“Oh!” said Georgina Honeybee one afternoon, just before Good Friday, “wouldn’t it be nice to go away for Easter?”
Now it so happened, that the notion was by no means displeasing to Mr. Honeybee. He longed for a change; the thought of sea-breezes enchanted him. He felt worried with work, and yearned to hie him away somewhere without leaving his address behind him. So it fell out that, almost for the first time in his married existence, he agreed to his wife’s proposition without demur—and long before a week was over, he never regretted anything so much in all his life.
With husband and wife of one mind (for a wonder), the preliminaries were speedily arranged. Swineleigh-on-Sea was selected as their destination. In less time than it takes to tell, Georgina was bustling about the house, giving parting instructions to the servants as to what they were to do during her absence (one would have thought she was going away for a year at least). Fanny (Mrs. Honeybee’s maid, if you please) was packing-up her mistress’s luggage, while John was being abused by his master for having no more idea than a child of how to fill a portmanteau. Everybody was hot and flurried, and the hall-door bell rang four times before it received the attention to which it was accustomed.
Honeybee stood in his shirt-sleeves, and in his dressing-room, while his perspiring and nervous man endeavoured to put boots on the top of clean shirts. Georgina flitted about her bedroom, saying—”Yes; thank you; if you’ll put in my tea-gown. Yes; thank you—now the linen. Yes; thank you—no, I shouldn’t lay the sponge-bag on the top of my handkerchief case. Yes; thank you—now the braided dress;” and sundry pretty babble of that kind.
At length everything was ready. A four-wheeled cab was called, and Mr. Honeybee, Georgina, and Fanny the maid, were soon driving across London to the railway-station. Their tickets got, the trio proceeded without adventure to Swineleigh, where, when she emerged from the slightly inferior class in which she had travelled, Fanny remarked to her mistress:
“This don’t seem half a bad sort of place, mum.”
Honeybee was beaming. His face seemed to say: “Ah! I tell you, when I do take it into my head to go out for a holiday with my wife and her maid, I go to the right place, and I have things done properly.” Poor man—he little knew.
Swineleigh is, fortunately, not a large place, or its death rate would have more influence on the mortality statistics; but it is quite large enough to be unpleasant, and to make those who have once visited it swear they will never do so again. Honeybee had heard it was cheap from a gentleman friend, and Georgina had gathered from a lady acquaintance that it was quiet and respectable—hence the praiseworthy unanimity which had characterised their selection of this spot for the enjoyment of an Easter holiday. They had meant to put up at the Marine Hotel, but when they reached that modest edifice they found that all the rooms were engaged, excepting a couple of dog-holes somewhere near the roof, which, from their description, our party did not care to inspect. Honeybee was, however, directed to some lodgings which sounded as if they might suit, and with a crack of the whip, and a curse from the flyman, who had conveyed them thus far, the party started off on a fresh tack. When they reached Cronstadt Villa—for it was hither they were referred—Mr. Honeybee opened fire as follows upon the landlady who opened the door:
“We come from the Marine Hotel. Can we have a large bed-room, a small bed-room, a dressing-room and a sitting-room?”
“Yes,” replied the landlady, somewhat reflectively, as if she felt inclined to add, “But what you mean by such impertinence I am at a loss to inquire.”
“Good!” rejoined Honeybee. “Will you have our luggage sent up as soon as may be? And we should like dinner pretty soon, as we have not had much lunch.”
“Come inside, please,” said the landlady, grandly, to the trio in general. Then elbowing Fanny out of the way, she said to Mrs. Honeybee particularly: “Would you like to see your room?”
“Thank you very much,” returned Georgina, “I should.”
Then the newly-made friends walked upstairs together, leaving Honeybee and Fanny to get the luggage up, and to fight the flyman. Mercifully, a loafer turned up and volunteered to carry the boxes. Mr. Honeybee only paid the flyman three times his fare, but escaped without loss of blood. It is true the driver thought proper to curse him to the nethermost depths of hell, but what are you to do in a place like Swineleigh, where you might as well look for the Pope as for a policeman?
At last the baggage was stowed in the different rooms indicated by the landlady. Fanny could not help smiling when the loafer set down Honeybee’s portmanteau with a plump on her bed; and Georgina could not help saying “Oh!” when Fanny’s box was hauled into her room; but these little mistakes were soon rectified, and the loafer being evidently one of nature’s noblemen, withdrew without further parley when he had received all the loose silver there was in the house. The landlady had not any change.
“Now then,” said Honeybee, when the door was fairly shut, “when can we have dinner, and of what will it consist?”
“Dinner!” repeated the landlady, as if recalling by an effort the meaning of a word once familiar. “Have you not dined?”
“Not to-day,” replied Honeybee, jocosely; “but we do not want much—anything will do. How about a fried sole and a roast chicken?”
It was now seven o’clock, and the landlady verified the fact by reference to a silver watch, which she plucked with a jerk from her waistband.
“Shops are all closed now,” she said, as it seemed, with some relief. “I might get you a steak, or a couple of chops.”
