Read CHAPTER I - FIRST LETTER ON THE WAY of As Seen By Me, free online book, by Lilian Bell, on

In this day and generation, when everybody goes to Europe, it is difficult to discover the only person who never has been there. But I am that one, and therefore the stir it occasioned in the bosom of my amiable family when I announced that I, too, was about to join the vast majority, is not easy to imagine. But if you think that I at once became a person of importance it only goes to show that you do not know the family. My mother, to be sure, hovered around me the way she does when she thinks I am going into typhoid fever. I never have had typhoid fever, but she is always on the watch for it, and if it ever comes it will not catch her napping. She will meet it half-way. And lest it elude her watchfulness, she minutely questions every pain which assails any one of us, for fear, it may be her dreaded foe. Yet when my sister’s blessed lamb baby had it before he was a year old, and after he had got well and I was not afraid he would be struck dead for my wickedness, I said to her, “Well, mamma, you must have taken solid comfort out of the first real chance you ever had at your pet fever,” she said I ought to be ashamed of myself.

My father began to explain international banking to me as his share in my preparations, but I utterly discouraged him by asking the difference between a check and a note. He said I reminded him of the juryman who asked the difference between plaintiff and defendant. I soothed him by assuring him that I knew I would always find somebody to go to the bank with me.

“Most likely ’twill be Providence, then, as He watches over children and fools,” said my cousin, with what George Eliot calls “the brutal candor of a near relation.”

My brother-in-law lent me ten Baedekers, and offered his hampers and French trunks to me with such reckless generosity that I had to get my sister to stop him so that I wouldn’t hurt his feelings by refusing.

My sister said, “I am perfectly sure, mamma, that if I don’t go with her, she will go about with an ecstatic smile on her face, and let herself get cheated and lost, and she would just as soon as not tell everybody that she had never been abroad before. She has no pride.”

“Then you had better come along and take care of me and see that I don’t disgrace you,” I urged.

“Really, mamma, I do think I had better go,” said my sister. So she actually consented to leave husband and baby in order to go and take care of me. I do assure you, however, that I have bought all the tickets, and carried the common purse, and got her through the custom-houses, and arranged prices thus far. But she does pack my trunks and make out the laundry lists I will say that for her.

My brother’s contribution to my comfort was in this wise: He said, “You must have a few more lessons on your wheel before you go, and I’ll take you out for a lesson to-morrow if you’ll get up and go at six o’clock in the morning that is, if you’ll wear gloves. But you mortify me half to death riding without gloves.”

“Nobody sees me but milkmen,” I said, humbly.

“Well, what will the milkmen think?” said my brother.

“Mercy on us, I never thought of that,” I said. “My gloves are all pretty tight when one has to grip one’s handle-bars as fiercely as I do. But I’ll get large ones. What tint do you think milkmen care the most for?”

He sniffed.

“Well, I’ll go and I’ll wear gloves,” I said, “but if I fall off, remember it will be on account of the gloves.”

“You always do fall off,” he said, with patient resignation. “I’ve seen you fall off that wheel in more different directions than it has spokes.”

“I don’t exactly fall,” I explained, carefully. “I feel myself going and then I get off.”

I was ready at six the next morning, and I wore gloves.

“Now, don’t ride into the holes in the street” one is obliged to give such instructions in Chicago “and don’t look at anything you see. Don’t be afraid. You’re all right. Now, then! You’re off!”

“Oh, Teddy, don’t ride so close to me,” I quavered.

“I’m forty feet away from you,” he said.

“Then double it,” I said. “You’re choking me by your proximity.”

“Let’s cross the railroad tracks just for practice,” he said, when it was too late for me to expostulate. “Stand up on your pedals and ride fast, and ”

“Hold on, please do,” I shrieked. “I’m falling off. Get out of my way. I seem to be turning ”

He scorched ahead, and I headed straight for the switchman’s hut, rounded it neatly, and leaned myself and my wheel against the side of it, helpless with laughter.

A red Irish face, with a short black pipe in its mouth, thrust itself out of the tiny window just in front of me, and a voice with a rich brogue exclaimed:

“As purty a bit of riding as iver Oi see!”

“Wasn’t it?” I cried. “You couldn’t do it.”

Oi wouldn’t thry! Oi’d rather tackle a railroad train going at full spheed thin wan av thim runaway critturs.”

“Get down from there,” hissed my brother so close to my ear that it made me bite my tongue.

I obediently scrambled down. Ted’s face was very red.

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself to enter into immediate conversation with a man like that. What do you suppose that man thought of you?”

“Oh, perhaps he saw my gloves and took me for a lady,” I pleaded.

Ted grinned and assisted me to mount.

When I successfully turned the corner by making Ted fall back out of sight, we rode away along the boulevard in silence for a while, for my conversation when I am on a wheel is generally limited to shrieks, ejaculations, and snatches of prayer. I never talk to be amusing.

“I say,” said my brother, hesitatingly, “I wear a N glove and a N stocking.”

“I’ve always thought you had large hands and feet,” I said, ignoring the hint.

