Rudder Grange/Chapter 11
THE BOARDER'S VISIT
For the rest of the afternoon, and indeed far into the night, our conversation consisted almost entirely of conjectures regarding the probable condition of things at the house. We both thought we had done right, but we felt badly about it. It was not hospitable, to be sure; but then I should have no other holiday until next year, and our friends could come at any time to see us.
The next morning old John brought a note from Pomona. It was written with pencil on a small piece of paper torn from the margin of a newspaper, and contained the words: "Here yit."
"So you've got company," said old John, with a smile. "That's a queer gal of yourn. She says I musn't tell 'em you're here. As if I'd tell 'em!"
We knew well enough that old John was not at all likely to do anything that would cut off the nice little revenue he was making out of our camp, and so we felt no concern on that score.
But we were very anxious for further news, and we told old John to go to the house about ten o'clock and ask Pomona to send us another note.
We waited, in a very disturbed condition of mind, until nearly eleven o'clock, when old John came with a verbal message from Pomona—
"She says she's a-comin' herself as soon as she can get a chance to slip off."
This was not pleasant news. It filled our minds with a confused mass of probabilities, and it made us feel mean. How contemptible it seemed to be a party to this concealment and in league with a servant-girl who has to "slip off!"
Before long, Pomona appeared, quite out of breath.
"In all my life," said she, "I never see people like them two. I thought I was never goin' to get away."
"Are they there yet?" cried Euphemia. "How long are they going to stay?"
"Dear knows!" replied Pomona. "Their valise came up by express last night."
"Oh, we'll have to go up to the house," said Euphemia. "It won't do to stay away any longer."
"Well," said Pomona, fanning herself with her apron, "If you know'd all I know I don't think you'd think so."
"What do you mean?" said Euphemia.
"Well, ma'am, they've just settled down and taken possession of the whole place. He says to me that he know'd you'd both want them to make themselves at home, just as if you was there, and they thought they'd better do it. He asked me did I think you would be home by Monday, and I said I didn't know, but I guessed you would. So says he to his wife: 'Won't that be a jolly lark? We'll just keep house for them here till they come.' And he says he would go down to the store and order some things if there wasn't enough in the house, and he asked her to see what would be needed, which she did, and he's gone down for 'em now. And she says that as it was Saturday, she'd see that the house was all put to rights; and after breakfast she set me to sweepin'; and it's only by way of her dustin' the parlour and givin' me the little girl to take for a walk that I got off at all."
"But what have you done with the child?" exclaimed Euphemia.
"Oh, I left her at old Johnses."
"And so you think they're pleased with having the house to themselves?" I said.
"Pleased, sir?" replied Pomona; "they're tickled to death."
"But how do you like having strangers telling you what to do?" asked Euphemia.
"Oh, well," said Pomona, "he's no stranger, and she's real pleasant, and if it gives you a good camp out, I don't mind."
Euphemia and I looked at each other. Here was true allegiance! We would remember this.
Pomona now hurried off, and we seriously discussed the matter, and soon came to the conclusion that while it might be the truest hospitality to let our friends stay at our house for a day or two and enjoy themselves, still it would not do for us to allow ourselves to be governed by a too delicate sentimentality. We must go home and act our part of host and hostess.
Mrs. Old John had been at the camp ever since breakfast-time, giving the place a Saturday cleaning. What she had found to occupy her for so long a time I could not imagine, but in her efforts to put in a full half-day's work, I have no doubt she scrubbed some of the trees. We had been so fully occupied with our own affairs that we had paid very little attention to her, but she had probably heard pretty much all that had been said.
At noon we paid her (giving her, at her suggestion, something extra in lieu of the mid-day meal, which she did not stay to take), and told her to send her husband, with his waggon, as soon as possible, as we intended to break up our encampment. We determined that we would pack everything in John's waggon, and let him take the load to his house and keep it there until Monday, when I would have the tent and accompaniments sent by express to their owner. We would go home and join our friends. It would not be necessary to say where we had been.
It was hard for us to break up our camp. In many respects we had enjoyed the novel experience, and we had fully expected, during the next week, to make up for all our shortcomings and mistakes. It seemed like losing all our labour and expenditure to break up now, but there was no help for it. Our place was at home.
We did not wish to invite our friends to the camp. They would certainly have come had they known we were there, but we had no accommodation for them, neither had we any desire for even transient visitors. Besides, we both thought that we would prefer that our ex-boarder and his wife should not know that we were encamped on that little peninsula.
We set to work to pack up and get ready for moving, but the afternoon passed away without bringing old John. Between five and six o'clock along came his oldest boy with a bucket of water.
"I'm to go back after the milk," he said.
"Hold up!" I cried. "Where is your father and his waggon? We've been waiting for him for hours."
"The horse is si—— I mean, he's gone to Ballville for oats."
"And why didn't he send and tell me?" I asked.
