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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPomona's Travels - Letter Number Ten
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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Ten Post by :vbhnl Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :601

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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Ten

CHEDCOMBE, SOMERSETSHIRE

The place we stopped at on the first night of our cycle trip is named Porlock, and after the walking and the pushing, and the strain on my mind when going down even the smallest hill for fear Jone's rope would give way, I was glad to get there.

The road into Porlock goes down a hill, the steepest I have seen yet, and we all walked down, holding our machines as if they had been fiery coursers. This hill road twists and winds so you can only see part of it at a time, and when we was about half-way down we heard a horn blowing behind us, and looking around there came the mail-coach at full speed, with four horses, with a lot of people on top. As this raging coach passed by it nearly took my breath away, and as soon as I could speak I said to Jone: "Don't you ever say anything in America about having the roads made narrower so that it won't cost so much to keep them in order, for in my opinion it's often the narrow road that leadeth to destruction."

When we got into the town, and my mind really began to grapple with old Porlock, I felt as if I was sliding backward down the slope of the centuries, and liked it. As we went along Mr. Poplington told us about everything, and said that this queer little town was a fishing village and seaport in the days of the Saxons, and that King Harold was once obliged to stop there for a while, and that he passed his time making war on the neighbors.

Mr. Poplington took us to a tavern called the Ship Inn, and I simply went wild over it. It is two hundred years old and two stories high, and everything I ever read about the hostelries of the past I saw there. The queer little door led into a queer little passage paved with stone. A pair of little stairs led out of this into another little room, higher up, and on the other side of the passage was a long, mysterious hallway. We had our dinner in a tiny parlor, which reminded me of a chapter in one of those old books where they use f instead of s, and where the first word of the next page is at the bottom of the one you are reading.

There was a fireplace in the room with a window one side of it, through which you could look into the street. It was not cold, but it had begun to rain hard, and so I made the dampness an excuse for a fire.

"This is antique, indeed," I said, when we were at the table.

"You are right there," said Mr. Poplington, who was doing his best to carve a duck, and was a little cross about it.

When I sat before the fire that evening, and Jone was asleep on a settee of the days of yore, and Mr. Poplington had gone to bed, being tired, my soul went back to the olden time, and, looking out through the little window in the fireplace, I fancied I could see William the Conqueror and the King of the Danes sneaking along the little street under the eaves of the thatched roofs, until I was so worked up that I was on the point of shouting, "Fly! oh, Saxon!" when the door opened and the maid who waited on us at the table put her head in. I took this for a sign that the curfew bell was going to ring, and so I woke up Jone and we went to bed.

But all night long the heroes of the past flocked about me. I had been reading a lot of history, and I knew them all the minute my eyes fell upon them. Charlemagne and Canute sat on the end of the bed, while Alfred the Great climbed up one of the posts until he was stopped by Hannibal's legs, who had them twisted about the post to keep himself steady. When I got up in the morning I went down-stairs into the little parlor, and there was the maid down on her knees cleaning the hearth.

"What is your name?" I said to her.

"Jane, please," said she.

"Jane what?" said I.

"Jane Puddle, please," said she.

I took a carving-knife from off the table, and standing over her I brought it down gently on top of her head. "Rise, Sir Jane Puddle," said I, to which the maid gave a smothered gasp, and--would you believe it, madam?--she crept out of the room on her hands and knees. The cook waited on us at breakfast, and I truly believe that the landlord and his wife breathed a sigh of relief when we left the Ship Inn, for their sordid souls had never heard of knighthood, but knew all about assassination.

(Illustration: "Rise, Sir Jane Puddle")

That morning we left Porlock by a hill which compared with the one we came into it by, was like the biggest Pyramid of Egypt by the side of a haycock. I don't suppose in the whole civilized world there is a worse hill with a road on it than the one we went up by. I was glad we had to go up it instead of down it, though it was very hard to walk, pushing the tricycle, even when helped. I believe it would have taken away my breath and turned me dizzy even to take one step face forward down such a hill, and gaze into the dreadful depths below me; and yet they drive coaches and fours down that hill. At the top of the hill is this notice: "To cyclers--this hill is dangerous." If I had thought of it I should have looked for the cyclers' graves at the bottom of it.

The reason I thought about this was that I had been reading about one of the mountains in Switzerland, which is one of the highest and most dangerous, and with the poorest view, where so many Alpine climbers have been killed that there is a little graveyard nearly full of their graves at the foot of the mountain. How they could walk through that graveyard and read the inscriptions on the tombstones and then go and climb that mountain is more than I can imagine.

In walking up this hill, and thinking that it might have been in front of me when my tricycle ran away, I could not keep my mind away from the little graveyard at the foot of the Swiss mountain.

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CHEDCOMBEThere 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
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