Penelope's Progress/Chapter 12



It is our last day in "Scotia's darling seat," our last day in Breadalbane Terrace, our last day with Mrs. M'Collop; and though every one says that we shall love the life in the country, we are loath to leave Auld Reekie.

Salemina and I have spent two days in search of an abiding-place, and have visited eight well-recommended villages with that end in view; but she disliked four of them, and I couldn't endure the other four, though I considered some of those that fell under her disapproval as quite delightful in every respect.

We never take Francesca on these pilgrimages of disagreement, as three conflicting opinions on the same subject would make insupportable what is otherwise rather exhilarating. She starts from Edinburgh to-morrow for a brief visit to the Highlands with the Dalziels, and will join us when we have settled ourselves.

Mr. Beresford leaves Paris as soon after our decision as he is permitted, so Salemina and I have agreed to agree upon one ideal spot within thirty-six hours of our quitting Edinburgh, knowing privately that after a last battle royal we shall enthusiastically support the joint decision for the rest of our lives.

We have been bidding good-by to people and places and things, and wishing the sun would not shine and thus make our task the harder. We have looked our last on the old gray town from Calton Hill, of all places the best, perhaps, for a view; since, as Stevenson says, from Calton Hill you can see the Castle, which you lose from the Castle, and Arthur's Seat, which you cannot see from Arthur's Seat. We have taken a farewell walk to the Dean Bridge, to gaze wistfully eastward and marvel for the hundredth time to find so beautiful a spot in the heart of a city. The soft flowing Water of Leith winding over pebbles between grassy banks and groups of splendid trees, thereof of the little temple to Hygeia rising picturesquely among green branches, the slopes of emerald velvet leading up to the gray stone of the houses,—where, in all the world of cities, can one find a view to equal it in peaceful loveliness? Francesca's "bridge-man," who, by the way, proved to be a distinguished young professor of medicine in the university, says that the beautiful cities of the world should be ranked thus,—Constantinople, Prague, Genoa, Edinburgh; but having seen only one of these, and that the last, I refuse to credit any sliding scale of comparison which leaves Edina at the foot.

It was nearing tea-time, an hour when we never fail to have visitors, and we were all in the drawing-room together. I was at the piano, singing Jacobite melodies for Salemina's delectation. When I came to the last verse of Lady Nairne's "Hundred Pipers," the spirited words had taken my fancy captive, and I am sure I could not have sung with more vigor and passion had my people been "out with the Chevalier."

"The Esk was swollen sae red an' sae deep,
But shouther to shouther the brave lads keep;
Twa thousand swam oure to fell English ground,
An' danced themselves dry to the pibroch's sound.
Dumfounder'd the English saw, they saw,
Dumfounder'd they heard the blaw, the blaw,
Dumfounder'd they a' ran awa', awa',
Frae the hundred pipers an' a', an' a'!"

By the time I came to "Dumfounder'd the English saw" Francesca left her book and joined in the next four lines, and when we broke into the chorus Salemina rushed to the piano, and although she cannot sing, she lifted her voice both high and loud in the refrain, beating time the while with a dirk paper-knife.

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Susanna ushered in Mr. Macdonald and Dr. Moncrieffe as the last "blaw" faded into silence, and Jean Dalziel came upstairs to say that they could seldom get a quiet moment for family prayers, because we were always at the piano, hurling incendiary sentiments into the air,—sentiments set to such stirring melodies that no one could resist them.

"We are very sorry. Miss Dalziel," I said penitently. "We reserve an hour in the morning and another at bedtime for your uncle's prayers, but we had no idea you had them at afternoon tea, even in Scotland. I believe that you are chaffing, and came up only to swell the chorus. Come, let us all sing together from 'Dumfounder'd the English saw.'"

Mr. Macdonald and Dr. Moncrieffe gave such splendid body to the music, and Jean such war-like energy, that Salemina waved her paper-knife in a manner more than ever sanguinary, and Susanna hesitated outside the door for sheer delight, and had to be coaxed in with the tea-things. On the heels of the tea-things came the Dominie, another dear old friend of six weeks' standing; and while the doctor sang "Jock o' Hazledean" with such irresistible charm that we all longed to elope with somebody on the instant, Salemina dispensed buttered toast, marmalade sandwiches, and the fragrant cup. By this time we were thoroughly cosy, and Mr. Macdonald made himself and us very much at home by stirring the fire; whereupon Francesca embarrassed him by begging him not to touch it unless he could do it properly, which, she added, seemed quite unlikely, from the way in which he handled the poker.

"What will Edinburgh do without you?" he asked, turning towards us with flattering sadness in his tone. "Who will hear our Scotch stories, never suspecting their hoary old age? Who will ask us questions to which we somehow always know the answers? Who will make us study and reverence anew our own landmarks? Who will keep warm our national and local pride by judicious enthusiasm?"

"I think the national and local pride may be counted on to exist without any artificial stimulants," dryly observed Francesca, whose spirit is not in the least quenched by approaching departure.

"Perhaps," answered the Reverend Ronald; "but at any rate, you, Miss Monroe, will always be able to reflect that you have never been responsible even for its momentary inflation!"

"Isn't it strange that she cannot get on better with that charming fellow?" murmured Salemina, as she passed me the sugar for my second cup.

"If your present symptoms of blindness continue, Salemina," I said, searching for a small lump so as to gain time, "I shall write you a plaintive ballad, buy you a dog, and stand you on a street corner! If you had ever permitted yourself to 'get on' with any man as Francesca is getting on with Mr. Macdonald, you would now be Mrs.Somebody."

"Do you know, doctor," asked the Dominie, "that Miss Hamilton shed real tears at Holyrood, the other night, when the band played "Bonnie Charlie's now awa''?"

"They were real," I confessed, "in the sense that they certainly were not crocodile tears; but I am somewhat at a loss to explain them from a sensible, American standpoint. Of course my Jacobitism is purely impersonal, though scarcely more so than yours, at this late day; at least it is merely a poetic sentiment, for which Caroline, Baroness Nairne is mainly responsible. My romantic tears came from a vision of the Bonnie Prince as he entered Holyrood, dressed in his short tartan coat, his scarlet breeches and military boots, the star of St. Andrew on his breast, a blue ribbon over his shoulder, and the famous blue velvet bonnet and white cockade. He must have looked so brave and handsome and hopeful at that moment, and the moment was so sadly brief, that when the band played the plaintive air I kept hearing the words,—

'Mony a heart will break in twa,
Should he no come back again.'

He did come back again to me that evening, and held a phantom levee behind the Marchioness of Heatherdale's shoulder. His 'ghaist' looked bonnie and rosy and confident, yet all the time the band was playing the requiem for his lost cause and buried hopes."

I looked towards the fire to hide the moisture that crept again into my eyes, and my glance fell upon Francesca sitting dreamily on a hassock in front of the cheerful blaze, her chin in the hollow of her palm, and the Reverend Ronald standing on the hearth-rug gazing at her, the poker in his hand, and his heart, I regret to say, in such an exposed position on his sleeve that even Salemina could have seen it had she turned her eyes that way.

Jean Dalziel broke the momentary silence: "I am sure I never hear the last two lines,—

'Better lo'ed ye canna be,
Will ye no come back again?'

without a lump in my throat," and she hummed the lovely melody. "It is all as you say purely impersonal and poetic. My mother is an Englishwoman, but she sings 'Dumfounder'd the English saw, they saw,' with the greatest fire and fury."