"There wasn't nobody to send," answered the boy.
"You are not telling the truth," exclaimed Euphemia; "there is always some one to send in a family like yours." To this the boy made no answer, but again said that he would go after the milk.
"We want you to bring no milk," I cried, now quite angry. "I want you to go down to the station and tell the driver of the express waggon to come here immediately. Do you understand? Immediately!"
The boy declared he understood, and started off quite willingly. We did not prefer to have the express waggon, for it was too public a conveyance, and besides, old John knew exactly how to do what was required. But we need not have troubled ourselves. The express waggon did not come.
When it became dark, we saw that we could not leave that night. Even if a waggon did come, it would not be safe to drive over the fields in the darkness. And we could not go away and leave the camp equipage. I proposed that Euphemia should go up to the house while I remained in camp. But she declined. We would keep together whatever happened, she said.
We unpacked our cooking utensils and provisions and had supper. There was no milk for our coffee, but we did not care. The evening did not pass gaily.
We were annoyed by the conduct of old John and the express boy, though perhaps it was not their fault. I had given them no notice that I should need them.
And we were greatly troubled at the continuance of the secrecy and subterfuge which now had become really necessary if we did not wish to hurt our friends' feelings.
The first thing that I thought of when I opened my eyes in the morning, was the fact that we would have to stay there all day, for we could not move on Sunday.
But Euphemia did not agree with me. After breakfast (we found that the water and the milk had been brought very early, before we were up) she
stated that she did not intend to be treated in this way. She was going up to old John's house herself; and away she went.
In less than half an hour she returned, followed by old John and his wife, both looking much as if they had been whipped.
"These people," said she, "have entered into a conspiracy against us. I have questioned them thoroughly, and have made them answer me. The horse was at home yesterday, and the boy did not go after the express waggon. They thought that if they could keep us here until our company had gone, we would stay as long as we originally intended, and they would continue to make money out of us. But they are mistaken. We are going home immediately."
At this point I could not help thinking that Euphemia might have consulted me in regard to her determination, but she was very much in earnest, and I would not have any discussion before these people.
"Now, listen!" said Euphemia, addressing the downcast couple, "we are going home, and you two are to stay here all this day and to-night and take care of these things. You can't work to-day, and you can shut up your house and bring your whole family here if you choose. We will pay you for the service—although you do not deserve a cent—and we will leave enough here for you to eat. You must bring your own sheets and pillow-cases, and stay here until we see you on Monday morning."
Old John and his wife agreed to this plan with the greatest alacrity, apparently well pleased to get off so easily; and, having locked up the smaller articles of camp furniture, we filled a valise with our personal baggage and started off home.
Our house and grounds never looked prettier than they did that morning, as we stood at the gate. Lord Edward barked a welcome from his shed, and before we reached the door, Pomona came running out, her face radiant.
"I'm awful glad to see you back," she said; "though I'd never have said so while you was in camp."
I patted the dog and looked into the garden. Everything was growing splendidly. Euphemia rushed to the chicken-yard. It was in first-rate order, and there were two broods of little yellow puffy chicks.
Down on her knees went my wife to pick up the little creatures, one by one, press their downy bodies to her cheek, and call them tootsy-wootsies, and away went I to the barn, followed by Pomona, and soon afterwards by Euphemia.
The cow was all right.
"I've been making butter," said Pomona, "though it don't look exactly like it ought to yet, and the skim milk I didn't know what to do with, so I gave it to old John. He came for it every day, and was real mad once because I had given a lot of it to the dog, and couldn't let him have but a pint."
"He ought to have been mad," said I to Euphemia, as we walked up to the house. "He got ten cents a quart for that milk."
We laughed, and didn't care. We were too glad to be at home.
"But where are our friends?" I asked Pomona. We had actually forgotten them.
"Oh, they're gone out for a walk," said she. "They started off right after breakfast."
We were not sorry for this. It would be so much nicer to see our dear home again when there was nobody there but ourselves. Indoors we rushed. Our absence had been like rain on a garden. Everything now seemed fresher and brighter and more delightful. We went from room to room, and seemed to appreciate better than ever what a charming home we had.
We were so full of the delights of our return that we forgot all about the Sunday dinner and our guests; but Pomona, whom my wife was training to be an excellent cook, did not forget, and Euphemia was summoned to a consultation in the kitchen.
Dinner was late; but our guests were later. We waited as long as the state of the provisions and our appetites would permit, and then we sat down to the table and began to eat slowly. But they did not come. We finished our meal, and they were still absent. We now became quite anxious, and I proposed to Euphemia that we should go and look for them.
We started out, and our steps naturally turned "towards the river. An unpleasant thought began to crowd itself into my mind, and perhaps the same thing happened to Euphemia, for, without saving anything to each other, we both turned toward the path that led to the peninsula. We crossed the field, climbed the fence, and there in front of the tent sat our old boarder splitting sticks with the camp-hatchet!
