Rudder Grange/Chapter 18
The next day was clear again, and we rambled in the woods until the sun was nearly down, and so were late about supper. We were just taking our seats at the table when we heard a footstep on the front porch. Instantly the same thought came into each of our minds.
"I do believe," said Euphemia, "that's somebody who has mistaken this for a tavern. I wonder whether it's a soldier or a farmer or a sailor; but you had better go and see."
I went to see, prompted to move quickly by the new-comer pounding his cane on the bare floor of the hall. I found him standing just inside of the front door. He was a small man, with long hair and beard, and dressed in a suit of clothes of a remarkable colour—something of the hue of faded snuff. He had a big stick, and carried a large flat valise in one hand. He bowed to me very politely.
"Can I stop here to-night?" he asked, taking off his hat as my wife put her head out of the kitchen door.
"Why—no, sir," I said. "This is not a tavern."
"Not a tavern!" he exclaimed. "I don't understand that. You have a sign out."
"That is true," I said; "but that is only for fun, so to speak. We are here temporarily, and we put up that sign just to please ourselves."
"That is pretty poor fun for me," said the man. "I am very tired, and more hungry than tired. Couldn't you let me have a little supper, at any rate?"
Euphemia glanced at me. I nodded.
"You are welcome to some supper," she said; "come in! We eat in the kitchen because it is more convenient, and because it is so much more cheerful than the dining-room. There is a pump out there, and here is a towel, if you would like to wash your hands."
As the man went out the back door I complimented my wife. She was really an admirable hostess.
The individual in faded snuff-colour was certainly hungry, and he seemed to enjoy his supper. During the meal he gave us some account of himself. He was an artist and had travelled, mostly on foot, it would appear, over a great part of the country. He had in his valise some very pretty little coloured sketches of scenes in Mexico and California, which he showed us after supper. Why he carried these pictures—which were done on stiff paper—about with him, I do not know. He said he did not care to sell them as he might use them for studies for larger pictures some day. His valise, which he opened wide on the table, seemed to be filled with papers, drawings, and matters of that kind. I suppose he preferred to wear his clothes, instead of carrying them about in his valise.
After sitting for about half an hour after supper he rose, with an uncertain sort of smile, and said he supposed he must be moving on—asking at the same time how far it was to the tavern over the ridge.
"Just wait one minute, if you please," said Euphemia; and she beckoned me out of the room.
"Don't you think," said she, "that we could keep him all night? There's no moon, and it would be a fearful dark walk, I know, to the other side of the mountain. There is a room upstairs that I can fix for him in ten minutes, and I know he's honest."
"How do you know it?" I asked.
"Well, because he wears such curiously-coloured clothes. No criminal would ever wear such clothes. He would never pass unnoticed anywhere; and being probably the only person in the world who dressed that way, he could always be detected."
"You are doubtless correct," I replied. "Let us keep him."
When we told the good man that he could stay all night he was extremely obliged to us, and went to bed quite early. After we had fastened the house and had gone to our room, my wife said to me:
"Where is your pistol?"
I produced it.
"Well," said she, "I think you ought to have it where you can get at it."
"Why so?" I asked. "You generally want me to keep it out of sight and reach."
"Yes; but when there is a strange man in the house we ought to take extra precautions."
"But this man you say is honest," I replied. "If he committed a crime he could not escape—his appearance is so peculiar."
"But that wouldn't do us any good if we were both murdered," said Euphemia, pulling a chair up to my side of the bed and laying the pistol carefully thereon, with the muzzle toward the bed.
We were not murdered, and we had a very pleasant breakfast with the artist, who told us more anecdotes of his life in Mexico and other places. When, after breakfast, he shut up his valise preparatory to starting away, we felt really sorry. When he was ready to go he asked for his bill.
"Oh! There is no bill," I exclaimed. "We have no idea of charging you anything. We don't really keep a hotel, as I told you."
"If I had known that," said he, looking very grave, "I would not have stayed. There is no reason why you should give me food and lodgings, and I would not, and did not, ask it. I am able to pay for such things, and I wish to do so."
We argued with him for some time, speaking of the habits of country people and so on, but he would not be convinced. He had asked for accommodation expecting to pay for it, and would not be content until he had done so.
"Well," asid Euphemia, "we are not keeping this house for profit, and you can't force us to make anything out of you. If you will be satisfied to pay us just what it cost us to entertain you, I suppose we shall have to let you do that. Take a seat for a minute, and I will make out your bill."
So the artist and I sat down and talked of various matters, while my wife got out her travelling stationery-box, and sat down to the dining-table to make out the bill. After a long, long time, as it appeared to me, I said:
"My dear, if the amount of that bill is at all proportioned to the length of time it takes to make it out, I think our friend here will wish he had never said anything about it."