“If you will add bread and butter, the use of the cruets, and perchance some cheese or jam,” suggested Honeybee in his most caressing tones, while his wife endeavoured vainly to prevent him treading upon what she knew was volcanic ground, “I’m sure we could manage for to-night.”
“Well, you’ll have to,” replied the landlady, in a surly voice, and then she rang the bell in the room, which was to be the Honeybee’s dining, drawing, and smoking room for a week. To this summons a most horrible “maid” responded, and to her were consigned Georgina and her spouse. The landlady never was seen again until she came eventually to present the bill; but her voice was frequently heard. Honeybee’s good-nature by this time was giving out; but he controlled himself.
“Will you,” said he, “get us some food ready as soon as you can? We would like a beef-steak. Will half-past seven be too early?”
“No, sir,” replied the maid, in a far-off voice; and she left the room.
“Now,” said Honeybee, “Georgina, my dearest, you must be tired. Come upstairs and change your dress; Fanny will get you hot water and see to you. I will just wash my hands and then take a short stroll. Come along.”
When they reached the bedroom they found Fanny in a great undertaking. Having unpacked Georgina’s trunk, and littered the floor with dresses and parcels, she was about to arrange the different articles in the chest of drawers, when she found them all locked up.
“This is absurd,” said Honeybee; and he rang the bell. After a very long time the horrible maid appeared, and when asked why all the drawers were looked, replied, with a wild-eyed expression of face, that she supposed “missus’s things was there.” Desired to ask missus to remove them, or to provide other accommodation for her tenants, the wild-eyed one remarked that she “dursen’t do it.”
Georgina, always trying to soothe troubled waters, observed, “Never mind; we shall get straight to-morrow somehow. I’m so tired; it does not matter for to-night. Only unpack what I absolutely want, Fanny; and you, dear,” to her husband, “go and have a nice stroll, but be back by half-past seven, as I’m famishing.”
So enjoined, Honeybee kissed his wife, and withdrew.
A cursory inspection of the contents of his portmanteau soon convinced him that John had omitted to put in a good many useful articles; and as Mr. Honeybee made a hasty toilette, he was pained to observe that he had brought with him an odd coat and waistcoat. Even this might have been borne, if the bottle containing his boot-varnish had not broken over his shirts; and with a heavy heart he sallied forth into the town to buy a tooth-brush.
Having made his purchase, and also ordered some wine, he returned to the lodgings, where he found his wife waiting in the sitting-room warming her feet, while the maid laid the table. About five minutes to eight “dinner” was served. It consisted of a beef-steak that was raw, except in those parts which had been burnt to a cinder; some potatoes which were very black under the eyes, and extremely hard, were also served; and some of last week’s bread, together with some pale butterine, completed the repast. The Honeybees endeavoured to eat a few mouthfuls, washed down with cold and not particularly pure water. Although the wine merchant had assured Honeybee that the rare vintage he had ordered would be “there before he was,” the young man did not arrive with the bottles until the next morning.
“Perhaps the night is too inclement for him to venture out,” said Honeybee; “or perhaps he reflects that we shall drink coffee with our dinner, and only require wine at breakfast time.”
After dinner the Honeybees had a game of cribbage, but they did not enjoy it, and soon Georgina went up to bed. Honeybee left her with Fanny, and then came downstairs again to smoke. He rang the bell and asked the maid if he could have a bottle of soda-water.
“The public ‘ouses is all closed now,” said she, as if repeating a lesson.
“Then some plain water please,” returned Honeybee dolefully.
“You’ll find some in your bedroom,” was the reply.
With a heavy heart Honeybee went upstairs and took a long and strong drink of brandy from his flask, diluted from the bottle on his wash-stand. A fearful night it was—the miserable couple passed it in fear and trembling. Outside the wind howled and made the ill-fitting windows rattle continuously. Within the blinds refused to draw down, and the feather bed was so meagrely filled with feathers that when sleep began to steal upon Honeybee, he awoke to find himself with his hip-bone grating against the iron frame of the bedstead. The draught came in under the door with some force. This was not surprising when one came to examine the distance between it and the floor. The interval seemed contrived so as to admit of the carpet being drawn out of the room without opening the door.
Bruised and weary, the Honeybees rose next morning. It was raining very hard, as it had been all night. For breakfast they had some fried eggs and bacon. The eggs would have been all right if they had been warmed through; but Honeybee said raw egg was good for the voice. The bacon would have brought its own punishment to the Jew wicked enough to indulge in it. They read novels most of the morning. Georgina and Fanny were occasionally in consultation as to some proposed alterations to a dress. Honeybee looked out of the window like a caged lion.
Ah, Heavens! but why should I follow further the agonies of these wretched people. Indeed, I shrink from recording the sickening details of their week’s stay. The disgusting round of impertinence, uncleanliness, stupidity, and brutality to which they were subjected is too odious to recount. Suffice it to say that never had Waterloo Villa looked so fair as when the Honeybees returned to it after their “holiday,” and Georgina literally danced round the bright clean dining-room table laid ready for dinner, while Honeybee threw himself groaning on to his bed, where he lay till aroused by the rattle of plates and dishes. My goodness, how he did eat! And how Georgina beamed!