Penelope's Progress/Chapter 15
"Gae tak' awa' the china plates,
Gae tak' them far frae me;
And bring to me a wooden dish,
It's that I'm best used wi'.
And tak' awa' thae siller spoons
The like I ne'er did see,
And bring to me the horn cutties,
They're good eneugh for me."
Earl Richard's Wedding.
The next day was one of the most cheerful and one of the most fatiguing that I ever spent. Salemina and I moved every article of furniture in our wee theekit hoosie from the place where it originally stood to another and a better place: arguing, of course, over the precise spot it should occupy, which was generally upstairs if the thing were already down, or downstairs if it were already up. We hid all the more hideous ornaments of the draper's wife, and folded away her most objectionable tidies and table-covers, replacing them with our own pretty draperies. There were only two pictures in the sitting-room, and as an artist I would not have parted with them for worlds. The first was The Life of a Fireman, which could only remind one of the explosion of a mammoth tomato, and the other was The Spirit of Poetry Calling Burns from the Plough. Burns wore white knee-breeches, military boots, a splendid waistcoat with lace ruffles, and carried a cocked hat. To have been so dressed he must have known the Spirit was intending to come. The plough-horse was a magnificent Arabian, whose tail swept the freshly furrowed earth, while the Spirit of Poetry was issuing from a practicable wigwam on the left, and was a lady of such ample dimensions that no poet would have dared say "no" when she called him.
The dining-room was blighted by framed photographs of the draper's relations and the draper's wife's relations; all uniformly ugly. (It seems strange that married couples having the least beauty to bequeath to their offspring should persist in having the largest families.) These ladies and gentlemen were too numerous to remove, so we obscured them with trailing branches; reflecting that we only breakfasted in the room, and the morning meal is easily digested when one lives in the open air. We arranged flowers everywhere, and bought potted plants at a little nursery hard by. We apportioned the bedrooms, giving Francesca the hardest bed,—as she is the youngest, and wasn't here to choose,—me the next hardest, and Salemina the best; Francesca the largest looking-glass and wardrobe, me the best view, and Salemina the biggest bath. We bought housekeeping stores, distributing our patronage equally between the two grocers; we purchased aprons and dusters from the rival drapers, engaged bread and rolls from the baker, milk and cream from the plumber, who keeps three cows, interviewed the flesher about chops; in fact, no young couple facing love in a cottage ever had a busier or happier time than we; and at sundown, when Francesca arrived, we were in the pink of order, standing under our own lintel, ready to welcome her to Pettybaw. As to being strangers in a strange land, we had a bowing acquaintance with everybody on the main street of the tiny village, and were on terms of considerable intimacy with half a dozen families, including dogs and babies.
Francesca was delighted with everything, from the station (Pettybaw Sands, two miles away) to Jane Grieve's name, which she thought as perfect, in its way, as Susanna Crum's. She had purchased a "tirling-pin," that old-time precursor of knockers and bells, at an antique shop in Oban, and we fastened it on the front door at once, taking turns at risping it until our own nerves were shattered, and the draper's wife ran down the loaning to see if we were in need of anything. The twisted bar of iron stands out from the door and the ring is drawn up and down over a series of nicks, making a rasping noise. The lovers and ghaists in the old ballads always "tirled at the pin," you remember; that is, touched it gently.
Francesca brought us letters from Edinburgh, and what was my joy, in opening Willie's, to learn that he begged us to find a place in Fifeshire, and as near St. Rules or Strathdee as convenient; for in that case he could accept an invitation he had just received to visit his friend Robin Anstruther, at Rowardennan Castle.
"It is not the visit at the castle I wish so much, you may be sure," he wrote, "as the fact that Lady Ardmore will make everything pleasant for you. You will like my friend Robin Anstruther, who is Lady Ardmore's youngest brother, and who is going to her to be nursed and coddled after a baddish accident in the hunting-field. He is very sweet-tempered, and will get on well with Francesca"—
"I don't see the connection," rudely interrupted that spirited young person.
