Penelope's Progress/Chapter 14
PART SECOND. IN THE COUNTRY
"Now she's cast aff her bonny shoon
Made o' gilded leather,
And she's put on her Hieland brogues
To skip amang the heather.
And she's cast aff her bonny goon
Made o' the silk and satin,
And she's put on a tartan plaid
To row amang the braken."
We are in the East Neuk o' Fife; we are in Pettybaw; we are neither boarders nor lodgers; we are residents, inhabitants, householders, and we live (live, mind you) in a wee theekit hoosie in the old loaning. Words fail to tell you how absolutely Scotch we are and how blissfully happy. It is a happiness, I assure you, achieved through great tribulation. Salemina and I traveled many miles in railway trains, and many in various other sorts of wheeled vehicles, while the ideal ever beckoned us onward. I was determined to find a romantic lodging, Salemina a comfortable one, and this special combination of virtues is next to impossible, as every one knows. Linghurst was too much of a town; Bonnie Craig had no respectable inn; Whinnybrae was struggling to be a watering-place; Broomlea had no golf course within ten miles, and we intended to go back to our native land and win silver goblets in mixed foursomes; the "new toun o' Fairloch" (which looked centuries old) was delightful, but we could not find apartments there; Pinkie Leith was nice, but they were tearing up the "fore street" and laying drain-pipes in it. Strathdee had been highly recommended, but it rained when we were in Strathdee, and nobody can deliberately settle in a place where it rains during the process of deliberation. No train left this moist and dripping hamlet for three hours, so we took a covered trap and drove onward in melancholy mood. Suddenly the clouds lifted and the rain ceased; the driver thought we should be having settled weather now, and put back the top of the carriage, saying meanwhile that it was a very dry section just here, and that the crops sairly needed shoo'rs.
"Of course, if there is any district in Scotland where for any reason droughts are possible, that is where we wish to settle," I whispered to Salemina; "though, so far as I can see, the Strathdee crops are up to their knees in mud. Here is another wee village. What is this place, driver?"
"Pettybaw, mam; a fine toun!"
"Will there be apartments to let there?"
"I couldna say, mam."
"Susanna Crum's father! How curious that he should live here!" I murmured; and at this moment the sun came out, and shone full, or at least almost full, on our future home.
"Pettybaw! Petit bois, I suppose," said Salemina; "and there, to be sure, it is,—the 'little wood' yonder."
We drove to the Pettybaw Inn and Posting Establishment, and, alighting, dismissed the driver. We had still three good hours of daylight, although it was five o'clock, and we refreshed ourselves with a delicious cup of tea before looking for lodgings. We consulted the greengrocer, the baker, and the flesher, about furnished apartments, and started on our quest, not regarding the little posting establishment as a possibility. Apartments we found to be very scarce, and in one or two places that were quite suitable the landlady refused to do any cooking. We wandered from house to house, the sun shining brighter and brighter, and Pettybaw looking lovelier and lovelier; and as we were refused shelter again and again, we grew more and more enamored, as is the manner of human kind. The blue sea sparkled, and Pettybaw Sands gleamed white a mile or two in the distance, the pretty stone church raised its carved spire from the green trees, the manse next door was hidden in vines, the sheep lay close to the gray stone walls and the young lambs nestled close beside them, while the song of the burn, tinkling merrily down the glade on the edge of which we stood, and the cawing of the rooks in the little wood, were the only sounds to be heard.
Salemina, under the influence of this sylvan solitude, nobly declared that she could and would do without a set bath-tub, and proposed building a cabin and living near to nature's heart.
"I think, on the whole, we should be more comfortable living near to the inn-keeper's heart," I answered. "Let us go back there and pass the night, trying thus the bed and breakfast, with a view to seeing what they are like,—though they did say in Edinburgh that nobody thinks of living in these wayside hostelries."
Back we went, accordingly, and after ordering dinner came out and strolled idly up the main street. A small sign in the draper's window, heretofore overlooked, caught our eye. "House and Garden To Let. Inquire Within." Inquiring within with all possible speed, we found the draper selling winseys, the draper's assistant tidying the ribbon-box, the draper's wife sewing in one corner, and the draper's baby playing on the clean floor. We were impressed favorably, and entered into negotiations without delay.
"The house will be in the loaning; do you mind, ma'am?" asked the draper. (We have long since discovered that this use of the verb is a bequest from the Gaelic, in which there is no present tense. Man never is, but always to be blessed, in that language, which in this particular is not unlike old-fashioned Calvinism.)
We went out of the back door and down the green loaning, until we came to the wee stone cottage in which the draper himself lives most of the year, retiring for the warmer months to the back of his shop, and eking out a comfortable income by renting his hearthstone to the summer visitor.
The thatched roof on the wing that formed the kitchen attracted my artist's eye, and we went in to examine the interior, which we found surprisingly attractive. There was a tiny sitting-room, with a fireplace and a microscopic piano; a dining-room adorned with portraits of relatives who looked nervous when they met my eye, for they knew that they would be turned face to the wall on the morrow; four bedrooms, a kitchen, and a back garden so filled with vegetables and flowers that we exclaimed with astonishment and admiration.
"But we cannot keep house in Scotland," objected Salemina. "Think of the care! And what about the servants?"
"Why not eat at the inn?" I suggested. "Think of living in a real loaning, Salemina! Look at the stone floor in the kitchen, and the adorable stuffy box-bed in the wall! Look at the bust of Sir Walter in the hall, and the chromo of Melrose Abbey by moonlight! Look at the lintel over the front door, with a ship, moon, stars, and 1602 carved in the stone! What is food to all this?"