He giggled.

“No, now, really. I wish you’d write that down somewhere. You can get those things so cheap in Paris.”

“You are supposing the case of my return, or of Christmas intervening, or a present of some kind, I suppose.”

“Well, no; not exactly. Although you know I am always broke ”

“Don’t I, though?”

“And that I am still in debt ”

“Because papa insists upon your putting some money in the bank every month ”

“Yes, and the result is that I never get my head above water. I owe you twenty now.”

“Which I never expect to recover, because you know I always get silly about Christmas and ‘forgive thee thy debts.’”

“You’re awful good ” he began.

“But I’ll be better if I bring you gloves and silk stockings.”

“I’ll give you the money!” he said, heroically. “Will you borrow it of me or of mamma?” I asked, with a chuckle at the family financiering which always goes on in this manner.

“Now don’t make fun of me! You don’t know what it is to be hard up.”

“Don’t I, though?” I said, indignantly. “Oh oh! Catch me!”

He seized my handle-bar and righted me before I fell off.

“See what you did by saying I never was hard up,” I said. “I’ll tell you what, Teddy. You needn’t give me the money. I’ll bring you some gloves and stockings!”

“Oh, I say, honest? Oh, but you’re the right kind of a sister! I’ll never forget that as long as I live. You do look so nice on your wheel. You sit so straight and ”

I saw a milkman coming. We three were the only objects in sight, yet I headed for him.

“Get out of my way,” I shrieked at him. “I’m a beginner. Turn off!”

He lashed his horse and cut down a side street.

“What a narrow escape,” I sighed. “How glad I am I happened to think of that.”

I looked up pleasantly at Ted. He was biting his lips and he looked raging.

“You are the most hopeless girl I ever saw!” he burst out. “I wish you didn’t own a wheel.”

“I don’t,” I said. “The wheel owns me.”

“You haven’t the manners of ”

“Stockings,” I said, looking straight ahead. “Silk stockings with polka dots embroidered on them, N.”

Ted looked sheepish.

“I ride so well,” I proceeded. “I sit up so straight and look so nice.”

No answer.

“Gloves,” I went on, still without looking at him. “White and pearl ones for evening, and russet gloves for the street, N.”

“Oh, quit, won’t you? I’m sorry I said that. But if you only knew how you mortify me.”

“Cheer up, Tedcastle. I am going away, you know. And when I come back you will either have got over caring so much or I will be more of a lady.”

“I’m sorry you are going,” said my brother. “But as you are going, perhaps you will let me use your rooms while you are gone. Your bed is the best one I ever slept in, and your study would be bully for the boys when they come to see me.”

I was too stunned to reply. He went on, utterly oblivious of my consternation:

“And I am going to use your wheel while you are gone, if you don’t mind, to take the girls out on. I know some awfully nice girls who can ride, but their wheels are last year’s make, and they won’t ride them. I’d rather like to be able to offer them a new wheel.”

“I am not going to take all my party dresses. Have you any use for them?” I said.

“Why, what’s the matter? Won’t you let me have your rooms?”

“Merciful heavens, child! I should say not!”

“Why, I haven’t asked you for much,” said my small, modest brother. “You offered.”

“Well, just wait till I offer the rest. But I’ll tell you what I will do, Ted. If you will promise not to go into my rooms and rummage once while I am gone, and not to touch my wheel, I’ll buy you a tandem, and then you can take the girls on that.”

“I’d rather have you bring me some things from Europe,” said my shrinking brother.

“All right. I’ll do that, but let me off this thing. I am so tired I can’t move. You’ll have to walk it back and give me five cents to ride home on the car.”

I crawled in to breakfast more dead than alive.

“What’s the matter, dearie? Did you ride too far?” asked mamma.

“I don’t know whether I rode too far or whether it was Ted’s asking if he couldn’t use my rooms while I was gone, but something has made me tired. What’s that? Whom is papa talking to over the telephone?”

Papa came in fuming and fretting.

“Who was it this time?” I questioned, with anticipation. Inquiries over the telephone were sure to be interesting to me just now.

“Somebody who wanted to know what train you were going on, but would not give his name. He was inquiring for a friend, he said, and wouldn’t give his friend’s name either.”

“Didn’t you tell him?” I cried, in distress.

“Certainly not. I told him nobody but an idiot would withhold his name.”

Papa calls such a variety of men idiots.

“Oh, but it was probably only flowers or candy. Why didn’t you tell him? Have you no sentiment?”

“I won’t have you receiving anonymous communications,” he retorted, with the liberty fathers have a little way of taking with their daughters.

“But flowers,” I pleaded. “It is no harm to send flowers without a card. Don’t you see?” Oh, how hard it is to explain a delicate point like that to one’s father in broad daylight! “I am supposed to know who sent them!”

“But would you know?” asked my practical ancestor.

“Not not exactly. But it would be almost sure to be one of them.”

Ted shouted. But there was nothing funny in what I said. Boys are so silly.

“Anyway, I am sorry you didn’t tell him,” I said.

“Well, I’m not,” declared papa.

