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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPomona's Travels - Letter Number Nine
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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Nine Post by :gabby Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2670

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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Nine

CHEDCOMBE

There was still another day of hay-making, but we couldn't wait for that, because our cycles had come from London and we was all anxious to be off, and you would have laughed, madam, if you could have seen us start. Mr. Poplington went off well enough, but Jone's bicycle seemed a little gay and hard to manage, and he frisked about a good deal at starting; but Jone had bought a bicycle long ago, when the things first came out, and on days when the roads was good he used to go to the post-office on it, and he said that if a man had ever ridden on top of a wheel about six feet high he ought to be able to balance himself on the pair of small wheels which they use nowadays. So, after getting his long legs into working order, he went very well, though with a snaky movement at first, and then I started.

Each one of us had a little hand-bag hung on our machine, and Mr. Poplington said we needn't take anything to eat, for there was inns to be found everywhere in England. Hannah started me off nicely by pushing my tricycle until I got it going, and Miss Pondar waved her handkerchief from the cottage door. When Hannah left me I went along rather slow at first, but when I got used to the proper motion I began to do better, and was very sure it wouldn't take me long to catch up with Jone, who was still worm-fencing his way along the road. When I got entirely away from the houses, and began to smell the hedges and grassy banks so close to my nose, and feel myself gliding along over the smooth white road, my spirits began to soar like a bird, and I almost felt like singing.

The few people I met didn't seem to think it was anything wonderful for a woman to ride on a tricycle, and I soon began to feel as proper as if I was walking on a sidewalk. Once I came very near tangling myself up with the legs of a horse who was pulling a cart. I forgot that it was the proper thing in this country to turn to the left, and not to the right, but I gave a quick twist to my helm and just missed the cart-wheel, but it was a close scratch. This turning to the right, instead of to the left, was a mistake Jone made two or three times when he began to drive me in England, but he got over it, and since my grazing the cart it's not likely I shall forget it. As I breathed a sigh of relief after escaping this danger I took in a breath full of the scent of wild roses that nearly covered a bit of hedge, and my spirits rose again.

I had asked Jone and Mr. Poplington to go ahead, because I knew I could do a great deal better if I worked along by myself for a while, without being told what I ought to do and what I oughtn't to do. There is nothing that bothers me so much as to have people try to teach me things when I am puzzling them out for myself. But now I found that although they could not be far ahead, I couldn't see them, on account of the twists in the road and the high hedges, and so I put on steam and went along at a fine rate, sniffing the breeze like a charger of the battlefield. Before very long I came to a place where the road forked, but the road to the left seemed like a lane leading to somebody's house, so I kept on in what was plainly the main road, which made a little turn where it forked. Looking out ahead of me, to see if I could catch sight of the two men, I could not see a sign of them, but I did see that I was on the top of a long hill that seemed to lead on and down and on and down, with no end to it.

I had hardly started down this hill when my tricycle became frisky and showed signs of wanting to run, and I got a little nervous, for I didn't fancy going fast down a slope like that. I put on the brake, but I don't believe I managed it right, for I seemed to go faster and faster; and then, as the machine didn't need any working, I took my feet off the pedals, with an idea, I think, though I can't now remember, that I would get off and walk down the hill. In an instant that thing took the bit in its teeth and away it went wildly tearing down hill. I never was so much frightened in all my life. I tried to get my feet back on the pedals, but I couldn't do it, and all I could do was to keep that flying tricycle in the middle of the road. As far as I could see ahead there was not anything in the way of a wagon or a carriage that I could run into, but there was such a stretch of slope that it made me fairly dizzy. Just as I was having a little bit of comfort from thinking there was nothing in the way, a black woolly dog jumped out into the road some distance ahead of me and stood there barking. My heart fell, like a bucket into a well with the rope broken. If I steered the least bit to the right or the left I believe I would have bounded over the hedge like a glass bottle from a railroad train, and come down on the other side in shivers and splinters. If I didn't turn I was making a bee-line for the dog; but I had no time to think what to do, and in an instant that black woolly dog faded away like a reminiscence among the buzzing wheels of my tricycle. I felt a little bump, but was ignorant of further particulars.

I was now going at what seemed like a speed of ninety or a hundred miles an hour, with the wind rushing in between my teeth like water over a mill-dam, and I felt sure that if I kept on going down that hill I should soon be whirling through space like a comet. The only way I could think of to save myself was to turn into some level place where the thing would stop, but not a crossroad did I pass; but presently I saw a little house standing back from the road, which seemed to hump itself a little at that place so as to be nearly level, and over the edge of the hump it dipped so suddenly that I could not see the rest of the road at all.

"Now," thought I to myself, "if the gate of that house is open I'll turn into it, and no matter what I run into, it would be better than going over the edge of that rise beyond and down the awful hill that must be on the other side of it." As I swooped down to the little house and reached the level ground I felt I was going a little slower, but not much. However, I steered my tricycle round at just the right instant, and through the front gate I went like a flash.

