Diary of a Goose Girl by Kate Douglas Wiggin
by the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - Chapter 14

 

CHAPTER XIV

July 18th.

The day was Friday; Phoebe's day to go to Buffington with eggs and
chickens and rabbits; her day to solicit orders for ducklings and
goslings. The village cart was ready in the stable; Mr. and Mrs. Heaven
were in Woodmucket; I was eating my breakfast (which I remember was an
egg and a rasher) when Phoebe came in, a figure of woe.

The Square Baby was ill, very ill, and would not permit her to leave him
and go to market. Would I look at him? For he must have dowsed 'imself
as well as the goslings yesterday; anyways he was strong of paraffin and
tobacco, though he 'ad 'ad a good barth.

I prescribed for Albert Edward, who was as uncomfortable and feverish as
any little sinner in the county of Sussex, and I then promptly proposed
going to Buffington in Phoebe's place.

She did not think it at all proper, and said that, notwithstanding my
cotton gown and sailor hat, I looked quite, quite the lydy, and it would
never do.

"I cannot get any new orders," said I, "but I can certainly leave the
rabbits and eggs at the customary places. I know Argent's Dining
Parlours, and Songhurst's Tea Rooms, and the Six Bells Inn, as well as
you do."

So, donning a pair of Phoebe's large white cotton gloves with open-work
wrists (than which I always fancy there is no one article that so
disguises the perfect lydy), I set out upon my travels, upborne by a
lively sense of amusement that was at least equal to my feeling that I
was doing Phoebe Heaven a good turn.

Prices in dressed poultry were fluctuating, but I had a copy of _The
Trade Review_, issued that very day, and was able to get some idea of
values and the state of the market as I jogged along. The general
movement, I learned, was moderate and of a "selective" character. Choice
large capons and ducks were in steady demand, but I blushed for my
profession when I read that roasting chickens were running coarse,
staggy, and of irregular value. Old hens were held firmly at sixpence,
and it is my experience that they always have to be, at whatever price.
Geese were plenty, dull, and weak. Old cocks,--why don't they say
roosters?--declined to threepence ha'penny on Thursday in sympathy with
fowls,--and who shall say that chivalry is dead? Turkeys were a trifle
steadier, and there was a speculative movement in limed eggs. All this
was illuminating, and I only wished I were quite certain whether the
sympathetic old roosters were threepence ha'penny apiece, or a pound.

Everything happened as it should, on this first business journey of my
life, which is equivalent to saying that nothing happened at all.
Songhurst's Tea Rooms took five dozen eggs and told me to bring six dozen
the next week. Argent's Dining Parlours purchased three pairs of
chickens and four rabbits. The Six Bells found the last poultry somewhat
tough and tasteless; whereupon I said that our orders were more than we
could possibly fill, still I hoped we could go on "selling them," as we
never liked to part with old customers, no matter how many new ones there
were. Privately, I understood the complaint only too well, for I knew
the fowls in question very intimately. Two of them were the runaway
rooster and the gadabout hen that never wanted to go to bed with the
others. The third was Cannibal Ann. I should have expected them to be
tough, but I cannot believe they were lacking in flavour.

The only troublesome feature of the trip was that Mrs. Sowerbutt's
lodgers had suddenly left for London and she was unable to take the four
rabbits as she had hoped; but as an offset to that piece of ill-fortune
the Coke and Coal Yard and the Bicycle Repairing Rooms came out into the
street, and, stepping up to the trap, requested regular weekly deliveries
of eggs and chickens, and hoped that I would be able to bring them
myself. And so, in a happy frame of mind, I turned out of the Buffington
main street, and was jogging along homeward, when a very startling thing
happened; namely, a whole verse of the Bailiff's Daughter of Islington:--

"And as she went along the high road,
The weather being hot and dry,
She sat her down upon a green bank,
And her true love came riding by."

That true lovers are given to riding by, in ballads, I know very well,
but I hardly supposed they did so in real life, especially when every
precaution had been taken to avert such a catastrophe. I had told the
Barbury Green postmistress, on the morning of my arrival, not to give the
Thornycroft address to anybody whatsoever, but finding, as the days
passed, that no one was bold enough or sensible enough to ask for it, I
haughtily withdrew my prohibition. About this time I began sending
envelopes, carefully addressed in a feigned hand, to a certain person at
the Oxenbridge Hydro. These envelopes contained no word of writing, but
held, on one day, only a bit of down from a hen's breast, on another, a
goose-quill, on another, a glossy tail-feather, on another, a grain of
corn, and so on. These trifles were regarded by me not as degrading or
unmaidenly hints and suggestions, but simply as tests of intelligence.
Could a man receive tokens of this sort and fail to put two and two
together? I feel that I might possibly support life with a domineering
and autocratic husband,--and there is every prospect that I shall be
called upon to do so,--but not with a stupid one. Suppose one were
linked for ever to a man capable of asking,--"Did _you_ send those
feathers? . . . How was I to guess? . . . How was a fellow to know they
came from you? . . . What on earth could I suppose they meant? . . . What
clue did they offer me as to your whereabouts? . . . Am I a Sherlock
Holmes?"--No, better eternal celibacy than marriage with such a being!

