My Travelling Companion by Catherine Childar
Illustrated by Fred. Pegram.
It was a miserable day in November—the sort of day when, according to
the French, splenetic Englishmen flock in such crowds to the Thames, in
order to drown themselves, that there is not standing room on the
bridges. I was sitting over the fire in our dingy dining-room; for
personally I find that element more cheering than water under depressing
My eldest sister burst upon me with a letter in her hand: "Here, Tommy,
is an invitation for you," she cried.
My name is Charlotte; but I am generally called Tommy by my
unappreciative family, who mendaciously declare it is derived from the
"Oh, bother invitations," was my polite answer. "I don't want to go
anywhere. Why, it's a letter from Mysie Sutherland! How came you to open
"If she will address it to Miss Cornwall, of course I shall open it.
I've read it, too—it's very nice for you."
"Awfully jolly," put in Dick, who had followed my sister Lucy into the
"Oh, I don't want to go a bit."
"Well, then, you'll just have to. It's disgraceful of you, Tom; why, you
may never get such a chance again. You'll meet lots of people in a big
country house like that, and perhaps—who knows?—marry a rich
"I declare, Lucy, you are quite disgusting with your perpetual talk
about marrying! Why, I shan't have the time to get fond of anyone!"
"You're asked for a month; and if that isn't time enough, I don't know
"Time enough to be married and divorced again," cried Dick.
"But I shan't come to that; and besides, I have no clothes fit to be
"Oh, never mind; I'll lend you my white silk for evenings." And my
sister, who was always good-natured, carried me off to ransack her
There was no help for it; remonstrances were useless; I had to go. The
invitation was from a schoolfellow of mine, Mysie Sutherland by name.
She lived near Inverness, and asked me to go and stay a month with her.
The idea filled me with apprehension. She was the only daughter, and
lived in style in a large house: I was one of a numerous family herded
together in a small house in Harley Street. Her father was a wealthy
landed proprietor: mine was a struggling doctor. Altogether I was shy
and nervous, and would much have preferred to remain at home; but Lucy
and Dick had decided I should go, and I knew there was no appeal.
A few days afterwards I was at Euston Station, on my way to the North.
My mother and sister had come to see me off, and stood at the carriage
door, passing remarks upon the people.
A knot of young men standing by the bookstall attracted our attention,
from their constant bursts of laughter. There was evidently a good joke
amongst them, and they were enjoying it to the full. The time was up,
and the train was just about to start, when one of them rushed forward
and jumped into my carriage. The guard slammed the door, his friends
threw some papers after him in at the window, and we were off.
For some time we sat silent, then a question about the window or the
weather opened a conversation. My companion was a good-looking young
man, with thick, curly brown hair. He had neither moustache, beard, nor
whiskers, which gave him a boyish appearance, and made me think he might
be an actor. His eyes were peculiar—they were kind eyes, honest eyes,
laughing eyes, but there was something about them that I could not make
out. As he sat nearly opposite to me I had every opportunity of studying
them, but not till we had travelled at least a hundred miles did I
discover what it was. They were not quite alike. There was no cast—not
the slightest suspicion of a squint—no, nothing of that kind; only they
were not a pair—one eye was hazel, the other grey; and yet the
difference in colour varied so much that sometimes I thought I must be
mistaken. At one moment, in the sunlight, the difference was striking;
but when next I saw them, in shadow, the difference was hardly
perceptible. Yet there it was, and it gave a peculiar but agreeable
expression to the face.
He was extremely kind and pleasant, and I must own that when an old
gentleman got in at Rugby I was sorry our tête-à-tête should be
interrupted. We had been talking over all sorts of subjects, from
pitch-and-toss to manslaughter, exclusive—for those two subjects had
not yet been discussed. (I know it is a very vulgar expression, and I
ought not to use it, only I am always with the boys and I am a "Tommy"
The old gentleman, however, did not trouble us long, for he had made a
mistake and had got into the wrong train. He hobbled out much quicker
than he got in, and my friend the actor was most polite in helping him
and handing out his parcels.
