Penelope's English Experiences

Chapter XVII. Short stops and long bills.

The manner of my changing from West to North Belvern was this. When I had been two days at Holly House, I reflected that my sitting-room faced the wrong way for the view, and that my bedroom was dark and not large enough to swing a cat in. Not that there was the remotest necessity of my swinging cats in it, but the figure of speech is always useful. Neither did I care to occupy myself with the perennial inspection and purchase of raw edibles, when I wished to live in an ideal world and paint a great picture. Mrs. Hobbs would come to my bedside in the morning and ask me if I would like to buy a fowl. When I looked upon the fowl, limp in death, with its headless neck hanging dejectedly over the edge of the plate, its giblets and kidneys lying in immodest confusion on the outside of itself, and its liver 'tucked under its wing, poor thing,' I never wanted to buy it. But one morning, in taking my walk, I chanced upon an idyllic spot: the front of the whitewashed cottage embowered in flowers, bird-cages built into these bowers, a little notice saying 'Canaries for Sale,' and an English rose of a baby sitting in the path stringing hollyhock buds. There was no apartment sign, but I walked in, ostensibly to buy some flowers. I met Mrs. Bobby, loved her at first sight, the passion was reciprocal, and I wheedled her into giving me her own sitting-room and the bedroom above it. It only remained now for me to break my projected change of residence to my present landlady, and this I distinctly dreaded. Of course Mrs. Hobbs said, when I timidly mentioned the subject, that she wished she had known I was leaving an hour before, for she had just refused a lady and her husband, most desirable persons, who looked as if they would be permanent. Can it be that lodgers radiate the permanent or transitory quality, quite unknown to themselves?

I was very much embarrassed, as she threatened to become tearful; and as I was determined never to give up Mrs. Bobby, I said desperately, "I must leave you, Mrs. Hobbs, I must indeed; but as you seem to feel so badly about it, I'll go out and find you another lodger in my place."

The fact is, I had seen, not long before, a lady going in and out of houses, as I had done on the night of my arrival, and it occurred to me that I might pursue her, and persuade her to take my place in Holly House and buy the headless fowl. I walked for nearly an hour before I was rewarded with a glimpse of my victim's grey dress whisking round the corner of Pump Street. I approached, and, with a smile that was intended to be a justification in itself, I explained my somewhat unusual mission. She was rather unreceptive at first; she thought evidently that I was to have a percentage on her, if I succeeded in capturing her alive and delivering her to Mrs. Hobbs; but she was very weary and discouraged, and finally fell in with my plans. She accompanied me home, was introduced to Mrs. Hobbs, and engaged my rooms from the following day. As she had a sister, she promised to be a more lucrative incumbent than I; she enjoyed ordering food in a raw state, did not care for views, and thought purple clematis vines only a shelter for insects: so every one was satisfied, and I most of all when I wrestled with Mrs. Hobb's itemised bill for two nights and one day. Her weekly account must be rolled on a cylinder, I should think, like the list of Don Juan's amours, for the bill of my brief residence beneath her roof was quite three feet in length, each of the following items being set down every twenty-four hours:—

Kidney beans.
Vegetable marrow.
Cut off joint.
Washing towels.
Kitchen fire.
Sitting-room fire.

The total was seventeen shillings and sixpence, and as Mrs. Hobbs wrote upon it, in her neat English hand, 'Received payment, with respectful thanks,' she carefully blotted the wet ink, and remarked casually that service was not included in 'attendance,' but that she would leave the amount to me.

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