we was, and over in Wales. And when the next morning we went down to the boat which we was going to take our day's trip in, and I saw the man who was to row us, David Llewellyn popped straight into my mind.

This man was elderly, with gray hair, and a beard under his chin, with a general air of water and fish. He was good-natured and sociable from the very beginning. It seemed a shame that an old man should row two people so much younger than he was, but after I had looked at him pulling at his oars for a little while, I saw that there was no need of pitying him.

It was a good day, with only one or two drizzles in the morning, and we had not gone far before I found that the Wye was more of a river than I thought it was, though never any bigger than a creek. It was just about warm enough for a boat trip, though the old man told us there had been a "rime" that morning, which made me think of the "Ancient Mariner." The more the boatman talked and made queer jokes, the more I wanted to ask him his name; and I hoped he would say David Llewellyn, or at least David, and as a sort of feeler I asked him if he had ever seen a coracle. "A corkle?" said he. "Oh, yes, ma'am, I've seen many a one and rowed in them."

I couldn't wait any longer, and so I asked him his name. He stopped rowing and leaned on his oars and let the boat drift. "Now," said he, "if you've got a piece of paper and a pencil I wish you would listen careful and put down my name, and if you ever know of any other people in your country coming to the River Wye, I wish you would tell them my name, and say I am a boatman, and can take them down the river better than anybody else that's on it. My name is Samivel Jones. Be sure you've got that right, please--Samivel Jones. I was born on this river, and I rowed on it with my father when I was a boy, and I have rowed on it ever since, and now I am sixty-five years old. Do you want to know why this river is called the Wye? I will tell you. Wye means crooked, so this river is called the Wye because it is crooked. Wye, the crooked river."

There was no doubt about the old man's being right about the crookedness of the stream. If you have ever noticed an ant running over the floor you will have an idea how the Wye runs through this beautiful country. If it comes to a hill it doesn't just pass it and let you see one side of it, but it goes as far around it as it can, and then goes back again, and goes around some other hill or great rocky point, or a clump of woods, or anything else that travellers might like to see. At one place, called Symond's Yat, it makes a curve so great, that if we was to get out of our boat and walk across the land, we would have to walk less than half a mile before we came to the river again; but to row around the curve as we did, we had to go five miles.

Every now and then we came to rapids. I didn't count them, but I think there must have been about one to every mile, where the river-bed was full of rocks, and where the water rushed furiously around and over them. If we had been rowing ourselves we would have gone on shore and camped when we came to the first of these rapids, for we wouldn't have supposed our little boat could go through those tumbling, rushing waters; but old Samivel knew exactly how the narrow channel, just deep enough sometimes for our boat to float without bumping the bottom, runs and twists itself among the hidden rocks, and he'd stand up in the bow and push the boat this way and that until it slid into the quiet water again, and he sat down to his oars. After we had been through four or five of these we didn't feel any more afraid than if we had been sitting together on our own little back porch.

As for the banks of this river, they got more and more beautiful as we went on. There was high hills with some castles, woods and crags and grassy slopes, and now and then a lordly mansion or two, and great massive, rocky walls, bedecked with vines and moss, rising high up above our heads and shutting us out from the world.

Jone and I was filled as full as our minds could hold with the romantic loveliness of the river and its banks, and old Samivel was so pleased to see how we liked it--for I believe he looked upon that river as his private property--that he told us about everything we saw, and pointed out a lot of things we wouldn't have noticed if it hadn't been for him, as if he had been a man explaining a panorama, and pointing out with a stick the notable spots as the canvas unrolled.

The only thing in his show which didn't satisfy him was two very fine houses which had both of them belonged to noble personages in days gone by, but which had been sold, one to a man who had made his money in tea, and the other to a man who had made money in cotton. "Think of that," said he; "cotton and tea, and living in such mansions as them are, once owned by lords. They are both good men, and gives a great deal to the poor, and does all they can for the country; but only think of it, madam, cotton and tea! But all that happened a good while ago, and the world is getting too enlightened now for such estates as them are to come to cotton and tea."