"It's nearly done," said she, without raising her head, and in about ten or fifteen minutes more she rose and presented the bill to our guest. As I noticed that he seemed somewhat surprised at it, I asked him to let me look over it with him. The bill, of which I have a copy, read as follows:
Artist, 12th July, 187—.
To the S. and S. Hotel and F. and M. House.
To one supper, 11th July, which supper consisted of—
The worthy artist burst out laughing when he read this bill, and so did I.
"You needn't laugh," said Euphemia, reddening a little. "That is exactly what your entertainment cost, and we do not intend to take a cent more. We get things here in such small quantities that I can tell quite easily what a meal costs us, and I have calculated that bill very carefully."
"So I should think, madam," said the artist; "but it is not quite right. You have charged nothing for your trouble and services."
"No," said my wife, "for I took no additional trouble to get your meals. What I did, I should have done if you had not come. To be sure I did spend a few minutes preparing your room. I wall charge you seven twenty-fourths of a cent for that, thus making your bill twenty-three cents—even money."
"I cannot gainsay reasoning like yours, madam," he said, and he took a quarter from a very fat old pocket-book and handed it to her. She gravely gave him two cents change, and then taking the bill, receipted it, and handed it back to him.
We were sorry to part with our guest, for he was evidently a good fellow. I walked with him a little way up the road, and got him to let me copy his bill in my memorandum-book. The original, he said, he would always keep.
A day or two after the artist's departure we were standing on the front piazza. We had had a late breakfast—consequent upon a long tramp the day before—and had come out to see what sort of a day it was likely to be. We had hardly made up our minds on the subject when the morning stage came up at full speed and stopped at our gate.
"Hello!" cried the driver. He was not our driver. He was a tall man in high boots, and had a great reputation as a manager of horses—so Danny Carson told me afterward. There were two drivers on the line, and each of them made one trip a day, going up one day in the afternoon, and down the next day in the morning.
I went out to see what this driver wanted.
"Can't you give my passengers breakfast?" he asked.
"Why, no!" I exclaimed, looking at the stage loaded inside and out. "This isn't a tavern. We couldn't get breakfast for a stage-load of people."
"What have you got a sign up fur then?" roared the driver, getting red in the face.
"That's so," cried two or three men from the top of the stage. "If it ain't a tavern what's that sign doin' there?"
I saw I must do something. I stepped up close to the stage and looked in and up.
"Are there any sailors in this stage?" I said. There was no response. "Any soldiers? Any farmers or mechanics?"
At the latter question I trembled, but fortunately no one answered.
"Then," said I, "you have no right to ask to be accommodated; for, as you may see from the sign, our house is only for soldiers, sailors, farmers, and mechanics."
"And besides," cried Euphemia from the piazza, "we haven't anything to give you for breakfast."
The people in and on the stage grumbled a good deal at this, and looked as if they were both disappointed and hungry, while the driver ripped out an oath, which, had he thrown it across a creek, would soon have made a good-sized millpond.
He gathered up his reins and turned a sinister look on me.
"I'll be even with you yit," he cried as he dashed off.
In the afternoon Mrs. Carson came up and told us that the stage had stopped there, and that she had managed to give the passengers some coffee, bread and butter, and ham and eggs, though they had had to wait their turns for cups and plates. It appeared that the driver had quarrelled with the Lowry people that morning because the breakfast was behindhand and he was kept waiting. So he told his passengers that there was another tavern, a few miles down the road, and that he would take them there to breakfast.
"He's an awful ugly man, that he is," said Mrs. Carson, "an' he'd better 'a' stayed at Lowry's, fur he had to wait a good sight longer, after all, as it turned out. But he's dreadful mad at you, an' says he'll bring ye farmers, an' soldiers an' sailors, an' mechanics, if that's what ye want. I 'spect he'll do his best to get a load of them particular people an' drop 'em at yer door. I'd take down that sign, ef I was you. Not that me an' Danny minds, fur we're glad to git a stage to feed, an' ef you've any single man that wants lodgin', we've fixed up a room and kin keep him overnight."
Notwithstanding this warning, Euphemia and I decided not to take in our sign. We were not to be frightened by a stage-driver. The next day our own driver passed us on the road as he was going down.
"So ye're pertickler about the people ye take in, are ye?" said he, smiling. "That's all right, but ye made Bill awful mad."