When that was over we settled down again comfortably. By the time we got
to Crewe we were like old friends, and chatted together over my
sandwiches, or at least while I ate them, for he had his lunch at
Preston, as Bradshaw informed us the passengers were expected to do.
I fully expected we should get an influx of companions here, for the
platform was crowded, but my carriage door was locked and I noticed the
guard hovering near; he seemed particularly anxious to direct people
elsewhere. Perhaps he thought that as I was an unprotected female I
should prefer to be quite alone, and I was busy concocting a little
speech about "a gentleman coming back," in case he should refuse to let
my actor come into the carriage. It was quite unnecessary, however, as
directly he caught sight of him in the distance he opened the door with
an obsequious bow. I began to wonder if he knew him. Perhaps he was a
celebrated actor, and when actors are celebrated nowadays they are
celebrated indeed. I felt quite elated at having anything to do with a
member of such a fashionable profession, and looked at him with more
interest than ever.
I was dreadfully sorry when we reached Carlisle, for there my journey
ended—for that day at least. I was to spend the night with a maiden
aunt, living near Carlisle, and go on to Inverness the next morning. The
station came in sight only too soon. My companion had been telling me
some mountaineering experiences which had been called to his mind by the
scenery we had been passing through, and the train pulled up in the
middle of a most exciting story. I had to leave him clinging to a bare
wall of rock in a blinding snowstorm, while I went off to spend the
night with my Aunt Maria. There was no help for it. My aunt, a thin,
quaint old lady, stood waiting on the platform. She wore a huge
coalscuttle bonnet, which in these days of smaller head coverings looked
strange and out of proportion, a short imitation sealskin jacket, and a
perfectly plain skirt, which exposed her slender build in the most
uncompromising (or perhaps I ought to say compromising) fashion.
I recognised her at once, and felt secretly ashamed of my poor relation.
It was horrid of me, and I hated myself for it; but at that moment I
really did feel ashamed of her appearance, and actually comforted myself
with the thought that my companion had seen my fashionable and befrilled
sister at Euston.
I was pleased to find that he was as sorry to part as I was. He broke
off his story with an exclamation of disgust. "I thought you said you
were going to Scotland," he cried.
"So I am," I answered; "but not till to-morrow."
Here Aunt Maria came forward. I had to get out and be folded in the
embrace of two bony arms. My companion (I had not found out his name)
had, in the meantime, put my bag and my bundles upon the platform, and
was standing, cap in hand, bowing a farewell.
He looked so pleasant, and Aunt Maria so forbidding, that my heart sank
at the thought that he was going away, and that in all probability I
should never see him again. Involuntarily I stretched out my hand to bid
him a more friendly good-bye. Perhaps it was forward of me—Lucy always
says I have such queer manners—but really I could not help it; I felt
so sorry that our pleasant acquaintance should come to an end so soon.
"PERHAPS IT WAS FORWARD OF ME."
Mysie Sutherland met me at Inverness. A pompous-looking footman came
forward and condescended to carry my bag; one porter took my box to a
cart in waiting, another put my rugs into the carriage, and Mysie and I
went off at the rate of ten miles an hour. The pleasure of meeting her,
the speed of the motion, the comfort of the well-stuffed cushions, quite
raised my spirits. How different from trudging along with cross Aunt
We soon arrived at Strathnasheen House, and a very fine place it looked
as we drove through the park. I began to get a little nervous again at
the thought of meeting strangers; but Mysie comforted me, saying that
her mother was just an angel, and her father very nice when you got used
to him. As I had never been intimate with angels, and hardly expected to
be there long enough to get used to an old man's peculiarities, I still
"I WALKED IN TO DINNER ON SIR ALEXANDER'S ARM."
We had reached the porch. The pompous footman got down and executed a
fantasia with elaborate "froisture" upon the knocker. The butler, who
must have been waiting in the hall in a stunned condition till the
performance was over, flung open the door, and I entered Strathnasheen
House. The pompous one clung to my bag as a dainty trifle he could
carry without loss of dignity. The butler stood motionless, content with
"existing beautifully," the more so as a second footman, with powdered
hair, plush breeches, and unimpeachable calves, rushed forward to our
assistance. He was such a magnificent and unexpected apparition that I
gazed in wonder, and eventually in horror.
