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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPomona's Travels - Letter Number Six
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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Six Post by :andrewteg Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :3329

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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Six

CHEDCOMBE, SOMERSETSHIRE

When Jone came home and I told him a gentleman was coming to live with us, he thought at first I was joking; and when he found out that I meant what I said he looked very blue, and stood with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground, considering.

"He's not going to take his meals here, is he?"

"I don't think he expects that," I said, "for Mrs. Locky only spoke of lodging."

"Oh, well," said Jone, looking as if his clouds was clearing off a little, "I don't suppose it will matter to us if that room is occupied over Sunday, but I think the next time I go out for a stroll I'll take you with me."

I didn't go out that afternoon, and sat on pins and needles until half-past five o'clock. Jone wanted me to walk with him, but I wouldn't do it, because I didn't want our lodger to come here and be received by Miss Pondar. At half-past five there came a cart with the gentleman's luggage, as they call it here, and I was glad Jone wasn't at home. There was an enormous leather portmanteau which looked as if it had been dragged by a boy too short to lift it from the ground, half over the world; a hat-box, also of leather, but not so draggy looking; a bundle of canes and umbrellas, a leather dressing-case, and a flat, round bathing-tub. I had the things taken up to the room as quickly as I could, for if Jone had seen them he'd think the gentleman was going to bring his family with him.

It was nine o'clock and still broad daylight when Mr. Poplington himself came, carrying a fishing-rod put up in parts in a canvas bag, a fish-basket, and a small valise. He wore leather leggings and was about sixty years old, but a wonderful good walker. I thought, when I saw him coming, that he had no rheumatism whatever, but I found out afterward that he had a little in one of his arms. He had white hair and white side-whiskers and a fine red face, which made me think of a strawberry partly covered with Devonshire clotted cream. Jone and I was sitting in the summer-house, he smoking his pipe, and we both went to meet the gentleman. He had a bluff way of speaking, and said he was much obliged to us for taking him in; and after saying that it was a warm evening, a thing which I hadn't noticed, he asked to be shown to his room. I sent Hannah with him, and then Jone and I went back to the summer-house.

I didn't know exactly why, but I wasn't in as good spirits as I had been, and when Jone spoke he didn't make me feel any better.

(Illustration: "I see signs of weakening in the social boom")

"It seems to me," said he, "that I see signs of weakening in the social boom. That man considers us exactly as we considered our lodging-house keeper in London. Now, it doesn't strike me that that sample person you was talking about, who is a cross between a rich farmer and a poor gentleman, would go into the lodging-house business." I couldn't help agreeing with Jone, and I didn't like it a bit. The gentleman hadn't said anything or done anything that was out of the way, but there was a benignant loftiness about him which grated on the inmost fibres of my soul.

"I'll tell you what we'll do," said I, turning sharp on Jone, "we won't charge him a cent. That'll take him down, and show him what we are. We'll give him the room as a favor to Mrs. Locky, considering her in the light of a neighbor and one who sent us a cucumber."

"All right," said Jone, "I like that way of arranging the business. Up goes the social boom again!"

Just as we was going up to bed Miss Pondar came to me and said that the gentleman had called down to her and asked if he could have a new-laid egg for his breakfast, and she asked if she should send Hannah early in the morning to see if she could get a perfectly fresh egg from one of the cottages. "I thought, ma'am, that perhaps you might object to buying things on Sunday."

"I do," I said. "Does that Mr. Poplington expect to have his breakfast here? I only took him to lodge."

"Oh, ma'am," said Miss Pondar, "they always takes their breakfasts where they has their rooms. Dinner and luncheon is different, and he may expect to go to the inn for them."

"Indeed!" said I. "I think he may, and if he breakfasts here he can take what we've got. If the eggs are not fresh enough for him he can try to get along with some bacon. He can't expect that to be fresh."

Knowing that English people take their breakfast late, Jone and I got up early, so as to get through before our lodger came down. But, bless me, when we went to the front door to see what sort of a day it was we saw him coming in from a walk. "Fine morning," said he, and in fact there was only a little drizzle of rain, which might stop when the sun got higher; and he stood near us and began to talk about the trout in the stream, which, to my utter amazement, he called a river.

"Do you take your license by the day or week?" he said to Jone.

"License!" said Jone, "I don't fish."

"Really!" exclaimed Mr. Poplington. "Oh, I see, you are a cycler."

