Penelope's Progress/Chapter 1
PART FIRST. IN TOWN
"Edina, Scotia's darling seat!
All hail thy palaces and towers!"
Edinburgh, April, 189-.
22, Breadalbane Terrace.
We have traveled together before, Salemina, Francesca, and I, and we know the very worst there is to know about one another. After this point has been reached, it is as if a triangular marriage had taken place, and, with the honeymoon comfortably over, we slip along in thoroughly friendly fashion. I use no warmer word than "friendly" because, in the first place, the highest tides of feeling do not visit the coast of triangular alliances; and because, in the second place, "friendly" is a word capable of putting to the blush many a more passionate and endearing one.
Every one knows of our experiences in England, for we wrote volumes of letters concerning them, the which were widely circulated among our friends at the time and read aloud under the evening lamps in the several cities of our residence.
Since then few striking changes have taken place in our history.
Salemina returned to Boston for the winter, to find, to her amazement, that for forty odd years she had been rather overestimating it.
On arriving in New York, Francesca discovered that the young lawyer whom for six months she had been advising to marry somebody "more worthy than herself" was at last about to do it. This was somewhat in the nature of a shock, for Francesca has been in the habit, ever since she was seventeen, of giving her lovers similar advice, and up to this time no one of them has ever taken it. She therefore has had the not unnatural hope, I think, of organizing at one time or another all these disappointed and faithful swains into a celibate brotherhood; and perhaps of driving by the interesting monastery with her husband and calling his attention modestly to the fact that these poor monks were filling their barren lives with deeds of piety, trying to remember their Creator with such assiduity that they might, in time, forget Her.
Her chagrin was all the keener at losing this last aspirant to her hand in that she had almost persuaded herself that she was as fond of him as she was likely to be of anybody, and that, on the whole, she had better marry him and save his life and reason.
Fortunately she had not communicated this gleam of hope by letter, feeling, I suppose, that she would like to see for herself the light of joy breaking over his pale cheek. The scene would have been rather pretty and touching, but meantime the Worm had turned and dispatched a letter to the Majestic at the quarantine station, telling her that he had found a less reluctant bride in the person of her intimate friend Miss Rosa Van Brunt; and so Francesca's dream of duty and sacrifice was over.
Salemina says she was somewhat constrained for a week and a trifle cynical for a fortnight, but that afterwards her spirits mounted on ever ascending spirals to impossible heights, where they have since remained. It appears from all this that although she was piqued at being taken at her word, her heart was not in the least damaged. It never was one of those fragile things which have to be wrapped in cotton, and preserved from the slightest blow—Francesca's heart. It is made of excellent stout, durable material, and I often tell her with the care she takes of it, and the moderate strain to which it is subjected, it ought to be as good as new a hundred years hence.
As for me, the scene of my own love story is laid in America and England, and has naught to do with Edinburgh. It is far from finished; indeed, I hope it will be the longest serial on record, one of those charming tales that grow in interest as chapter after chapter unfolds, until at the end we feel as if we could never part with the delightful people.
I should be, at this very moment, Mrs. William Beresford, a highly respectable young matron who painted rather good pictures in her spinster days, when she was Penelope Hamilton of the great American working-class, Unlimited; but first Mrs. Beresford's dangerous illness, and then her death, have kept my dear boy a willing prisoner in Cannes, his heart sadly torn betwixt his love and duty to his mother and his desire to be with me. The separation is virtually over now, and we two, alas, have ne'er a mother or a father between us, so we shall not wait many months before beginning to comfort each other in good earnest.
Meantime Salemina and Francesca have persuaded me to join their forces, and Mr. Beresford will follow us to Scotland in a few short weeks, when we shall have established ourselves in the country.
We are overjoyed at being together again, we three women folk. As I said before, we know the worst of one another, and the future has no terrors. We have learned, for example, that:—
Francesca does not like an early morning start. Salemina refuses to arrive late anywhere. Penelope prefers to stay behind and follow next day.
Francesca scorns to travel third class. So does Salemina, but she will if urged.
Penelope hates a four-wheeler. Salemina is nervous in a hansom. Francesca prefers a Victoria.
Salemina likes a steady fire in the grate. Penelope opens a window and fans herself.
Salemina inclines to instructive and profitable expeditions. Francesca loves processions and sightseeing. Penelope abhors all of these equally.
Salemina likes history. Francesca loves fiction. Penelope adores poetry and detests facts.
Penelope likes substantial breakfasts. Francesca dislikes the sight of food in the morning.
In the matter of breakfasts, when we have leisure to assert our individual tastes, Salemina prefers tea, Francesca cocoa, and I, coffee. We can never, therefore, be served with a large comfortable pot of anything, but are confronted instead with a caravan of silver jugs, china jugs, bowls of hard and soft sugar, hot milk, cold milk, hot water, and cream, while each in her secret heart wishes that the other two were less exigeante in the matter of diet.
This does not sound promising, but it works perfectly well in practice by the exercise of a little flexibility.
As we left dear old Dovermarle Street and Smith's Private Hotel behind, and drove to the station to take the Flying Scotsman, we indulged in floods of reminiscence over the joys of travel we had tasted together in the past, and talked with lively anticipation of the new experiences awaiting us in the land of heather.