THE NEW FOOTMAN SPILT THE GRAVY OVER MY WHITE SILK
It was my travelling companion of the day before!
I never knew how I got through the dreaded introduction to Sir Alexander
and Lady Sutherland. I have a faint recollection of going up to a tall
old man in spectacles, and answering his polite inquiries in a dazed,
bewildered way. I recollect, also, that Lady Sutherland made an
impression of softness and warmth, and that she said something about
"changing my feet," which I looked upon as a mysterious and
Then Mysie carried me off to show me my room. There was a blazing fire,
which was very inviting, and I was glad to plead fatigue and sit down
Tired I certainly was, but that was nothing to my mental condition. My
hero a footman! What would Lucy say to me? And Dick? Well, they always
said I had low tastes, and they turned out to be right.
Then I tried to persuade myself that I had been mistaken—that this was
another man; but I soon gave that up, for I knew all the while it was a
mere subterfuge. I had recognised him at once—his eyes alone were
sufficient; but, in fact, I knew all his features perfectly. Had I not
sat opposite them all day in the railway carriage, and thought of them
half the night, as I tossed upon Aunt Maria's hard, uncomfortable bed? I
grew hot from head to foot as I remembered it.
It is all very well to say class distinctions are rubbish and that all
men are equal, but I could not feel flattered to find my Admirable
Crichton in plush breeches. The more I thought of it the more wonderful
it appeared. When I got over the first shock my brain began to steady
itself. I was sure of two things: first and foremost, that the footman
was the man I had travelled with; secondly, that the man I had
travelled with was a gentleman; but how to reconcile the two facts I did
When I went down into the drawing-room I found a large party assembled
for dinner: a number of men, mostly young, standing about in groups.
These were some neighbours whom Sir Alexander had invited to shoot and
dine. Lady Sutherland, Mysie, and myself were the only ladies.
After a painful indecision upstairs I had come to the conclusion that I
must in some way acknowledge the existence of my travelling companion.
After our friendly intercourse yesterday it would be snobbish to pretend
I had never seen him before. And yet I was in agony to know how to do
it. Young, shy, staying for the first time in a large country house,
among people higher than myself in the social scale, it was not
agreeable to flaunt an acquaintance with one of the men-servants. Still,
it had to be done, if only for the sake of my own self-respect.
And this was the man before whom I had blushed for poor Aunt Maria
yesterday! Only yesterday? It seemed a week ago!
So as I walked in to dinner on Sir Alexander's arm and passed close to
my footman, I gave him a slight—a very slight—inclination of the head,
it could hardly be called a bow.
I devoutly hoped nobody behind detected it, but I could see it was not
lost upon my footman. He was equal to the occasion. The only
acknowledgment he made was to put a still more respectful deference into
the curve of his respectful, deferential back. I breathed more freely as
I sat down in my place on Sir Alexander's right.
"'ARE ALL YOUR FOOTMEN CALLED PETER?' I ASKED."
We were eleven to dinner, and a little discussion ensued as to who
should sit near my friend Mysie. I noticed a good deal of manœuvring
on the part of a dark, middle-aged man to sit there. Mysie saw it too,
and seemed pleased when he succeeded. As he drew in his chair to the
table he gave her a glance which spoke volumes. I was quite excited. I
wondered if anyone else had noticed it. I was certain there was
something between those two.
This was the only interest I had. My host was absorbed in the carving
and in the details of the day's sport; my other neighbour was evidently
too hungry to waste his time in talking to a chit of a girl like myself.
It was a dull and tedious meal. Lady Sutherland was gentle and polite,
but not talkative. Mysie was too absorbed in her neighbour. As they were
on the opposite side of the table I could catch a word now and then,
though they spoke in an undertone.
"PETER CAME FORWARD WITH THE COLONEL'S GREATCOAT IN HIS
The number of courses, the number of strangers, the number of servants,
all confused and bewildered me; the only thing I had grasped was that my
footman friend was called Peter. It was an ugly name and most
unsuitable. Indeed, he appeared to think so himself, for he seldom
answered to it. I cannot say my friend shone as a waiter; he was far
more in his element relating mountaineering adventures. I suddenly
recollected his story of having spent the night on a ledge of rock in a
snowstorm. How did a footman get into such a predicament? One can only
picture him carrying a picnic basket in the tamest of scenery.