These were the thoughts that had been coursing through my goose-girl mind
while I had been selling dressed poultry, but in some way they had not
prepared me for the appearance of the aforesaid true love.

To see the very person whom one has left civilisation to avoid is always
more or less surprising, and to make the meeting less likely, Buffington
is even farther from Oxenbridge than Barbury Green. The creature was
well mounted (ominous, when he came to override my caprice!) and he
looked bigger, and, yes, handsomer, though that doesn't signify, and
still more determined than when I saw him last; although goodness knows
that timidity and feebleness of purpose were not in striking evidence on
that memorable occasion. I had drawn up under the shade of a tree
ostensibly to eat some cherries, thinking that if I turned my face away I
might pass unrecognised. It was a stupid plan, for if I had whipped up
the mare and driven on, he of course, would have had to follow, and he
has too much dignity and self-respect to shriek recriminations into a
woman's ear from a distance.

He approached with deliberation, reined in his horse, and lifted his hat
ceremoniously. He has an extremely shapely head, but I did not show that
the sight of it melted in the least the ice of my resolve; whereupon we
talked, not very freely at first,--men are so stiff when they consider
themselves injured. However, silence is even more embarrassing than
conversation, so at length I begin:--

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"It is a lovely day."

_True Love_.--"Yes, but the drought is getting rather oppressive, don't
you think?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"The crops certainly need rain, and the feed is
becoming scarce."

_True Love_.--"Are you a farmer's wife?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Oh no! that is a promotion to look forward to; I
am now only a Goose Girl."

_True Love_.--"Indeed! If I wished to be severe I might remark: that I
am sure you have found at last your true vocation!"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"It was certainly through no desire to please
_you_ that I chose it."

_True Love_.--"I am quite sure of that! Are you staying in this part?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Oh no! I live many miles distant, over an
extremely rough road. And you?"

_True Love_.--"I am still at the Hydropathic; or at least my luggage is
there."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"It must be very pleasant to attract you so long."

_True Love_.--"Not so pleasant as it was."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"No? A new proprietor, I suppose."

_True Love_.--"No; same proprietor; but the house is empty."

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (yawning purposely).--"That is strange; the hotels
are usually so full at this season. Why did so many leave?"

_True Love_.--"As a matter of fact, only one left. 'Full' and 'empty'
are purely relative terms. I call a hotel full when it has you in it,
empty when it hasn't."

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (dying to laugh, but concealing her feelings).--"I
trust my bulk does not make the same impression on the general public!
Well, I won't detain you longer; good afternoon; I must go home to my
evening work."

_True Love_.--"I will accompany you."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"If you are a gentleman you will remain where you
are."

_True Love_.--"In the road? Perhaps; but if I am a man I shall follow
you; they always do, I notice. What are those foolish bundles in the
back of that silly cart?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Feed for the pony, please, sir; fish for dinner;
randans and barley meal for the poultry; and four unsold rabbits.
Wouldn't you like them? Only one and sixpence apiece. Shot at three
o'clock this morning."

_True Love_.--"Thanks; I don't like mine shot so early."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Oh, well! doubtless I shall be able to dispose of
them on my way home, though times is 'ard!"

_True Love_.--"Do you mean that you will "peddle" them along the road?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"You understand me better than usual,--in fact to
perfection."

He dismounts and strides to the back of the cart, lifts the covers,
seizes the rabbits, flings some silver contemptuously into the basket,
and looks about him for a place to bury his bargain. A small boy
approaching in the far distance will probably bag the game.

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (modestly).--"Thanks for your trade, sir, rather
ungraciously bestowed, and we 'opes for a continuance of your past
fyvors."

_True Love_ (leaning on the wheel of the trap).--"Let us stop this
nonsense. What did you hope to gain by running away?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Distance and absence."

_True Love_.--"You knew you couldn't prevent my offering myself to you
sometime or other."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Perhaps not; but I could at least defer it,
couldn't I?"

_True Love_.--"Why postpone the inevitable?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Doubtless I shrank from giving you the pain of a
refusal."

_True Love_.--"Perhaps; but do you know what I suspect?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"I'm not a suspicious person, thank goodness!"

