Penelope's Progress/Chapter 13
"I think I was never so completely under the spell of a country as I am of Scotland." I made this acknowledgment freely, but I knew that it would provoke comment from my compatriots.
"Oh yes, my dear, you have been just as spellbound before, only you don't remember it," replied Salemina promptly. "I have never seen a person more perilously appreciative or receptive than you."
"'Perilously' is just the word," chimed in Francesca delightedly; "when you care for a place you grow porous, as it were, until after a time you are precisely like blotting-paper. Now, there was Italy, for example. After eight weeks in Venice you were completely Venetian, from your fan to the ridiculous little crepe shawl you wore because an Italian prince had told you that centuries were usually needed to teach a woman how to wear a shawl, but that you had been born with the art, and the shoulders! Anything but a watery street was repulsive to you. Cobblestones? 'Ordinario, dúro, brútto! A gondola? Ah, bellissima! Let me float forever thus!' You bathed your spirit in sunshine and color; I can hear you murmur now, 'O Venezia benedetta! non ti voglio lasciar!'"
"It was just the same when she spent a month in France with the Baroness de Hautenoblesse," continued Salemina. "When she returned to America it is no flattery to say that in dress, attitude, inflection, manner, she was a thorough Parisienne. There was an elegant superficiality and a superficial elegance about her that I can never forget, nor yet her extraordinary volubility in a foreign language,—the fluency with which she expressed her inmost soul on all topics without the aid of a single irregular verb, for these she was never able to acquire; oh, it was wonderful, but there was no affectation about it; she had simply been a kind of blotting-paper, as Miss Monroe says, and France had written itself all over her."
"I don't wish to interfere with anybody's diagnosis," I interposed at the first possible moment, "but perhaps after you've both finished your psychologic investigation the subject may be allowed to explain herself from the inside, so to speak. I won't deny the spell of Italy, but I think the spell that Scotland casts over one is quite a different thing, more spiritual, more difficult to break. Italy's charm has something physical in it; it is born of blue sky, sunlit waves, soft atmosphere, orange sails and yellow moons, and appeals more to the senses. In Scotland the climate certainly has naught to do with it, but the imagination is somehow made captive. I am not enthralled by the past of Italy or France, for instance."
"Of course you are not at the present moment," said Francesca, "because you are enthralled by the past of Scotland, and even you cannot be the slave of two pasts at the same time."
"I never was particularly enthralled by Italy's past," I argued with exemplary patience, "but the romance of Scotland has a flavor all its own. I do not quite know the secret of it."
"It's the kilts and the pipes," said Francesca.
"No, the history." (This from Salemina.)
"Or Sir Walter and the literature," suggested Mr. Macdonald.
"Or the songs and ballads," ventured Jean Dalziel.
"There!" I exclaimed triumphantly, "you see for yourselves you have named avenue after avenue along which one's mind is led in charmed subjection. Where can you find battles that kindle your fancy like Falkirk and Flodden and Culloden and Bannockburn? Where a sovereign that attracts, baffles, repels, allures, like Mary Queen of Scots,—and where, tell me where, is there a Pretender like Bonnie Prince Charlie? Think of the spirit in those old Scottish matrons who could sing:—
'I'll sell my rock, I'll sell my reel,
My rippling-kame and spinning-wheel,
To buy my lad a tartan plaid,
A braid sword, durk, and white cockade.'"
"Yes," chimed in Salemina when I had finished quoting, "or that other verse that goes,—
'I ance had sons, I now hae nane,
I bare them toiling sairlie;
But I would bear them a' again
To lose them a' for Charlie!'
Isn't the enthusiasm almost beyond belief at this distance of time?" she went on; "and isn't it a curious fact, as Mr. Macdonald told me a moment ago, that though the whole country was vocal with songs for the lost cause and the fallen race, not one in favor of the victors ever became popular?"
"Sympathy for the under dog, as Miss Monroe's countrywomen would say picturesquely," remarked Mr. Macdonald.
"I don't see why all the vulgarisms in the dictionary should be foisted on the American girl," retorted Francesca loftily, "unless, indeed, it is a determined attempt to find spots upon the sun for fear we shall worship it!"
"Quite so, quite so!" returned the Reverend Ronald, who has had reason to know that this phrase reduces Miss Monroe to voiceless rage.