I was going so fast, and my mind was so wound up on account of the necessity of steering straight, that I could not pay much attention to things I passed. But the scene that showed itself in front of me as I went through that little garden gate I could not help seeing and remembering. From the gate to the door of the house was a path paved with flagstones; the door was open, and there must have been a low step before it; back of the door was a hall which ran through the house, and this was paved with flagstones; the back door of the hall was open, and outside of it was a sort of arbor with vines, and on one side of this arbor was a bench, with a young man and a young woman sitting on it, holding each other by the hand, and looking into each other's eyes; the arbor opened out on to a piece of green grass, with flowers of mixed colors on the edges of it, and at the back of this bit of lawn was a lot of clothes hung out on clothes-lines. Of course, I could not have seen all those things at once, but they came upon me like a single picture, for in one tick of a watch I went over that flagstone path and into that front door and through that house and out of that back door, and past that young man and that young woman, and head and heels both foremost at once, dashed slam-bang into the midst of all that linen hanging out on the lines.

(Illustration: "AT LAST I DID GET ON MY FEET")

I heard the minglement of a groan and a scream, and in an instant I was enveloped in a white, wet cloud of sheets, pillowcases, tablecloths, and underwear. Some of the things stuck so close to me, and others I grabbed with such a wild clutch, that nearly all the week's wash, lines and all, came down on me, wrapping me up like an apple in a dumpling--but I stopped. There was not anything in this world that would have been better for me to run into than those lines full of wet clothes.

Where the tricycle went to I didn't know, but I was lying on the grass kicking, and trying to get up and to get my head free, so that I could see and breathe. At last I did get on my feet, and throwing out my arms so as to shake off the sheets and pillowcases that were clinging all over me I shook some of the things partly off my face, and with one eye I saw that couple on the bench, but only for a second. With a yell of horror, and with a face whiter than the linen I was wrapped in, that young man bounced from the bench, dashed past the house, made one clean jump over the hedge into the road, and disappeared. As for the young woman, she just flopped over and went down in a faint on the floor.

As soon as I could do it I got myself free from the clothes-line and staggered out on the grass. I was trembling so much I could scarcely walk, but when I saw that young woman looking as if she was dead on the ground I felt I must do something, and seeing a pail of water standing near by, I held it over her face and poured it down on her a little at a time, and it wasn't long before she began to squirm, and then she opened her eyes and her mouth just at the same time, so that she must have swallowed about as much water as she would have taken at a meal. This brought her to, and she began to cough and splutter and look around wildly, and then I took her by the arm and helped her up on the bench.

"Don't you want a little something to drink?" I said. "Tell me where I can get you something."

She didn't answer, but began looking from one side to the other. "Is he swallowed?" said she in a whisper, with her eyes starting out of her head.

"Swallowed?" said I. "Who?"

"Davy," said she.

"Oh, your young man," said I. "He is all right, unless he hurt himself jumping over the hedge. I saw him run away just as fast as he could."

"And the spirit?" said she. I looked hard at her.

"What has happened to you?" said I. "How did you come to faint?"

She was getting quieter, but she still looked wildly out of her eyes, and kept her back turned toward the bit of grass, as if she was afraid to look in that direction.

"What happened to you?" said I again, for I wanted to know what she thought about my sudden appearance. It took some little time for her to get ready to answer, and then she said:

"Was you frightened, lady? Did you have to come in here? I'm sorry you found me swooned. I don't know how long I was swooned. Davy and me was sitting here talking about having the banns called, and it was a sorry talk, lady, for the vicar, he's told me four times I should not marry Davy, because he says he is a Radical; but for all that Davy and me wants the banns called all the same, but not knowing how we was to have it done, for the vicar, he's so set against Davy, and Davy, he had just got done saying to me that he was going to marry me, vicar or no vicar, banns or no banns, come what might, when that very minute, with an awful hiss, something flashed in front of us, dazzling my eyes so that I shut them and screamed, and then when I opened them again, there, in the yard back of us, was a great white spirit twice as high as the cow stable, with one eye in the middle of its forehead, turning around like a firework. I don't remember anything after that, and I don't know how long I was lying here when you came and found me, lady, but I know what it means. There is a curse on our marriage, and Davy and me will never be man and wife." And then she fell to groaning and moaning.

I felt like laughing when I thought how much like a church ghost I must have looked, standing there in solid white with my arms stretched out; but the poor girl was in such a dreadful state of mind that I sat down beside her and began to comfort her by telling her just what had happened, and that she ought to be very glad that I had found a place to turn into, and had not gone on down the hill and dashed myself into little pieces at the bottom. But it wasn't easy to cheer her up.

"Oh, Davy's gone," said she. "He'll never come back for fear of the curse. He'll be off with his uncle to sea. I'll never lay eyes on Davy again."