Sometimes we passed houses and little settlements, but, for the most part, the country was as wild as undiscovered lands, which, being that to me, I felt happier, I am sure, than Columbus did when he first sighted floating weeds. Jone was a good deal wound up too, for he had never seen anything so beautiful as all this. We had our luncheon at a little inn, where the bread was so good that for a time I forgot the scenery, and then we went on, passing through the Forest of Dean, lonely and solemn, with great oak and beech trees, and Robin Hood and his merry men watching us from behind the bushes for all we knew. Whenever the river twists itself around, as if to show us a new view, old Samivel would say: "Now isn't that the prettiest thing you've seen yet?" and he got prouder and prouder of his river every mile he rowed.

At one place he stopped and rested on his oars. "Now, then," said he, twinkling up his face as if he was really David Llewellyn showing us a fish with its eyes bulged out with sticks to make it look fresh, "as we are out on a kind of a lark, suppose we try a bit of a hecho," and then he turned to a rocky valley on his left, and in a voice like the man at the station calling out the trains he yelled, "Hello there, sir! What are you doing there, sir? Come out of that!" And when the words came back as if they had been balls batted against a wall, he turned and looked at us as proud and grinny as if the rocks had been his own baby saying "papa" and "mamma" for visitors.

Not long after this we came to a place where there was a wide field on one side, and a little way off we could see the top of a house among the trees. A hedge came across the field to the river, and near the bank was a big gate, and on this gate sat two young women, and down on the ground on the side of the hedge nearest to us was another young woman, and not far from her was three black hogs, two of them pointing their noses at her and grunting, and the other was grunting around a place where those young women had been making sketches and drawings, and punching his nose into the easels and portfolios on the ground. The young woman on the grass was striking at the hogs with a stick and trying to make them go away, which they wouldn't do; and just as we came near she dropped the stick and ran, and climbed up on the gate beside the others, after which all the hogs went to rooting among the drawing things.

As soon as Samivel saw what was going on he stopped his boat, and shouted to the hogs a great deal louder than he had shouted to the echo, but they didn't mind any more than they had minded the girl with the stick. "Can't we stop the boat," I said, "and get out and drive off those hogs? They will eat up all the papers and sketches."

"Just put me ashore," said Jone, "and I'll clear them out in no time;" and old Samivel rowed the boat close up to the bank.

But when Jone got suddenly up on his feet there was such a twitch across his face that I said to him, "Now just you sit down. If you go ashore to drive off those hogs you'll jump about so that you'll bring on such a rheumatism you can't sleep."

"I'll get out myself," said Samivel, "if I can find a place to fasten the boat to. I can't run her ashore here, and the current is strong."

"Don't you leave the boat," said I, for the thought of Jone and me drifting off and coming without him to one of those rapids sent a shudder through me; and as the stern of the boat where I sat was close to the shore I jumped with Jone's stick in my hand before either of them could hinder me. I was so afraid that Jone would do it that I was very quick about it.

The minute I left the boat Jone got ready to come after me, for he had no notion of letting me be on shore by myself, but the boat had drifted off a little, and old Samivel said:

"That is a pretty steep bank to get up with the rheumatism on you. I'll take you a little farther down, where I can ground the boat, and you can get off more steadier."

But this letter is getting as long as the River Wye itself, and I must stop it.

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BELL HOTEL, GLOUCESTERAs 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
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CHEDCOMBE, SOMERSETSHIREIt is now about a week since my stag hunt, and Jone and I have kept pretty quiet, taking short walks, and doing a good deal of reading in our garden whenever the sun shines into the little arbor there, and Mr. Poplington spends most of his time fishing. He works very hard at this, partly for the sake of his conscience, I think, for his bicycle trip made him lose three or four days he had taken a license for.It was day before yesterday that rheumatism showed itself certain and plain in Jone. I had been thinking that perhaps
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