It was quite late on a Monday afternoon that Bill stopped at our house again. He did not call out this time. He simply drew up, and a man with a big black valise clambered down from the top of the stage. Then Bill shouted to me, as I walked down to the gate, looking rather angry, I suppose—,
"I was a-goin' to git ye a whole stage-load to stay all night, but that one'll do ye, I reckon. Ha, ha!" And off he went, probably fearing that I would throw his passenger up on the top of the stage again.
The new-comer entered the gate. He was a dark man, with black hair and black whiskers and moustache, and black eyes. He wore clothes that had been black, but which were now toned down by a good deal of dust, and, as I have said, he carried a black valise.
"Why did you stop here?" said I, rather inhospitably. "Don't you know that we do not accommodate—"
"Yes, I know," he said, walking up on the piazza and setting down his valise, "that you only take soldiers, sailors, farmers, and mechanics at this house. I have been told all about it, and if I had not thoroughly understood the matter I should not have thought of such a thing as stopping here. If you will sit down for a few moments I will explain." Saying this, he took a seat on a bench by the door, but Euphemia and I continued to stand.
"I am," he continued, "a soldier, a sailor, a farmer, and a mechanic. Do not doubt my word; I will prove it to you in two minutes. When but seventeen years of age circumstances compelled me to take charge of a farm in New Hampshire, and I kept up that farm until I was twenty-five. During this time I built several barns, wagon-houses, and edifices of the sort on my place, and, becoming expert in this branch of mechanical art, I was much sought after by the neighbouring farmers, who employed me to do similar work for them. In time I found this new business so profitable that I gave up farming altogether. But certain unfortunate speculations threw me on my back, and finally, having gone from bad to worse, I found myself in Boston, where, in sheer desperation, I went on board a coasting vessel as landsman. I remained on this vessel for nearly a year, but it did not suit me. I was often sick, and did not like the work. I left the vessel at one of the Southern ports, and it was not long after she sailed that, finding myself utterly without means, I enlisted as a soldier. I remained in the army for some years, and was finally honourably discharged. So you see that what I said was true. I belong to each and all of these businesses and professions. And now that I have satisfied you on this point, let me show you a book for which I have the agency in this country." He stooped down, opened his valise, and picked out a good-sized volume. "This book," said he, "is the Flora and Fauna of Carthage County; it is written by one of the first scientific men of the country, and gives you a description, with an authentic wood-cut of each of the plants and animals of the country—indigenous or neutralised. Owing to peculiar advantages enjoyed by our firm, we are enabled to put this book at the very low price of three dollars and seventy-five cents. It is sold by subscription only, and should be on the centre-table in every parlour in this country. If you will glance over this book, sir, you will find it as interesting as a novel, and as useful as an encyclopædia—"
"I don't want the book," I said, "and I don't care to look at it."
"But if you were to look at it you would want it, I'm sure."
"That's a good reason for not looking at it, then," I answered. "If you came here to get us to subscribe for that book, we need not take up any more of your time, for we shall not subscribe."
"Oh, I did not come for that alone," he said. "I shall stay here to-night, and start out in the morning to work up the neighbourhood. If you would like this book—and I'm sure you've only to look at it to do that—you can deduct the amount of my bill from the subscription price, and—"
"What did you say you charged for this book?" asked Euphemia, stepping forward and picking up the volume.
"Three-seventy-five is the subscription price, ma'am, but that book is not for sale. That is merely a sample. If you put your name down on my list, you will be served with your book in two weeks. As I told your husband, it will come very cheap to you, because you can deduct what you charge me for supper, lodging, and breakfast."
"Indeed!" said my wife, and then she remarked that she must go in the house and get supper.
"When will supper be ready?" the man asked as she passed him.
At first she did not answer him, but then she called back:
"In about half an hour."
"Good!" said the man; "but I wish it was ready now. And now, sir, if you would just glance over this book while we are waiting for supper—"
I cut him very short and went out into the road. I walked up and down in front of the house in a bad humour, I could not bear to think of my wife getting supper for this fellow, who was striding about on the piazza as if he was very hungry and very impatient. Just as I returned to the house the bell rang from within.
"Joyful sound!" said the man, and in he marched. I followed close behind him. On one end of the table, in the kitchen, supper was set for one person, and, as the man entered, Euphemia motioned him to the table. The supper looked like a remarkably good one. A cup of coffee smoked by the side of the
plate; there was ham and eggs and a small omelette; there were fried potatoes, some fresh radishes, a plate of hot biscuit, and some preserves. The man's eyes sparkled.
"I am sorry," said he, "that I am to eat alone, for I hoped to have your good company; but if this plan suits you it suits me," and he drew up a chair.
"Stop!" said Euphemia, advancing between him and the table. "You are not to eat that. This is a sample supper. If you order a supper like it, one will be served to you in two weeks."