The rest of the day fairly flew. The last night came, and the baby was put to bed. I undressed him, which he regarded as such a joke that he worked himself into a fever of excitement. He loves to scrub like Josie, the cook. I had bought him a little red pail, and I gave it to him that night when he was partly undressed, and he was so enchanted with it that he scampered around hugging it, and saying, “Pile! pile!” like a little Cockney. He gave such squeals of ecstasy that everybody came into the nursery to find him scrubbing his crib with a nail-brush and little red pail.

“Who gave you the pretty pail, Billy?” asked Aunt Lida, who was sitting by the crib.

“Tattah,” said Billy, in a whisper. He always whispers my name.

“Then go and kiss dear auntie. She is going away on the big boat to stay such a long time.”

Billy’s face sobered. Then he dropped his precious pail, and came and licked my face like a little dog, which is his way of kissing.

I squeezed him until he yelled.

“Don’t let him forget me,” I wailed. “Talk to him about me every day. And buy him a toy out of my money often, and tell him Tattah sent it to him. Oh, oh, he’ll be grown up when I come home!”

“Don’t cry, dearie,” said Aunt Lida, handing me her handkerchief. “I’ll see that your grave is kept green.”

My sister appeared at the door. She was all ready to start. She even had her veil on.

“What do you mean by exciting Billy so at this time of night?” she said. “Go out, all of you. We’ll lose the train. Hush, somebody’s at the telephone. Papa’s talking to that same man again.” I jumped up and ran out.

“Let me answer it, papa dear! Yes, yes, yes, certainly. To-night on the Pennsylvania. You’re quite welcome. Not at all.” I hung up the telephone.

I could hear papa in the nursery:

“She actually told him after all I said this morning! I never heard of anything like it.”

Two or three voices were raised in my defence. Ted slipped out into the hall.

“Bully for you,” he whispered. “You’ll get the flowers all right at the train. Who do you s’pose they’re from? Another box just came for you. Say, couldn’t you leave that smallest box of violets in the silver box? I want to give them to a girl, and you’ve got such loads of others.”

“Don’t ask her for those,” answered my dear sister, “they are the most precious of all!”

“I can’t give you any of mine,” I said, “but I’ll buy you a box for her a small box,” I added hastily.

“The carriages have come, dears,” quavered grandmamma, coming out of the nursery, followed by the family, one after the other.

“Get her satchels, Teddy. Her hat is upstairs. Her flowers are in the hall. She left her ulster on my bed, and her books are on the window-sill,” said mamma. She wouldn’t look at me. “Remember, dearie, your medicines are all labelled, and I put needles in your work-box all threaded. Don’t sit in draughts and don’t read in a dim light. Have a good time and study hard and come back soon. Good bye, my girlie. God bless you!”

By this time no handkerchief would have sufficed for my tears. I reached out blindly, and Ted handed me a towel.

“I’ve got a sheet when you’ve sopped that,” he said. Boys are such brutes.

Aunt Lida said, “Good-bye, my dearest. You are my favorite niece. You know I love you the best.”

I giggled, for she tells my sister the same thing always.

“Nobody seems to care much that I am going,” said Bee, mournfully.

“But you are coming back so soon, and she is going to stay so long,” exclaimed grandmamma, patting Bee.

“I’ll bet she doesn’t stay a year,” cried Ted.

“I’ll expect her home by Christmas,” said papa.

“I’ll bet she is here to eat Thanksgiving dinner,” cried my brother-in-law.

“No, she is sure to stay as long as she has said she would,” said mamma.

Mothers are the brace of the universe. The family trailed down to the front door. Everybody was carrying something. There were two carriages, for they were all going to the station with us.

“For all the world like a funeral, with loads of flowers and everybody crying,” said my brother, cheerfully.

I never shall forget that drive to the station; nor the last few moments, when Bee and I stood on the car-steps and talked to those who were on the platform of the station. Can anybody else remember how she felt at going to Europe for the first time and leaving everybody she loved at home? Bee grieved because there were no flowers at the train after all. But the next morning they appeared, a tremendous box, arranged as a surprise.

Telegrams came popping in at all the big stations along the way, enlivening our gloom, and at the steamer there were such loads of things that we might almost have set up as a florist, or fruiterer, or bookseller. Such a lapful of steamer letters and telegrams! I read a few each morning, and some of them I read every morning!

I don’t like ocean travel. They sent grapefruit and confections to my state-room, which I tossed out of the port-hole. You know there are some people who think you don’t know what you want. I travelled horizontally most of the way, and now people roar when I say I wasn’t ill. Well, I wasn’t, you know. We well, Teddy would not like me to be more explicit. I own to a horrible headache which never left me. I deny everything else. Let them laugh. I was there, and I know.

The steamer I went on allows men to smoke on all the decks, and they all smoked in my face. It did not help me. I must say that I was unspeakably thankful to get my foot on dry ground once more. When we got to the dock a special train of toy cars took us through the greenest of green landscapes, and suddenly, almost before we knew it, we were at Waterloo Station, and knew that London was at our door.