The Princess Priscilla's Fortnight by Elizabeth von Arnim
But nobody was waiting for them at Dover. Fritzing's agonies might all have been spared. They passed quite unnoticed through the crowd of idlers to the train, and putting Priscilla and her maid into it he rushed at the nearest newspaper-boy, pouncing on him, tearing a handful of his papers from him, and was devouring their contents before the astonished boy had well finished his request that he should hold hard. The boy, who had been brought up in the simple faith that one should pay one's pennies first and read next, said a few things under his breath about Germans--crude short things not worth repeating--and jerking his thumb towards the intent Fritzing, winked at a detective who was standing near. The detective did not need the wink. His bland, abstracted eyes were already on Fritzing, and he was making rapid mental notes of the goggles, the muffler, the cap pulled down over the ears. Truly it is a great art, that of running away, and needs incessant practice.
And after all there was not a word about the Princess in the papers. They were full, as the Englishmen on the turbine had been full, of something the Russians, who at that time were always doing something, had just done--something that had struck England from end to end into a blaze of indignation and that has nothing to do with my story. Fritzing dropped the papers on the platform, and had so little public spirit that he groaned aloud with relief.
"Shilling and a penny 'alfpenny, please, sir," said the newspaper-boy glibly. "Westminster Gazette, sir, Daily Mail, Sporting and Dramatic, one Lady, and two Standards." From which it will be seen that Fritzing had seized his handful very much at random.
He paid the boy without heeding his earnest suggestions that he should try Tit-Bits, the Saturday Review, and Mother, to complete, said the boy, in substance if not in words, his bird's-eye view over the field of representative English journalism, and went back to the Princess with a lighter heart than he had had for months. The detective, apparently one of Nature's gentlemen, picked up the scattered papers, and following Fritzing offered them him in the politest way imaginable just as Priscilla was saying she wanted to see what tea-baskets were like.
"Sir," said the detective, taking off his hat, "I believe these are yours."
"Sir," said Fritzing, taking off his cap in his turn and bowing with all the ceremony of foreigners, "I am much obliged to you."
"Pray don't mention it, sir," said the detective, on whose brain the three were in that instant photographed--the veiled Priscilla, the maid sitting on the edge of the seat as though hardly daring to sit at all, and Fritzing's fine head and mop of grey hair.
Priscilla, as she caught his departing eye, bowed and smiled graciously. He withdrew to a little distance, and fell into a reverie: where had he seen just that mechanically gracious bow and smile? They were very familiar to him.
As the train slowly left the station he saw the lady in the veil once more. She was alone with her maid, and was looking out of the window at nothing in particular, and the station-master, who was watching the train go, chanced to meet her glance. Again there was the same smile and bow, quite mechanical, quite absent-minded, distinctly gracious. The station-master stared in astonishment after the receding carriage. The detective roused himself from his reverie sufficiently to step forward and neatly swing himself into the guard's van: there being nothing to do in Dover he thought he would go to London.
I believe I have forgotten, in the heat of narration, to say that the fugitives were bound for Somersetshire. Fritzing had been a great walker in the days when he lived in England, and among other places had walked about Somersetshire. It is a pleasant county; fruitful, leafy, and mild. Down in the valleys myrtles and rhododendrons have been known to flower all through the winter. Devonshire junkets and Devonshire cider are made there with the same skill precisely as in Devonshire; and the parts of it that lie round Exmoor are esteemed by those who hunt.
Fritzing quite well remembered certain villages buried among the hills, miles from the nearest railway, and he also remembered the farmhouses round about these villages where he had lodged. To one of these he had caused a friend in London to write engaging rooms for himself and his niece, and there he proposed to stay till they should have found the cottage the Princess had set her heart on.
This cottage, as far as he could gather from the descriptions she gave him from time to time, was going to be rather difficult to find. He feared also that it would be a very insect-ridden place, and that their calm pursuits would often be interrupted by things like earwigs. It was to be ancient, and much thatched and latticed and rose-overgrown. It was, too, to be very small; the smallest of labourers' cottages. Yet though so small and so ancient it was to have several bathrooms--one for each of them, so he understood; "For," said the Princess, "if Annalise hasn't a bathroom how can she have a bath? And if she hasn't had a bath how can I let her touch me?"
"Perhaps," said Fritzing, bold in his ignorance of Annalise's real nature, "she could wash at the pump. People do, I believe, in the country. I remember there were always pumps."
"But do pumps make you clean enough?" inquired the Princess, doubtfully.
