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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPomona's Travels - Letter Number Seven
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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Seven Post by :runtonk Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2190

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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Seven

CHEDCOMBE, SOMERSETSHIRE

Last Sunday afternoon Mr. Poplington asked us if we would not like to walk over to a ruined abbey about four miles away, which he said was very interesting. It seemed to me that four miles there and four miles back was a pretty long walk, but I wanted to see the abbey, and I wasn't going to let him think that a young American woman couldn't walk as far as an elderly English gentleman; so I agreed and so did Jone. The abbey is a wonderful place, and I never thought of being tired while wandering in the rooms and in the garden, where the old monks used to live and preach, and give food to the poor, and keep house without women--which was pious enough, but must have been untidy. But the thing that surprised me the most was what Mr. Poplington told us about the age of the place. It was not built all at once, and it's part ancient and part modern, and you needn't wonder, madam, that I was astonished when he said that the part called modern was finished just three years before America was discovered. When I heard that I seemed to shrivel up as if my country was a new-born babe alongside of a bearded patriarch; but I didn't stay shrivelled long, for it can't be denied that a new-born babe has a good deal more to look forward to than a patriarch has.

(Illustration: AT THE ABBEY)

It is amazing how many things in this part of the country we'd never have thought of if it hadn't been for Mr. Poplington. At dinner he told us about Exmoor and the Lorna Doone country, and the wild deer hunting that can be had nowhere else in England, and lots of other things that made me feel we must be up and doing if we wanted to see all we ought to see before we left Chedcombe. When I went upstairs I said to Jone that Mr. Poplington was a very different man from what I thought he was.

"He's just as nice as he can be, and I'm going to charge him for his room and his meals and for everything he's had."

Jone laughed, and asked me if that was the way I showed people I liked them.

"We intended to humble him by not charging him anything," I said, "and make him feel he had been depending on our bounty; but now I wouldn't hurt his feelings for the world, and I'll make out his bill in the morning myself. Women always do that sort of thing in England."

As you asked me, madam, to tell you everything that happened on our travels, I'll go on about Mr. Poplington. After breakfast on Monday morning he went over to the inn, and said he would come back and pack up his things; but when he did come back he told us that those coach-and-four people had determined not to leave Chedcombe that day, but was going to stay and look at the sights in the neighborhood, and that they would want the room for that night. He said this had made him very angry, because they had no right to change their minds that way after having made definite arrangements in which other people besides themselves was concerned; and he had said so very plainly to the gentleman who seemed to be at the head of the party.

"I hope it will be no inconvenience to you, madam," he said, "to keep me another night."

"Oh, dear, no," said I; "and my husband was saying this morning that he wished you was going to stay with us the rest of our time here."

"Really!" exclaimed Mr. Poplington. "Then I'll do it. I'll go to the inn this minute and have the rest of my luggage brought over here. If this is any punishment to Mrs. Locky she deserves it, for she shouldn't have told those people they could stay longer without consulting me."

In less than an hour there came a van to our cottage with the rest of his luggage. There must have been over a dozen boxes and packages, besides things tied up and strapped; and as I saw them being carried up one at a time, I said to Miss Pondar that in our country we'd have two or three big trunks, which we could take about without any trouble.

"Yes, ma'am," said she; but I could see by her face that she didn't believe luggage would be luggage unless you could lug it, but was too respectful to say so.

When Mr. Poplington got settled down in our spare room he blossomed out like a full-blown friend of the family, and accordingly began to give us advice. He said we should go as soon as we could and see Exmoor and all that region of country, and that if we didn't mind he'd like to go with us; to which we answered, of course, we should like that very much, and asked him what he thought would be the best way to go. So we had ever so much talk about that, and although we all agreed it would be nicer not to take a public coach, but travel private, we didn't find it easy to decide as to the manner of travel. We all agreed that a carriage and horses would be too expensive, and Jone was rather in favor of a dogcart for us if Mr. Poplington would like to go on horseback; but the old gentleman said it would be too much riding for him, and if we took a dogcart he'd have to take another one. But this wouldn't be a very sociable way of travelling, and none of us liked it.

"Now," exclaimed Mr. Poplington, striking his hand on the table, "I'll tell you exactly how we ought to go through that country--we ought to go on cycles."

"Bicycles?" said I.

"Tricycles, if you like," he answered, "but that's the way to do it. It'll be cheap, and we can go as we like and stop when we like. We'll be as free and independent as the Stars and Stripes, and more so, for they can't always flap when they like and stop flapping when they choose. Have you ever tried it, madam?"

I replied that I had, a little, because my daughter had a tricycle, and I had ridden on it for a short distance and after sundown, but as for regular travel in the daytime I couldn't think of it.

At this Jone nearly took my breath away by saying that he thought that the bicycle idea was a capital one, and that for his part he'd like it better than any other way of travelling through a pretty country. He also said he believed I could work a tricycle just as well as not, and that if I got used to it I would think it fine.

