Penelope's English Experiences

Chapter XVIII. I meet Mrs. Bobby.

Mrs. Bobby and I were born for each other, though we have been a long time in coming together. She is the pink of neatness and cheeriness, and she has a broad, comfortable bosom on which one might lay a motherless head, if one felt lonely in a stranger land. I never look at her without remembering what the poet Samuel Rogers said of Lady Parke: 'She is so good that when she goes to heaven she will find no difference save that her ankles will be thinner and her head better dressed.'

No raw fowls visit my bedside here; food comes as I wish it to come when I am painting, like manna from heaven. Mrs. Bobby brings me three times a day something to eat, and though it is always whatever she likes, I always agree in her choice, and send the blue dishes away empty. She asked me this morning if I enjoyed my 'h'egg,' and remarked that she had only one fowl, but it laid an egg for me every morning, so I might know it was 'fresh as fresh.' It is certainly convenient: the fowl lays the egg from seven to seven-thirty, I eat it from eight to eight-thirty; no haste, no waste. Never before have I seen such heavenly harmony between supply and demand. Never before have I been in such visible and unbroken connection with the source of my food. If I should ever desire two eggs, or if the fowl should turn sulky or indolent, I suppose Mrs. Bobby would have to go half a mile to the nearest shop, but as yet everything has worked to a charm. The cow is milked into my pitcher in the morning, and the fowl lays her egg almost literally in my egg-cup. One of the little Bobbies pulls a kidney bean or a tomato or digs a potato for my dinner, about half an hour before it is served. There is a sheep in the garden, but I hardly think it supplies the chops; those, at least, are not raised on the premises.

One grievance I did have at first, but Mrs. Bobby removed the thorn from the princess' pillow as soon as it was mentioned. Our next-door neighbour had a kennel of homesick, discontented, and sleepless puppies of various breeds, that were in the habit of howling all night until Mrs. Bobby expostulated with Mrs. Gooch in my behalf. She told me that she found Mrs. Gooch very snorty, very snorty indeed, because the pups were an 'obby of her 'usbants; whereupon Mrs. Bobby responded that if Mrs. Gooch's 'usbant 'ad to 'ave an 'obby, it was a shame it 'ad to be 'owling pups to keep h'innocent people awake o' nights. The puppies were removed, but I almost felt guilty at finding fault with a dog in this country. It is a matter of constant surprise to me, and it always give me a warm glow in the region of the heart, to see the supremacy of the dog in England. He is respected, admired, loved, and considered, as he deserves to be everywhere, but as he frequently is not. He is admitted on all excursions; he is taken into the country for his health; he is a factor in all the master' plans; in short, the English dog is a member of the family, in good and regular standing.

My interior surroundings are all charming. My little sitting-room, out of which I turned Mrs. Bobby, is bright with potted ferns and flowering plants, and on its walls, besides the photographs of a large and unusually plain family, I have two works of art which inspire me anew every time I gaze at them: the first a scriptural subject, treated by an enthusiastic but inexperienced hand, 'Susanne dans le Bain, surprise par les Deux Vieillards'; the second, 'The White Witch of Worcester on her Way to the Stake at High Cross.' The unfortunate lady in the latter picture is attired in a white lawn wrapper with angel sleeves, and is followed by an abbess with prayer-book, and eight surpliced choir-boys with candles. I have been long enough in England to understand the significance of the candles. Doubtless the White Witch had paid four shillings a week for each of them in her prison lodging, and she naturally wished to burn them to the end.

One has no need, though, of pictures on the walls here, for the universe seems unrolled at one's very feet. As I look out of my window the last thing before I go to sleep, I see the lights of Great Belvern, the dim shadows of the distant cathedral towers, the quaint priory seven centuries old, and just the outline of Holly Bush Hill, a sacred seat of magic science when the Druids investigated the secrets of the stars, and sought, by auspices and sacrifices, to forecast the future and to penetrate the designs of the gods.

It makes me feel very new, very undeveloped, to look out of that window. If I were an Englishwoman, say the fifty-fifth duchess of something, I could easily glow with pride to think that I was part and parcel of such antiquity; the fortunate heiress not only of land and titles, but of historic associations. But as I am an American with a very recent background, I blow out my candle with the feeling that it is rather grand to be making history for somebody else to inherit.

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