"We can try her with one. I fancy, ma'am, it will be less difficult to find a cottage that has only two bathrooms than one that has three. And I know there are invariably pumps."
Searching his memory he could recollect no bathrooms at all, but he did not say so, and silently hoped the best.
To the Somerset village of Symford and to the farm about a mile outside it known as Baker's, no longer, however, belonging to Baker, but rented by a Mr. Pearce, they journeyed down from Dover without a break. Nothing alarming happened on the way. They were at Victoria by five, and the Princess sat joyfully making the acquaintance of a four-wheeler's inside for twenty minutes during which Fritzing and Annalise got the luggage through the customs. Fritzing's goggles and other accessories of flight inspired so much interest in the customs that they could hardly bear to let him go and it seemed as if they would never tire of feeling about in the harmless depths of Priscilla's neat box. They had however ultimately to part from him, for never was luggage more innocent; and rattling past Buckingham Palace on the way to Paddington Priscilla blew it a cheerful kiss, symbolic of a happiness too great to bear ill-will. Later on Windsor Castle would have got one too, if it had not been so dark that she could not see it. The detective, who felt himself oddly drawn towards the trio, went down into Somersetshire by the same train as they did, but parted from them at Ullerton, the station you get out at when you go to Symford. He did not consider it necessary to go further; and taking a bedroom at Ullerton in the same little hotel from which Fritzing had ordered the conveyance that was to drive them their last seven miles he went to bed, it being close on midnight, with Mr. Pearce's address neatly written in his notebook.
This, at present, is the last of the detective. I will leave him sleeping with a smile on his face, and follow the dog-cart as it drove along that beautiful road between wooded hills that joins Ullerton to Symford, on its way to Baker's Farm.
At the risk of exhausting Priscilla Fritzing had urged pushing on without a stop, and Priscilla made no objection. This is how it came about that the ostler attached to the Ullerton Arms found himself driving to Symford in the middle of the night. He could not recollect ever having done such a thing before, and the memory of it would be quite unlikely to do anything but remain fixed in his mind till his dying day. Fritzing was a curiously conspicuous fugitive.
It was a clear and beautiful night, and the stars twinkled brightly over the black tree-tops. Down in the narrow gorge through which the road runs they could not feel the keen wind that was blowing up on Exmoor. The waters of the Sym, whose windings they followed, gurgled over their stones almost as quietly as in summer. There was a fresh wet smell, consoling and delicious after the train, the smell of country puddles and country mud and dank dead leaves that had been rained upon all day. Fritzing sat with the Princess on the back seat of the dog-cart, and busied himself keeping the rug well round her, the while his soul was full of thankfulness that their journey should after all have been so easy. He was weary in body, but very jubilant in mind. The Princess was so weary in body that she had no mind at all, and dozed and nodded and threatened to fall out, and would have fallen out a dozen times but for Fritzing's watchfulness. As for Annalise, who can guess what thoughts were hers while she was being jogged along to Baker's? That they were dark I have not a doubt. No one had told her this was to be a journey into the Ideal; no one had told her anything but that she was promoted to travelling with the Princess and that she would be well paid so long as she held her tongue. She had never travelled before, yet there were some circumstances of the journey that could not fail to strike the most inexperienced. This midnight jogging in the dog-cart, for instance. It was the second night spent out of bed, and all day long she had expected every moment would end the journey, and the end, she had naturally supposed, would be a palace. There would be a palace, and warmth, and light, and food, and welcome, and honour, and appreciative lacqueys with beautiful white silk calves--alas, Annalise's ideal, her one ideal, was to be for ever where there were beautiful white silk calves. The road between Ullerton and Symford conveyed to her mind no assurance whatever of the near neighbourhood of such things; and as for the dog-cart--"Himmel," said Annalise to herself, whenever she thought of the dog-cart.
Their journey ended at two in the morning. Almost exactly at that hour they stopped at the garden gate of Baker's Farm, and a woman came out with a lantern and helped them down and lighted them up the path to the porch. The Princess, who could hardly make her eyes open themselves, leaned on Fritzing's arm in a sort of confused dream, got somehow up a little staircase that seemed extraordinarily steep and curly, and was sound asleep in a knobbly bed before Annalise realized she had done with her. Priscilla had forgotten all about the Ideal, all about her eager aspirations. Sleep, dear Mother with the cool hand, had smoothed them all away, the whole rubbish of those daylight toys, and for the next twelve hours sat tenderly by her pillow, her finger on her lips.