I stood out against those two men for about a half an hour, and then I began to give in a little, and think that it might be nice to roll along on my own little wheels over their beautiful smooth roads, and stop and smell the hedges and pick flowers whenever I felt like it; and so it ended in my agreeing to do the Exmoor country on a tricycle while Mr. Poplington and Jone went on bicycles. As to getting the machines, Mr. Poplington said he would attend to that. There was people in London who hired them to excursionists, and all he had to do was to send an order and they would be on hand in a day or two; and so that matter was settled and he wrote to London. I thought Mr. Poplington was a little old for that sort of exercise, but I found he had been used to doing a great deal of cycling in the part of the country where he lives; and besides, he isn't as old as I thought he was, being not much over fifty. The kind of air that keeps a country always green is wonderful in bringing out early red and white in a person.

"Everything happens wonderfully well, madam," said he, coming in after he had been to post his letter in a red iron box let into the side of the Wesleyan chapel, "doesn't it? Now here we're not able to start on our journey for two or three days, and I have just been told that the great hay-making in the big meadow to the south of the village is to begin to-morrow. They make the hay there only every other year, and they have a grand time of it. We must be there, and you shall see some of our English country customs."

We said we'd be sure to be in for that sort of thing.

I wish, madam, you could have seen that great hayfield. It belongs to the lord of the manor, and must have twenty or thirty acres in it. They've been three or four days cutting the grass on it with a machine, and now there's been nearly two days with hardly any rain, only now and then some drizzling, and a good, strong wind, which they think here is better for the hay-making than sunshine, though they don't object to a little sun. All the people in the village who had legs good enough to carry them to that field went to help make hay. It was a regular holiday, and as hay is clean, nearly everybody was dressed in good clothes. Early in the morning some twenty regular farm laborers began raking the hay at one end of the field, stretching themselves nearly the whole way across it, and as the day went on more and more people came, men and women, high and low. All the young women and some of the older ones had rakes, and the way they worked them was amazing to see, but they turned over the hay enough to dry it. As to schoolgirls and boys, there was no end of them in the afternoon, for school let out early. Some of them worked, but most of them played and cut up monkey-shines on the hay. Even the little babies was brought on the field, and nice, soft beds made for them under the trees at one side.

When Jone saw the real farm-work going on, with a chance for everybody to turn in to help, his farmer blood boiled within him, as if he was a war-horse and sniffed the smoke of battle, and he got himself a rake and went to work like a good-fellow. I never saw so many men at work in a hayfield at home, but when I looked at Jone raking I could see why it was it didn't take so many men to get in our hay. As for me, I raked a little, but looked about a great deal more.

Near the middle of the field was two women working together, raking as steadily as if they had been brought up to it. One of these was young, and even handsomer than Miss Dick, which was the name of the bar lady. To look at her made me think of what I had read of Queen Marie Antoinette and her court ladies playing the part of milkmaids. Her straw hat was trimmed with delicate flowers, and her white muslin dress and pale blue ribbons made her the prettiest picture I ever saw out-of-doors. I could not help asking Mrs. Locky who she was, and she told me that she was the chambermaid at the inn, and the other was the cook. When I heard this I didn't make any answer, but just walked off a little way and began raking and thinking. I have often wondered why it is that English servants are so different from those we have, or, to put it in a strictly confidential way between you and me, madam, why the chambermaid at the "Bordley Arms," as she is, is so different from me, as I used to be when I first lived with you. Now that young chambermaid with the pretty hat is, as far as appearances go, as good a woman as I am, and if Jone was a bachelor and intended to marry her I would think it was as good a match as if he married me. But the difference between us two is that when I got to be the kind of woman I am I wasn't willing to be a servant, and if I had always been the kind of young woman that chambermaid is I never would have been a servant.

I've kept a sharp eye on the young women in domestic service over here, having a fellow-feeling for them, as you can well understand, madam, and since I have been in the country I've watched the poor folks and seen how they live, and it's just as plain to me as can be that the young women who are maids and waitresses over here are the kind who would have tried to be shop-girls and dressmakers and even school-teachers in America, and many of the servants we have would be working in the fields if they lived over here. The fact is, the English people don't go to other countries to get their servants. Their way is like a factory consuming its own smoke. The surplus young women, and there must always be a lot of them, are used up in domestic service.

Now, if an American poor girl is good enough to be a first-class servant, she wants to be something else. Sooner than go out to service she will work twice as hard in a shop, or even go into a factory.

I have talked a good deal about this to Jone, and he says I'm getting to be a philosopher; but I don't think it takes much philosophizing to find out how this case stands. If house service could be looked upon in the proper way, it wouldn't take long for American girls who have to work for their living to find out that it's a lot better to live with nice people, and cook and wait on the table, and do all those things which come natural to women the world over, than to stand all day behind a counter under the thumb of a floor-walker, or grind their lives out like slaves among a lot of steam-engines and machinery. The only reason the English have better house servants than we have is that here any girl who has to work is willing to be a house servant, and very good house servants they are, too.

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