_True Love_.--"That, on the contrary, you are wilfully withholding from
me the joy of acceptance."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"If I intended to accept you, why did I run away?"

_True Love_.--"To make yourself more desirable and precious, I suppose."

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (with the most confident coquetry).--"Did I
succeed?"

_True Love_.--"No; you failed utterly."

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (secretly piqued).--"Then I am glad I tried it."

_True Love_.--"You couldn't succeed because you were superlatively
desirable and precious already; but you should never have experimented.
Don't you know that Love is a high explosive?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Is it? Then it ought always to be labelled
'dangerous,' oughtn't it? But who thought of suggesting matches? I'm
sure I didn't!"

_True Love_.--"No such luck; I wish you would."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"According to your theory, if you apply a match to
Love it is likely to 'go off.'"

_True Love_.--"I wish you would try it on mine and await the result. Come
now, you'll have to marry somebody, sometime."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"I confess I don't see the necessity."

_True Love_ (morosely).--"You're the sort of woman men won't leave in
undisturbed spinsterhood; they'll keep on badgering you."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Oh, I don't mind the badgering of a number of
men; it's rather nice. It's the one badger I find obnoxious."

_True Love_ (impatiently).--"That's just the perversity of things. I
could put a stop to the protestations of the many; I should like nothing
better--but the pertinacity of the one! Ah, well! I can't drop that
without putting an end to my existence."

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (politely).--"I shouldn't think of suggesting
anything so extreme."

_True Love_ (quoting).--"'Mrs. Hauksbee proceeded to take the conceit out
of Pluffles as you remove the ribs of an umbrella before re-covering.'
However, you couldn't ask me anything seriously that I wouldn't do, dear
Mistress Perversity."

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (yielding a point).--"I'll put that boldly to the
proof. Say you don't love me!"

_True Love_ (seizing his advantage).--"I don't! It's imbecile and
besotted devotion! Tell me, when may I come to take you away?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_ (sighing).--"It's like asking me to leave Heaven."

_True Love_.--"I know it; she told me where to find you,--Thornycroft is
the seventh poultry-farm I've visited,--but you could never leave Heaven,
you can't be happy without poultry, why that is a wish easily gratified.
I'll get you a farm to-morrow; no, it's Saturday, and the real estate
offices close at noon, but on Monday, without fail. Your ducks and
geese, always carrying it along with you. All you would have to do is to
admit me; Heaven is full of twos. If you shall swim on a crystal
lake--Phoebe told me what a genius you have for getting them out of the
muddy pond; she was sitting beside it when I called, her hand in that of
a straw-coloured person named Gladwish, and the ground in her vicinity
completely strewn with votive offerings. You shall splash your silver
sea with an ivory wand; your hens shall have suburban cottages, each with
its garden; their perches shall be of satin-wood and their water dishes
of mother-of-pearl. You shall be the Goose Girl and I will be the Swan
Herd--simply to be near you--for I hate live poultry. Dost like the
picture? It's a little like Claude Melnotte's, I confess. The fact is I
am not quite sane; talking with you after a fortnight of the tabbies at
the Hydro is like quaffing inebriating vodka after Miffin's Food! May I
come to-morrow?"

_Bailiffs Daughter_ (hedging).--"I shall be rather busy; the Crossed
Minorca hen comes off to-morrow."

_True Love_.--"Oh, never mind! I'll take her off to-night when I escort
you to the farm; then she'll get a day's advantage."

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"And rob fourteen prospective chicks of a mother;
nay, lose the chicks themselves? Never!"

_True Love_.--"So long as you are a Goose Girl, does it make any
difference whose you are? Is it any more agreeable to be Mrs. Heaven's
Goose Girl than mine?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"Ah! but in one case the term of service is
limited; in the other, permanent."

_True Love_.--"But in the one case you are the slave of the employer, in
the other the employer of the slave. Why did you run away?"

_Bailiff's Daughter_.--"A man's mind is too dull an instrument to measure
a woman's reason; even my own fails sometimes to deal with all its
delicate shades; but I think I must have run away chiefly to taste the
pleasure of being pursued and brought back. If it is necessary to your
happiness that you should explore all the Bluebeard chambers of my being,
I will confess further that it has taken you nearly three weeks to
accomplish what I supposed you would do in three days!"

_True Love_ (after a well-spent interval).--"To-morrow, then; shall we
say before breakfast? All, do! Why not? Well, then, immediately after
breakfast, and I breakfast at seven nowadays, and sometimes earlier. Do
take off those ugly cotton gloves, dear; they are five sizes too large
for you, and so rough and baggy to the touch!"

THE END

 

 

 

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