At this I burst into a roar of laughter; my wife stood pale and determined, and the man drew back, looking first at one of us and then at the other.
"Am I to understand—?" he said.
"Yes," I interrupted, "you are. There is nothing more to be said on this subject. You may go now. You came here to annoy us, knowing that we did not entertain travellers, and now you see what you have made by it," and I opened the door.
The man evidently thought that a reply was not necessary, and he walked out without a word. Taking up his valise, which he had put in the hall, he asked if there was any public-house near by.
"No," I said; "but there is a farm-house a short distance down the road, where they will be glad to have you." And down the road he went to Mrs. Carson's. I am sorry to say that he sold her a Flora and Fauna before he went to bed that night.
We were much amused at the termination of this affair, and I became, if possible, a still greater admirer of Euphemia's talents for management. But we both agreed that it would not do to keep up the sign any longer. We could not tell when the irate driver might not pounce down upon us with a customer.
"But I hate to take it down," said Euphemia: "it looks so much like a surrender."
"Do not trouble yourself," said I. "I have an idea."
The next morning I went down to Danny Carson's little shop—he was a wheelwright as well as a farmer—and I got from him two pots of paint—one black and one white—and some brushes. I took down our sign and painted out the old lettering, and instead of it I painted, in bold and somewhat regular characters, new names for our tavern.
On one side of the sign I painted—
And on the other side—
"Now, then," I said, "I don't believe any of those people will be travelling along the road while we are here, or, at any rate, they won't want to stop."
We admired this sign very much, and sat on the piazza that afternoon to see how it would strike Bill, as he passed by. It seemed to strike him pretty hard, for he gazed with all his eyes at one side of it as he approached, and then, as he passed it, he actually pulled up to read the other side.
"All right!" he called out, as he drove off. "All right! All right!"
Euphemia didn't like the way he said "All right!" It seemed to her, she said, as if he intended to do something which would be all right for him, but not at all so for us. I saw she was nervous about it, for that evening she began to ask me questions about the travelling propensities of soap-makers, upholsterers, and dentists.
"Do not think anything more about that, my dear," I said. "I will take the sign down in the morning. We are here to enjoy ourselves and not to be worried."
"And yet," said she, "it would worry me to think that that driver frightened us into taking down the sign. I tell you what I wish you would do. Paint out those names and let me make a sign. Then I promise you I will not be worried."
The next day, therefore, I took down the sign and painted out my inscriptions. It was a good deal of trouble, for my letters were fresh, but it was a rainy day, and I had plenty of time, and succeeded tolerably well. Then I gave Euphemia the black paint-pot and the freedom of the sign.
I went down to the creek to try a little fishing in wet weather, and when I returned the new sign was done. On one side it read—
On the other—
"You see," said Euphemia, "if any individuals mentioned thereon apply for accommodation, we can say we are full."
This sign hung triumphantly for several days, when one morning, just as we had finished breakfast, we were surprised to hear the stage stop at the door, and, before we could go out to see who had arrived, into the room came our own stage-driver, as we used to call him. He had actually left his team to come and see us.
"I just thought I'd stop an' tell ye," said he, "that ef ye don't look out, Bill 'll get ye inter trouble. He's bound to git the best o' ye, an' I heard this mornin' at Lowry's that he's a-goin' to bring the county clerk up here to-morrow to see about yer licence fur keepin' a hotel. He says ye keep changin' yer signs, but that don't differ to him for he kin prove ye've kept travellers overnight, an' ef ye haven't got no licence, he'll make the county clerk come down on ye heavy, I'm sure o' that, fur I know Bill. An' so I thought I'd stop an' tell ye."
I thanked him, and admitted that this was a rather serious view of the case. Euphemia pondered a moment. Then said she:
"I don't see why we should stay here any longer. It's going to rain again, and our vacation is up to-morrow, any way. Could you wait a little while, while we pack up?" she said to the driver.
"Oh, yes!" he replied. "I kin wait as well as not. I've only got one passenger, an he's on top, a-holdin' the horses. He ain't in any hurry, I know, an' I'm ahead o' time."
In less than twenty minutes we had packed our trunk, locked up the house, and were in the stage, and, as we drove away we cast a last admiring look at Euphemia's sign, slowly swinging in the wind. I would much like to know if it is swinging there yet. I feel certain there has been no lack of custom.
We stopped at Mrs. Carson's, paid her what we owed her, and engaged her to go up to the tavern and put things in order. She was very sorry we were going, but hoped we would come back again some other summer. We said that it was quite possible that we might do so; but that next time we did not think we would try to have a tavern of our own.