"No," said Jone, "I'm not that, either, I'm a pervader."

"Really!" said the old gentleman; "what do you mean by that?"

"I mean that I pervade the scenery, sometimes on foot and sometimes in a trap. That's my style of rural pleasuring."

"But you do fish at home," I said to Jone, not wishing the English gentleman to think my husband was a city man, who didn't know anything about sport.

"Oh, yes," said Jone, "I used to fish for perch and sunfish."

"Sunfish?" said Mr. Poplington. "I don't know that fish at all. What sort of a fly do you use?"

"I don't fish with any flies at all," said Jone; "I bait my hook with worms."

Mr. Poplington's face looked as if he had poured liquid shoe-blacking on his meat, thinking it was Worcestershire sauce. "Fancy! Worms! I'd never take a rod in my hands if I had to use worms. Never used a worm in my life. There's no sort of science in worm fishing."

"There's double sport," said Jone, "for first you've got to catch your worm. Then again, I hate shams; if you have to catch fish there's no use cheating them into the bargain."

"Cheat!" cried Mr. Poplington. "If I had to catch a whale I'd fish for him with a fly. But you Americans are strange people. Worms, indeed!"

"We don't all use worms," said Jone; "there's lots of fly fishers in America, and they use all sorts of flies. If we are to believe all the Californians tell us some of the artificial flies out there must be as big as crows."

"Really?" said Mr. Poplington, looking hard at Jone, with a little twinkling in his eyes. "And when gentlemen fish who don't like to cheat the fishes, what size of worms do they use?"

"Well," said Jone, "in the far West I've heard that the common black snake is the favorite bait. He's six or seven feet long, and fishermen that use him don't have to have any line. He's bait and line all in one."

Mr. Poplington laughed. "I see you are fond of a joke," said he, "and so am I, but I'm also fond of my breakfast."

"I'm with you there," said Jone, and we all went in.

Mr. Poplington was very pleasant and chatty, and of course asked a great many questions about America. Nearly all English people I've met want to talk about our country, and it seems to me that what they do know about it isn't any better, considered as useful information, than what they don't know. But Mr. Poplington has never been to America, and so he knows more about us than those Englishmen who come over to write books, and only have time to run around the outside of things, and get themselves tripped up on our ragged edges.

He said he had met a good many Americans, and liked them, but he couldn't see for the life of him why they do some things English people don't do, and don't do things English people do do. For instance, he wondered why we don't drink tea for breakfast. Miss Pondar had made it for him, knowing he'd want it, and he wonders why Americans drink coffee when such good tea as that was comes in their reach.

Now, if I had considered Mr. Poplington as a lodger it might have nettled me to have him tell me I didn't know what was good, but remembering that we was giving him hospitality, and not board, and didn't intend to charge him a cent, but was just taking care of him out of neighborly kindness, I was rather glad to have him find a little fault, because that would make me feel as if I was soaring still higher above him the next morning, when I should tell him there was nothing to pay.

So I took it all good-natured, and said to him, "Well, Americans like to have the very best things that can be got out of every country. We're like bees flying over the whole world, looking into every blossom to see what sweetness there is to be got out of it. From the lily of France we sip their coffee, from the national flower of India, whatever it is, we take their chutney sauce, and as to those big apple tarts, baked in a deep dish, with a cup in the middle to hold up the upper crust, and so full of apples, and so delicious with Devonshire clotted cream on them that if there was any one place in the world they could be had I believe my husband would want to go and live there forever, _they are what we extract from the rose of England."

Mr. Poplington laughed like anything at this, but said there was a great many other things that he could show us and tell us about which would be very well worth while sipping from the rose of England.

After breakfast he went to church with us, and as we was coming home--for he didn't seem to have the least idea of going to the inn for his luncheon--he asked if we didn't find the services very different from those in America.

"Yes," said I, "they are about as different from Quaker services as a squirting fountain is from a corked bottle. The Methodists and Unitarians and Reformed Dutch and Campbellites and Hard-shell Baptists have different services too, but in the Episcopal churches things are all pretty much the same as they did this morning. You forget, sir, that in our country there are religions to suit all sizes of minds. We haven't any national religion any more than we have a national flower."

"But you ought to have," said he; "you ought to have an established church."

"You may be sure we'll have it," said Jone, "as soon as we agree as to which one it ought to be."

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