While Salemina went to purchase the three first-class tickets, I superintended the porters as they disposed our luggage in the van, and in so doing my eye lighted upon a third-class carriage which was, for a wonder, clean, comfortable, and vacant. Comparing it hastily with the first-class compartment being held by Francesca, I found that it differed only in having no carpet on the floor, and a smaller number of buttons in the upholstering. This was really heart-rending when the difference in fare for three persons would be at least twenty dollars. What a delightful sum to put aside for a rainy day; that is, you understand, what a delightful sum to put aside and spend on the first rainy day; for that is the way we always interpret the expression.
When Salemina returned with the tickets, she found me, as usual, bewailing our extravagance.
Francesca descended suddenly from her post, and, snatching the tickets from her duenna, exclaimed, "'I know that I can save the country, and I know no other man can!' as William Pitt said to the Duke of Devonshire. I have had enough of this argument. For six months of last year we discussed traveling third class and continued to travel first. Get into that clean, hard-seated, ill-upholstered third-class carriage immediately, both of you; save room enough for a mother with two babies, a man carrying a basket of fish, and an old woman with five pieces of hand-luggage and a dog; meanwhile I will exchange the tickets."
So saying, she disappeared rapidly among the throng of passengers, guards, porters, newspaper boys, golfers with bags of clubs, young ladies with bicycles, and old ladies with tin hat-boxes.
"What decision, what swiftness of judgment, what courage and energy!" murmured Salemina. "Isn't she wonderfully improved since that unexpected turning of the Worm?"
Francesca rejoined us just as the guard was about to lock us in, and flung herself down, quite breathless from her unusual exertion.
"Well, we are traveling third for once, and the money is saved, or at least it is ready to spend again at the first opportunity. The man didn't wish to exchange the tickets at all. He says it is never done. I told him they were bought by a very inexperienced American lady (that is you, Salemina) who knew almost nothing of the distinctions between first and third class, and naturally took the best, believing it to be none too good for a citizen of the greatest republic on the face of the earth. He said the tickets had been stamped on. I said so should I be if I returned without exchanging them. He was a very dense person, and didn't see my joke at all, but then, it is true, there were thirteen men in line behind me, with the train starting in three minutes, and there is nothing so debilitating to a naturally weak sense of humor as selling tickets behind a grating, so I am not really vexed with him. There! we are quite comfortable, pending the arrival of the babies, the dog, and the fish, and certainly no vender of periodic literature will dare approach us while we keep these books in evidence."
She had Laurence Hutton's "Literary Landmarks" and "Royal Edinburgh," by Mrs. Oliphant; I had Lord Cockburn's Memorials of his Time; and somebody had given Salemina, at the moment of leaving London, a work on "Scotia's darling seat," in three huge volumes. When all this printed matter was heaped on the top of Salemina's hold-all on the platform, the guard had asked, "Do you belong to these books, mam?"
"We may consider ourselves injured in going from London to Edinburgh in a third-class carriage in eight or ten hours, but listen to this," said Salemina, who had opened one of her large volumes at random when the train started.
"'The Edinburgh and London Stage-Coach begins on Monday, 13th October, 1712. All that desire … let them repair to the Coach and Horses at the head of the Canongate every Saturday, or the Black Swan in Holborn every other Monday, at both of which places they may be received in a coach which performs the whole journey in thirteen days without any stoppage (if God permits) having eighty able horses. Each passenger paying £4 10s. for the whole journey, each 20 lbs. weight and all above to pay 6d. per lb. The coach sets off at six in the morning'(you could never have caught it, Francesca!), 'and is performed by Henry Harrison.' And here is a 'modern improvement,' forty-two years later. In July, 1754, the 'Edinburgh Courant' advertises the stage-coach drawn by six horses, with a postilion on one of the leaders, as a 'new, genteel, two-end glass machine, hung on steel springs, exceeding light and easy, to go in ten days in summer and twelve in winter. Passengers to pay as usual. Performed (if God permits) by your dutiful servant, Hosea Eastgate. Care is taken of small parcels according to their value.'"
"It would have been a long, wearisome journey," said I contemplatively; "but, nevertheless, I wish we were making it in 1712 instead of a century and three quarters later."
"What would have been happening, Salemina?" asked Francesca politely, but with no real desire to know.
"The Union had been already established five years," began Salemina intelligently.
Salemina is used to these interruptions and eruptions of illiteracy on our part. I think she rather enjoys them, as in the presence of such complete ignorance as ours her lamp of knowledge burns all the brighter.
"Anne was on the throne," she went on, with serene dignity.
"I know the Anne!" exclaimed Francesca excitedly. "She came from the Midnight Sun country, or up that way. She was very extravagant, and had something to do with Jingling Geordie in 'The Fortunes of Nigel.' It is marvelous how one's history comes back to one!"
"Quite marvelous," said Salemina dryly; "or at least the state in which it comes back is marvelous. I am not a stickler for dates, as you know, but if you could only contrive to fix a few periods in your minds, girls, just in a general way, you would not be so shamefully befogged. Your Anne of Denmark, Francesca, was the wife of James VI. of Scotland, who was James I. of England, and she died a hundred years before the Anne I mean,—the last of the Stuarts, you know. My Anne came after William and Mary, and before the Georges."
"Which William and Mary?"
But this was too much even for Salemina's equanimity, and she retired behind her book in dignified displeasure, while Francesca and I meekly looked up the Annes in a genealogical table, and tried to decide whether "b. 1665" meant born or beheaded.