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 circumstances.

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 expression "tom-boy."

"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 it?"

"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 room.

"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 Scotchman."

"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 what is."

"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 seen."

"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 wardrobe.

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" myself.)

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.


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 Maria!

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 trembled.


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.


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 uncomplimentary suggestion.

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 till dinner.

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 not know.

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.


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.


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 the drawing-room.

"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 redder.

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?"


"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 Mysie.

"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 laughter.

"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. 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 to-morrow."

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.