It was about two o'clock in the afternoon, and I suddenly heard a strange sound, that of our fowl cackling. Yesterday I heard her tell-tale note about noon, and the day before just as I was eating my breakfast. I knew that it would be so! The serpent has entered Eden. That fowl has laid before eight in the morning for three weeks without interruption, and she has now entered upon a career of wild and reckless uncertainty which compels me to eat eggs from twelve to twenty-four hours old, just as if I were in London.
Alas for the rarity
Under the sun!
A hen, being of the feminine gender, underestimates the majesty of order and system; she resents any approach to the unimaginative monotony of the machine. Probably the Confederated Fowl Union has been meddling with our little paradise where Labour and Capital have dwelt in heavenly unity until now. Nothing can be done about it, of course; even if it were possible to communicate with the fowl, she would say, I suppose, that she would lay when she was ready, and not before; at least, that is what an American hen would say.
Just as I was brooding over these mysteries and trying to hatch out some conclusions, Mrs. Bobby knocked at the door, and, coming in, curtsied very low before saying, "It's about namin' the 'ouse, miss."
"Oh yes. Pray don't stand, Mrs. Bobby; take a chair. I am not very busy; I am only painting prickles on my gorse bushes, so we will talk it over."
I shall not attempt to give you Mrs. Bobby's dialect in reporting my various interviews with her, for the spelling of it is quite beyond my powers. Pray remove all the h's wherever they occur, and insert them where they do not; but there will be, over and beyond this, an intonation quite impossible to render.
Mrs. Bobby bought her place only a few months ago, for she lived in Cheltenham before Mr. Bobby died. The last incumbent had probably been of Welsh extraction, for the cottage had been named 'Dan-y-cefn.' Mrs. Bobby declared, however, that she wouldn't have a heathenish name posted on her house, and expect her friends to pronounce it when she couldn't pronounce it herself. She seemed grieved when at first I could not see the absolute necessity of naming the cottage at all, telling her that in America we named only grand places. She was struck dumb with amazement at this piece of information, and failed to conceive of the confusion that must ensue in villages where streets were scarcely named or houses numbered. I confess it had never occurred to me that our manner of doing was highly inconvenient, if not impossible, and I approached the subject of the name with more interest and more modesty.
"Well, Mrs. Bobby," I began, "it is to be Cottage; we've decided that, have we not? It is to be Cottage, not House, Lodge, Mansion, or Villa. We cannot name it after any flower that blows, because they are all taken. Have all the trees been used?"
"Thank you, miss, yes, miss, all but h'ash-tree, and we 'ave no h'ash."
"Very good, we must follow another plan. Family names seem to be chosen, such as Gower House, Marston Villa, and the like. 'Bobby Cottage' is not pretty. What was your maiden name, Mrs. Bobby?"
"Buggins, thank you, miss. 'Elizabeth Buggins, Licensed to sell Poultry,' was my name and title when I met Mr. Bobby."
"I'm sorry, but 'Buggins Cottage' is still more impossible than 'Bobby Cottage.' Now here's another idea: where were you born, Mrs. Bobby?"
"In Snitterfield, thank you, miss."
"Dear, dear! how unserviceable!"
"Thank you, miss."
"Where was Mr. Bobby born?"
"He never mentioned, miss."
(Mr. Bobby must have been expansive, for they were married twenty years.)
"There is always Victoria or Albert," I said tentatively, as I wiped my brushes.
"Yes, miss, but with all respect to her Majesty, them names give me a turn when I see them on the gates, I am that sick of them."
"True. Can we call it anything that will suggest its situation? Is there a Hill Crest?"
"Yes, miss, there is 'Ill Crest, 'Ill Top, 'Ill View, 'Ill Side, 'Ill End, H'under 'Ill, 'Ill Bank, and 'Ill Terrace."
"I should think that would do for Hill."
"Thank you, miss. 'Ow would 'The 'Edge' do, miss?"
"But we have no hedge." (She shall not have anything with an h in it, if I can help it.)
"No, miss, but I thought I might set out a bit, if worst come to worst."
"And wait three or four years before people would know why the cottage was named? Oh no, Mrs. Bobby."
"Thank you, miss."
"We might have something quite out of the common, like 'Providence Cottage,' down the bank. I don't know why Mrs. Jones calls it Providence Cottage, unless she thinks it's a providence that she has one at all; or because, as it's just on the edge of the hill, she thinks it's a providence that it hasn't blown off. How would you like 'Peace' or 'Rest' Cottage?"
"Begging your pardon, miss, it's neither peace nor rest I gets in it these days, with a twenty-five pound debt 'anging over me, and three children to feed and clothe."
"I fear we are not very clever, Mrs. Bobby, or we should hit upon the right thing with less trouble. I know what I will do: I will go down in the road and look at the place for a long time from the outside, and try to think what it suggests to me."
"Thank you, miss; and I'm sure I'm grateful for all the trouble you are taking with my small affairs."
Down I went, and leaned over the wicket-gate, gazing at the unnamed cottage. The brick pathway was scrubbed as clean as a penny, and the stone step and the floor of the little kitchen as well. The garden was a maze of fragrant bloom, with never a weed in sight. The fowl cackled cheerily still, adding insult to injury, the pet sheep munched grass contentedly, and the canaries sang in their cages under the vines. Mrs. Bobby settled herself on the porch with a pan of peas in her neat gingham lap, and all at once I cried:—
"'Comfort Cottage'! It is the very essence of comfort, Mrs. Bobby, even if there is not absolute peace or rest. Let me paint the signboard for you this very day."
Mrs. Bobby was most complacent over the name. She had the greatest confidence in my judgment, and the characterisation pleased her housewifely pride, so much so that she flushed with pleasure as she said that if she 'ad 'er 'ealth she thought she could keep the place looking so that the passers-by would easily h'understand the name.