The only other people that interested me besides my travelling companion
were Mysie and her friend. I did not wish to act the spy, but a sort of
fascination compelled me to look and listen. The gentleman was immensely
empressé, yet nobody seemed to notice it but myself.
"Have you heard from your cousin Fred?" I heard him say.
"Oh, no, we never hear anything of him now. I'm afraid he'll never do
any good. A rolling stone, you know——"
"I thought he was such a favourite of yours," said Mysie's dark admirer,
with a world of meaning in his eyes and voice.
She was conscious of it, and blushed deeply as she replied, "You always
made that mistake. I liked him when we were children; he was my cousin
and I saw a good deal of him, but now——"
Here my attention was suddenly called to myself, and I heard no more. A
pint of rich brown gravy was trickling down over my white silk dress!
Mine, do I say? Far worse—Lucy's white silk dress!
My dismay was too great for words. Besides, all words were idle, and I
knew the culprit was my friend the new footman, who would be scolded
enough as it was. Sir Alexander glared furiously at him and rapped out
an oath, while I mopped up the thick greasy fluid with my table-napkin
and murmured sweetly that it did not signify in the least.
I was glad when the dinner, with its innumerable courses and
interminable dessert, came at last to an end and we ladies were alone in
"What do you think of the new importation, mamma?" said Mysie.
I blushed scarlet. For one brief moment I actually thought she was
alluding to me, but I soon found out it was Peter she was talking about.
That did not make me feel any cooler; if possible, I grew redder and
Lady Sutherland considered a few minutes in a fat, comfortable sort of
way. Then she said, slowly, "Well, dear, he puzzles me a good deal. I
cannot think he has been well trained. He does not wait so cleverly as
the last Peter. Didn't he spill something on your dress, my dear?"
turning to me.
"Oh, that's nothing," I replied, eagerly, twisting my skirt still more
out of shape to hide the huge brown spot. To change the conversation I
went on, "Are all your footmen called Peter?"
"COLONEL WITHERINGTON WITH HIS HAND ON PETERS SHOULDER,
THE PAIR SHAKING WITH LAUGHTER."
"Yes, at least the second one is." It was Lucy who answered me. "Our
first footman is always called Charles and the second one Peter. Papa
made that arrangement because he got so mixed when we changed servants.
After all, mamma, the new Peter may improve. He can hardly have got over
his journey yet."
I racked my brain for a change of subject. I was so afraid it should
come out that we had travelled together. I was too young to see the
amusing side of it, and was in terror lest Peter himself should reveal
it to the kitchen. With more abruptness than was polite I turned to
"Who was that dark man who sat by you at dinner?" I asked.
She looked a little embarrassed as she replied, "A near neighbour of
ours, Colonel Witherington. We have known him for years and are great
friends; I always like to talk to him, he has so much to say."
"Methinks the lady doth explain too much," was my inward comment. An owl
could see that she was in love with him. (It is true that the owl is the
bird of wisdom.)
After a short interval the gentlemen joined us. They were all evidently
anxious to get home, and ordered their dogcarts (or whatever they had)
as soon as they decently could. Colonel Witherington was the last to go.
He had lingered so long that the butler and the pompous Charles had
retired, leaving only Peter standing in the hall.
"Now don't come out of the warm room, Sir Alexander," said Colonel
Witherington; "I shall manage very well—your man is out here."
Peter now came forward with the Colonel's greatcoat in his hand; and the
drawing-room door was shut.
Suddenly a peal of laughter was heard, long, loud, and irresistible.
Then another voice joined in—the merriment seemed uncontrollable. The
Sutherland family looked at each other in angry astonishment. Could it
be the new footman indulging in this unseemly mirth? Impossible!