"The Stuart charm and personal magnetism must have been a powerful factor in all that movement," said Salemina, plunging hastily back into the topic to avert any further recrimination. "I suppose we feel it even now, and if I had been alive in 1745 I should probably have made myself ridiculous. 'Old maiden ladies,' I read this morning, 'were the last Jacobites in Edinburgh; spinsterhood in its loneliness remained ever true to Prince Charlie and the vanished dreams of youth.'"
"Yes," continued the Dominie, "the story is told of the last of those Jacobite ladies who never failed to close her Prayer-Book and stand erect in silent protest when the prayer for 'King George III. and the reigning family' was read by the congregation."
"Do you remember the prayer of the Reverend Neil McVicar in St. Cuthbert's?" asked Mr. Macdonald. "It was in 1745, after the victory at Prestonpans, when a message was sent to the Edinburgh ministers, in the name of 'Charles, Prince Regent,' desiring them to open their churches next day as usual. McVicar preached to a large congregation, many of whom were armed Highlanders, and prayed for George II., and also for Charles Edward, in the following fashion: 'Bless the king! Thou knowest what king I mean. May the crown sit long upon his head! As for that young man who has come among us to seek an earthly crown, we beseech Thee to take him to Thyself and give him a crown of glory!'"
"Ah, what a pity the Bonnie Prince had not died after his meteor victory at Falkirk!" exclaimed Jean Dalziel, when we had finished laughing at Mr. Macdonald's story.
"Or at Culloden, 'where, quenched in blood on the Muir of Drummossie, the star of the Stuarts sank forever,'" quoted the Dominie. "There is where his better self died; would that the young Chevalier had died with it! By the way, doctor, we must not sit here eating goodies and sipping tea until the dinner-hour, for these ladies have doubtless much to do for their flitting" (a pretty Scots word for "moving").
"We are quite ready for our flitting so far as packing is concerned," Salemina assured him. "Would that we were as ready in spirit! Miss Hamilton has even written her farewell poem, which I am sure she will read for the asking."
"She will read it without that formality," murmured Francesca. "She has lived and toiled only for this moment, and the poem is in her pocket."
"Delightful!" said the doctor flatteringly. "Has she favored you already? Have you heard it, Miss Monroe?"
"Have we heard it!" ejaculated that young person. "We have heard nothing else all the morning! What you will take for local color is nothing but our mental life-blood, which she has mercilessly drawn to stain her verses. We each tried to write a Scottish poem, and as Miss Hamilton's was better, or perhaps I might say less bad, than ours, we encouraged her to develop and finish it. I wanted to do an imitation of Lindsay's
'Adieu, Edinburgh! thou heich triumphant town,
Within whose bounds richt blithefull have I been!'
but it proved too difficult. Miss Hamilton's general idea was that we should write some verses in good plain English. Then we were to take out all the final g's, and indeed the final letters from all the words wherever it was possible, so that full, awful, call, ball, hall, and away should be fu', awfu', ca', ba', ha', an' awa'. This alone gives great charm and character to a poem; but we were also to change all words ending in ow into aw. This doesn't injure the verse, you see, as blaw and snaw rhyme just as well as blow and snow, beside bringing tears to the common eye with their poetic associations. Similarly, if we had daughter and slaughter, we were to write them dochter and slauchter, substituting in all cases doon, froon, goon, and toon, for down, frown, gown, and town. Then we made a list of Scottish idols,—pet words, national institutions, stock phrases, beloved objects,—convinced if we could weave them in we should attain 'atmosphere.' Here is the first list; it lengthened speedily: thistle, tartan, haar, haggis, kirk, claymore, parritch, broom, whin, sporran, whaup, plaid, scone, collops, whiskey, mutch, cairngorm, oatmeal, brae, kilt, brose, heather. Salemina and I were too devoted to common sense to succeed in this weaving process, so Penelope triumphed and won the first prize, both for that and also because she brought in a saying given us by Miss Dalziel, about the social classification of all Scotland into 'the gentlemen of the North, men of the South, people of the West, fowk o' Fife, and the Paisley bodies.' We think that her success came chiefly from her writing the verses with a Scotch plaid lead-pencil. What effect the absorption of so much red, blue, and green paint will have I cannot fancy, but she ate off—and up—all the tartan glaze before finishing the poem; it had a wonderfully stimulating effect, but the end is not yet!"