"Hurrah!" he cried, springing to his feet when he saw us. "How glad I am to see you back! When did you return? Isn't this splendid?"
"What?" I said, as we shook hands.
"Why, this," he cried, pointing to the tent. "Don't you see? We're camping out."
"You are?" I exclaimed, looking around for his wife, while Euphemia stood motionless, actually unable to make a remark.
"Certainly we are. It's the rarest bit of luck. My wife and Adèle will be here directly. They've gone to look for water-cresses. But I must tell you how I came to make this magnificent find. We started out for a walk this morning, and we happened to hit on this place, and here we saw this gorgeous tent with nobody near but a little tow-headed boy."
"Only a boy?" cried Euphemia.
"Yes; a young shaver of about nine or ten. I asked him what he was doing here, and he told me that this tent belonged to a gentleman who had gone away, and that he was here to watch it until he came back. Then I asked him how long the owner would probably be away, and he said he supposed for a day or two. Then a splendid idea struck me. I offered the boy a dollar to let me take his place: I knew that any sensible man would rather have me in charge of his tent than a young codger like that. The boy agreed as quick as lightning, and I paid him and sent him off. You see how little he was to be trusted! The owner of this tent will be under the greatest obligations to me. Just look at it!" he cried. "Beds, table, stove—everything anybody could want. I've camped out lots of times, but never had such a tent as this. I intended coming up this afternoon after my valise, and to tell your girl where we are. But here is my wife and little Adele."
In the midst of the salutations and the mutual surprise, Euphemia cried:
"But you don't expect to camp out now? You are coming back to our house?"
"You see," said the ex-boarder, "we should never have thought of doing anything so rude had we supposed you would have returned so soon. But your girl gave us to understand that you would not be back for days, and so we felt free to go at any time; and I did not hesitate to make this arrangement. And now that I have really taken the responsibility of the tent and fixtures on myself, I don't think it would be right to go away and leave the place, especially as I don't know where to find that boy. The owner will be back in a day or two, and I would like to explain matters to him, and give up the property in good order into his hands. And, to tell the truth, we both adore camping out, and we may never have such a chance again. We can live here splendidly. I went out to forage this morning, and found an old fellow living near by who sold me a lot of provisions—even some coffee and sugar—and he's to bring us some milk. We're going to have supper in about an hour; won't you stay and take a camp-meal with us? It will be a novelty for you at any rate."
We declined this invitation, as we had so lately dined. I looked at Euphemia with a question in my eye. She understood me, and gently shook her head. It would be a shame to make any explanations which might put an end to this bit of camp life, which evidently was so eagerly enjoyed by our old friend. But we insisted that they should come up to the house and see us, and they agreed to dine with us the next evening. On Tuesday they must return to the city.
"Now, this is what I call real hospitality," said the ex-boarder, warmly grasping my hand. I could not help agreeing with him.
As we walked home I happened to look back, and saw old John going over the fields towards the camp, carrying a little tin pail and a water-bucket.
The next day, towards evening, a storm set in, and at the hour fixed for our dinner the rain was pouring down in such torrents that we did not expect our guests. After dinner the rain ceased, and as we supposed that they might not have made any preparations for a meal, Euphemia packed up some dinner for them in a basket, and I took it down to the camp.
They were glad to see me, and said they had a splendid time all day. They were up before sunrise, and had explored, tramped, boated, and I don't know what else.
My basket was very acceptable, and I would have stayed a while with them, but as they were obliged to eat in the tent, there was no place for me to sit, it being too wet outside, and so I soon came away.
We were in doubt whether or not to tell our friends the true history of the camp. I thought that it was not right to keep up the deception, while Euphemia declared that if they were sensitive people, they would feel very badly at having broken up our plans by their visit and then having appropriated our camp to themselves. She thought it would be the part of magnanimity to say nothing about it.
I could not help seeing a good deal of force in her arguments, although I wished very much to set the thing straight, and we discussed the matter again as we walked down to the camp after breakfast next morning.
There we found old John sitting on a stump. He said nothing, but handed me a note written in lead pencil on a card. It was from our ex-boarder, and informed me that early that morning he had found that there was a tug lying in the river, which would soon start for the city. He also found that he could get passage on her for his party, and as this was such a splendid chance to go home without the bother of getting up to the station, he had just bundled his family and his valise on board, and was very sorry they did not have time to come up and bid us good-bye. The tent he left in charge of a very respectable man, from whom he had had supplies.
That morning I had the camp equipage packed up and expressed to its owner. We did not care to camp out any more that season, but thought it would be better to spend the rest of my vacation at the seashore.
Our ex-boarder wrote to us that he and his wife were anxious that we should return their visit during my holidays; but as we did not see exactly how we could return a visit of the kind, we did not try to do it.