Salemina agreed that it was hardly worth considering; and in truth so many landladies had refused to receive her as a tenant that day, that her spirits were rather low, and she was uncommonly flexible.
"It is the lintel and the back garden that rents the hoose," remarked the draper complacently in broad Scotch that I cannot reproduce. He is a house-agent as well as a draper, and went on to tell us that when he had a cottage he could rent in no other way he planted plenty of creepers in front of it. "The baker's hoose is no sae bonnie," he said, "and the linen and cutlery verra scanty, but there is a yellow laburnum growin' by the door: the leddies see that, and forget to ask aboot the linen. It depends a good bit on the weather, too; it is easy to let a hoose when the sun shines upon it."
"We hardly dare undertake regular housekeeping," I said; "do your tenants ever take meals at the inn?"
"I couldna say, mam." (Dear, dear, the Crums are a large family!)
"If we did that, we should still need a servant to keep the house tidy," said Salemina, as we walked away. "Perhaps housemaids are to be had, though not nearer than Edinburgh, I fancy."
This gave me an idea, and I slipped over to the post-office while Salemina was preparing for dinner, and dispatched a telegram to Mrs. M'Collop at Breadalbane Terrace, asking her if she could send a reliable general servant to us, capable of cooking simple breakfasts and caring for a house.
We had scarcely finished our Scotch broth, fried haddies, mutton-chops, and rhubarb tart when I received an answer from Mrs. M'Collop to the effect that her sister's husband's niece, Jane Grieve, could join us on the morrow if desired. The relationship was an interesting fact, though we scarcely thought the information worth the additional threepence we paid for it in the telegram; however, Mrs. M'Collop's comfortable assurance, together with the quality of the rhubarb tart and mutton-chops, brought us to a decision. Before going to sleep we rented the draper's house, named it Bide-a-Wee Cottage, engaged daily luncheons and dinners for three persons at the Pettybaw Inn and Posting Establishment, telegraphed to Edinburgh for Jane Grieve, to Callender for Francesca, and dispatched a letter to Paris for Mr. Beresford, telling him we had taken a "wee theekit hoosie" and that the "yett was ajee" whenever he chose to come.
"Possibly it would have been wiser not to send for them until we were settled," I said reflectively. "Jane Grieve may not prove a suitable person."
"The name somehow sounds too young and inexperienced," observed Salemina, "and what association have I with the phrase 'sister's husband's niece'?"
"You have heard me quote Lewis Carroll's verse, perhaps:—
'He thought he saw a buffalo
Upon the chimney-piece;
He looked again and found it was
His sister's husband's niece:
"Unless you leave the house," he said,
"I'll send for the police!"'
The only thing that troubles me," I went on, "is the question of Willie Beresford's place of residence. He expects to be somewhere within easy walking or cycling distance,—four or five miles at most."
"He won't be desolate even if he doesn't have a thatched roof, a pansy garden, and a blossoming shrub," said Salemina sleepily, for our business arrangements and discussions had lasted well into the evening. "What he will want is a lodging where he can have frequent sight and speech of you. How I dread him! How I resent his sharing of you with us! I don't know why I use the word 'sharing,' forsooth! There is nothing half so fair and just in his majesty's greedy mind. Well, it's the way of the world; only it is odd, with the universe of women to choose from, that he must needs take you. Strathdee seems the most desirable place for him, if he has a mackintosh and rubber boots. Inchcaldy is another town near here that we didn't see at all,—that might do; the draper's wife says that we can send fine linen to the laundry there."
"Inchcaldy? Oh yes, I think we heard of it in Edinburgh—at least I have some association with the name: it has a fine golf course, I believe, and very likely we ought to have looked at it, though for my part I have no regrets. Nothing can equal Pettybaw; and I am so pleased to be a Scottish householder! Aren't we just like Bessie Bell and Mary Gray?
'They were twa bonnie lassies;
They biggit a bower on yon burnbrae,
An' theekit it ower wi' rashes.'
Think of our stone-floored kitchen, Salemina! Think of the real box-bed in the wall for little Jane Grieve! She will have red-gold hair, blue eyes, and a pink cotton gown. Think of our own cat! Think how Francesca will admire the 1602 lintel! Think of our back garden, with our own 'neeps' and vegetable marrows growing in it! Think how they will envy us at home when they learn that we have settled down into Scottish yeowomen!
'It's oh, for a patch of land!
It's oh, for a patch of land!
Of all the blessings tongue can name,
There's nane like a patch of land!'
Think of Willie coming to step on the floor and look at the bed and stroke the cat and covet the lintel and walk in the garden and weed the turnips and pluck the marrows that grow by our ain wee theekit hoosie!"
"Penelope, you appear slightly intoxicated! Do close the window and come to bed."
"I am intoxicated with the caller air of Pettybaw," I rejoined, leaning on the window-sill and looking at the stars, while I thought: "Edinburgh was beautiful; it is the most beautiful gray city in the world; it lacked one thing only to make it perfect, and Pettybaw will have that before many moons.
'Oh, Willie's rare an' Willie's fair
An' Willie's wondrous bonny;
An' Willie's hecht to marry me
Gin e'er he marries ony.
'O gentle wind that bloweth south,
From where my love repaireth,
Convey a word from his dear mouth.
An' tell me how he fareth.'"