Of course there was a chorus of laughter when the young wretch exhibited my battered pencil, bought in Princes Street yesterday, its gay Gordon tints sadly disfigured by the destroying tooth, not of Time, but of a bard in the throes of composition.
"We bestowed a consolation prize on Salemina," continued Francesca, "because she succeeded in getting hoots, losh, havers, and blathers into one line, but naturally she could not maintain such an ideal standard. Read your verses, Pen, though there is little hope that our friends will enjoy them as much as you do. Whenever Miss Hamilton writes anything of this kind, she emulates her distinguished ancestor Sir William Hamilton, who always fell off his own chair in fits of laughter when he was composing verses."
With this inspiring introduction I read my lines as follows:—
AN AMERICAN LADY'S FAREWELL TO EDINBURGH
THE MUSE BEING SOMEWHAT UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THE SCOTTISH BALLAD
I canna thole my ain toun,
Sin' I hae dwelt i' this;
To bide in Edinboro' reek,
Wad be the tap o' bliss.
Yon bonnie plaid aboot me hap,
The skirlin' pipes gae bring,
With thistles fair tie up my hair,
While I of Scotia sing.
The collops an' the cairngorms,
The haggis an' the whin,
The 'Stablished, Free, an' U. P. kirks,
The hairt convinced o' sin,—
The parritch an' the heather-bell.
The snawdrap on the shaw,
The bit lam's bleatin' on the braes,—
How can I leave them a'!
How can I leave the marmalade
An' bonnets o' Dundee?
The haar, the baddies, an' the brose,
The East win' blawin' free!
How can I lay my sporran by,
An' sit me doun at hame,
Wi'oot a Hieland philabeg
Or hyphenated name?
I lo'e the gentry o' the North,
The Southern men I lo'e,
The canty people o' the West,
The Paisley bodies too.
The pawky fowk o' Fife are dear,—
Sae dear are ane an' a',
That e'en to think that we maun pairt
Maist braks my hairt in twa.
So fetch me tartans, heather, scones,
An' dye my tresses red;
I'd deck me like th' unconquer'd Scots
Wha hae wi' Wallace bled.
Then bind my claymore to my side.
My kilt an' mutch gae bring;
While Scottish lays soun' i' my lugs
McKinley's no my king,—
For Charlie, bonnie Stuart Prince,
Has turned me Jacobite;
I'd wear displayed the white cockade,
An' (whiles) for him I'd fight!
An' (whiles) I'd fight for a' that 's Scotch,
Save whuskey an' oatmeal,
For wi' their ballads i' my bluid,
Nae Scot could be mair leal!
I fancied that I had pitched my verses in so high a key that no one could mistake their burlesque intention. What was my confusion, however, to have one of the company remark when I finished, "Extremely pretty; but a mutch, you know, is an article of woman's apparel."
Mr. Macdonald flung himself gallantly into the breach. He is such a dear fellow! So quick, so discriminating, so warm-hearted!
"Don't pick flaws in Miss Hamilton's finest line! That picture of a fair American, clad in a kilt and mutch, decked in heather and scones, and brandishing a claymore, will live forever in my memory. Don't clip the wings of her imagination! You will be telling her soon that one doesn't tie one's hair with thistles, nor couple collops with cairngorms."
Somebody sent Francesca a great bunch of yellow broom, late that afternoon. There was no name in the box, she said, but at night she wore the odorous tips in the bosom of her black dinner-gown, and standing erect in her dark hair like golden aigrettes.
When she came into my room to say goodnight, she laid the pretty frock in one of my trunks, which was to be filled with the garments of fashionable society and left behind in Edinburgh. The next moment I chanced to look on the floor, and discovered a little card, a bent card, with two lines written on it:—
"Better lo'ed ye canna be,
Will ye no come back again?"
We have received many invitations in that handwriting. I know it well, and so does Francesca, though it is blurred; and the reason for this, according to my way of thinking, is that it has been lying next the moist stems of flowers, and, unless I do her wrong, very near to somebody's warm heart as well.
I will not betray her to Salemina, even to gain a victory over that blind and deaf but much beloved woman. How could I, with my heart beating high at the thought of seeing my ain dear laddie before many days!
"Oh, love, love, lassie,
Love is like a dizziness:
It winna let a puir body
Gang aboot his business."