Sir Alexander opened the door into the hall; we followed him with one
accord. What a sight met our eyes! There stood Colonel Witherington,
with his hand on Peter's shoulder, the pair of them shaking with
"Go back, my dears," said Sir Alexander, with a wave of his hand towards
us. With the true instinct of the British pater-familias, he was eager
to send his women-kind away from anything unusual or improper; but
Mysie's curiosity was too great—besides, Colonel Witherington was now
dragging the footman forward.
"'COME AND EXPLAIN YOURSELF, YOU RASCAL.'"
"Come and explain yourself, you rascal. Why, Mysie"—the name slipped
out unawares—"don't you see who it is? It's your cousin Fred."
An explosion of dynamite would have less upset the worthy baronet than
this announcement. He stood speechless and staring; Lady Sutherland
looked annoyed and incredulous. As for me, I cannot describe my
feelings; I was in a perfect whirl. Mysie was the first to recover from
her astonishment. She joined in the laughter of the two men.
"How like you, Fred, to do a thing like that! Do come and tell us all
about it. I thought you were at the Cape. Still, that loud guffaw
sounded familiar. But how different you look without your moustache—and
your hair, too! Well, I should never have known you!"
"The want of a moustache made me recognise him," said Colonel
Witherington. "He was just such a beardless boy when he joined the
regiment. I noticed the likeness at dinner; and when I got a chance of
looking into his eyes I was sure——"
"I call it most ungentlemanlike—most unpardonable," began Sir
Alexander, who had now recovered his speech.
"I did it for a lark," said the supposed footman, in a hearty, cheerful
voice. "I wondered what you really thought of the good-for-nothing
nephew, and how you would receive him if he returned like the prodigal
son in the parable."
"It was hardly fair on us, Fred," said Lady Sutherland's gentle voice.
"Perhaps not, dear Aunt Margaret; but you would never be found
wanting." Mysie stepped back a few paces and took hold of my arm; her
cousin went on: "Talk of Her Majesty's uniform, these togs beat all. I
never was so gorgeously attired in my life."
Sir Alexander was too angry to endure this any longer. He marched off
to the smoking-room, and tried to soothe his nerves with the fragrant
weed. The rest of us went back into the drawing-room.
"Do lock the door," whispered Mysie to Colonel Witherington; "the
servants will be coming in."
Fred Sutherland (to give him his right name) then explained his strange
conduct. He had been obliged to leave his regiment, and had, as they
knew, gone to the Cape. Here he fell in with an old school-fellow who
was going to the diamond fields. They joined forces, bought a claim for
a mere song, and set to work. To the surprise of the whole camp they
were successful. In the claim, which had been abandoned months before as
"no go," they came upon one of the largest stones that had ever been
turned up in South Africa.
Fred Sutherland turned his share into cash directly and started for
home. "I'm quite a millionaire, I assure you," cried the footman,
slapping his plush breeches.
It looked so impudent and familiar of him to be sitting among us dressed
like that, that his aunt could not bear it.
"Do go and take off those dreadful clothes," she said; "I can't think
what made you do such a thing."
"I haven't done it in vain; I've learned what I wanted to know," he
said, with a light laugh and a look at Mysie and Colonel Witherington.
A wave of depression came over me. Of course he was in love with his
cousin and came to see how the land lay.
Poor fellow! Still, he seemed to bear up.
He turned towards me as if expecting an introduction. He did not show
the slightest sign of ever having met me before. I never was so puzzled
in my life. What ought I to do?
"This is my school-fellow—Miss Cornwall—but she will prefer to make
your acquaintance in other attire; won't you, Lofty?"
"I have done so before," said I, summoning up courage and holding out my
hand. "We travelled together from Euston."
Everything was so astonishing that nobody seemed surprised. I was
pleased to see the expression which beamed on the footman's face, and to
feel the cordial grip as we shook hands.
"Now," said Colonel Witherington, "you had better come home with me.
Nobody need know anything about it. You must manage your father with
regard to Fred," he whispered to Mysie, "and I will call early again
And so ended my little adventure—or rather it did not end here, for
Fred came back with me when I returned to London. And—well, my
travelling companion has promised never to leave my side.
"FRED SUTHERLAND THEN EXPLAINED HIS STRANGE CONDUCT."