Just at that moment I heard somebody calling my name, and looking through the house I saw Jone at the front door and two men behind him. As I ran through the hall I saw that the two men with Jone was Mr. Poplington and a young fellow with a pale face and trembling legs.

"Is this Davy?" said I.

"Yes," said he.

"Then go back to your young woman and comfort her," I said, which he did, and when he had gone, not madly rushing into his loved one's arms, but shuffling along in a timid way, as if he was afraid the ghost hadn't gone yet, I asked Jone how he happened to think I was here, and he told me that he and Mr. Poplington had taken the road to the left when they reached the fork, because that was the proper one, but they had not gone far before he thought I might not know which way to turn, so they came back to the fork to wait for me. But I had been closer behind them than they thought, and I must have come to the fork before they turned back, so, after waiting a while and going back along the road without seeing me, they thought that I must have taken the right-hand road, and they came that way, going down the hill very carefully. After a while Jone found my hat in the road, which up to that moment I had not missed, and then he began to be frightened and they went on faster.

They passed the little house, and as they was going down the hill they saw ahead of them a man running as if something had happened, so they let out their bicycles and soon caught up to him. This was Davy; and when they stopped him and asked if anything was the matter he told them that a dreadful thing had come to pass. He had been working in the garden of a house about half a mile back when suddenly there came an awful crash, and a white animal sprang out of the house with a bit of a cotton mill fastened to its tail, and then, with a great peal of thunder, it vanished, and a white ghost rose up out of the ground with its arms stretching out longer and longer, reaching to clutch him by the hair. He was not afraid of anything living, but he couldn't abide spirits, so he laid down his spade and left the garden, thinking he would go and see the sexton and have him come and lay the ghost.

Then Jone went on to say that of course he could not make head or tail out of such a story as that, but when he heard that an awful row had been kicked up in a garden he immediately thought that as like as not I was in it, and so he and Mr. Poplington ran back, leaving their bicycles against the hedge, and bringing the young man with them.

Then I told my story, and Mr. Poplington said it was a mercy I was not killed, and Jone didn't say much, but I could see that his teeth was grinding.

We all went into the back yard, and there, on the other side of the clothes, which was scattered all over the ground, we found my tricycle, jammed into a lot of gooseberry bushes, and when it was dragged out we found it was not hurt a bit. Davy and his young woman was standing in the arbor looking very sheepish, especially Davy, for she had told him what it was that had scared him. As we was going through the house, Jone taking my tricycle, I stopped to say good-by to the girl.

"Now that you see there has been no curse and no ghost," said I, "I hope that you will soon have your banns called, and that you and your young man will be married all right."

"Thank you very much, ma'am," said she, "but I'm awful fearful about it. Davy may say what he pleases, but my mother never will let me marry him if the vicar's agen it; and Davy wouldn't have been here to-day if she hadn't gone to town; and the vicar's a hard man and a strong Tory, and he'll always be agen it, I fear."

When I went out into the front yard I found Mr. Poplington and Jone sitting on a little stone bench, for they was tired, and I told them about that young woman and Davy.

"Humph," said Mr. Poplington, "I know the vicar of the parish. He is the Rev. Osmun Green. He's a good Conservative, and is perfectly right in trying to keep that poor girl from marrying a wretched Radical."

I looked straight at him and said:

"Do you mean, sir, to put politics before matrimonial happiness?"

"No, I don't," said he, "but a girl can't expect matrimonial happiness with a Radical."

I saw that Jone was about to say something here, but I got in ahead of him.

"I will tell you what it is, sir," said I, "if you think it is wrong to be a Radical the best thing you can do is to write to your friend, that vicar, and advise him to get those two young people married as soon as possible, for it is easy to see that she is going to rule the roost, and if anybody can get his Radicalistics out of him she will be the one to do it."

Mr. Poplington laughed, and said that as the man looked as if he was a fit subject to be henpecked it might be a good way of getting another Tory vote.

"But," said he, "I should think it would go against your conscience, being naturally opposed to the Conservatives, to help even by one vote."

"Oh, my conscience is all right," said I. "When politics runs against the matrimonial altar I stand up for the altar."

"Well," said he, "I'll think of it." And we started off, walking down the hill, Jone holding on to my tricycle.

When we got to level ground, with about two miles to go before we would stop for luncheon, Jone took a piece of thin rope out of his pocket--he always carries some sort of cord in case of accidents--and he tied it to the back part of my machine.

"Now," said he, "I'm going to keep hold of the other end of this, and perhaps your tricycle won't run away with you."

I didn't much like going along this way, as if I was a cow being taken to market, but I could see that Jone had been so troubled and frightened about me that I didn't make any objection, and, in fact, after I got started it was a comfort to think there was a tie between Jone and me that was stronger, when hilly roads came into the question, than even the matrimonial tie.

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