"I suppose she has more room on her list in the country than she had in Edinburgh; but if my remembrance serves me, she always enrolls a goodly number of victims, whether she has any immediate use for them or not."
"Mr. Beresford's manners have not been improved by his residence in Paris," observed Francesca, with resentment in her tone and delight in her eye.
"Mr. Beresford's manners are always perfect," said Salemina loyally, "and I have no doubt that this visit to Lady Ardmore will be extremely pleasant for him, though very embarrassing to us. If we are thrown into forced intimacy with a castle" (Salemina spoke of it as if it had fangs and a lashing tail), "what shall we do in this draper's hut?"
"Salemina!" I expostulated, "the bears will devour you as they did the ungrateful child in the fairy-tale. I wonder at your daring to use the word 'hut' in connection with our wee theekit hoosie!"
"They will never understand that we are doing all this for the novelty of it," she objected. "The Scottish nobility and gentry probably never think of renting a house for a joke. Imagine Lord and Lady Ardmore, the young Ardmores, Robin Anstruther, and Willie Beresford calling upon us in this sitting-room! We ourselves would have to sit in the hall and talk in through the doorway."
"All will be well," Francesca assured her soothingly. "We shall be pardoned much because we are Americans, and will not be expected to know any better. Besides, the gifted Miss Hamilton is an artist, and that covers a multitude of sins against conventionality. When the castle people 'tirl at the pin,' I will appear as the maid, if you like, following your example at Mrs. Bobby's cottage in Belvern, Pen."
"And it isn't as if there were many houses to choose from, Salemina, nor as if Bide-a-Wee Cottage were cheap," I continued. "Think of the rent we pay and keep your head high. Remember that the draper's wife says there is nothing half so comfortable in Inchcaldy, although that is twice as large a town."
"Inchcaldy! ejaculated Francesca, sitting down heavily upon the sofa and staring at me.
"Inchcaldy, my dear,—spelled caldy, but pronounced cawdy; the town where you are to take your nonsensical little fripperies to be laundered."
"Where is Inchcaldy? How far away?"
"About five miles, I believe, but a lovely road."
"Well," she exclaimed bitterly, "of course Scotland is a small, insignificant country; but, tiny as it is, it presents some liberty of choice, and why you need have pitched upon Pettybaw, and brought me here, when it is only five miles from Inchcaldy, and a lovely road besides, is more than I can understand!"
"In what way has Inchcaldy been so unhappy as to offend you?" I asked.
"It has not offended me, save that it chances to be Ronald Macdonald's parish,—that is all."
"Ronald Macdonald's parish!" we repeated automatically.
"Certainly,—you must have heard him mention Inchcaldy; and how queer he will think it that I have come to Pettybaw, under all the circumstances!"
"We do not know 'all the circumstances,'" quoted Salemina somewhat haughtily; "and you must remember, my dear, that our opportunities for speech with Mr. Macdonald have been very rare when you were present. For my part, I was always in such a tremor of anxiety during his visits lest one or both of you should descend to blows that I remember no details of his conversation. Besides, we did not choose Pettybaw; we discovered it by chance as we were driving from Strathdee to St. Rules. How were we to know that it was near this fatal Inchcaldy? If you think it best, we will hold no communication with the place, and Mr. Macdonald need never know you are here."
I thought Francesca looked rather startled at this proposition. At all events she said hastily, "Oh well, let it go; we could not avoid each other long, anyway, though it is very awkward, of course; you see, we did not part friends."
"I thought I had never seen you on more cordial terms," remarked Salemina.
"But you weren't there, answered Francesca unguardedly.
"At the station."
"The station in Edinburgh from which I started for the Highlands."
"You never said that he came to see you off."
"The matter was too unimportant for notice; and the more I think of his being here, the less I mind it, after all; and so, dull care, begone! When I first meet him on the sands or in the loaning, I shall say, 'Dear me, is it Mr. Macdonald! What brought you to our quiet hamlet?' (I shall put the responsibility on him, you know.) 'That is the worst of these small countries,—fowk are aye i' the gait! When we part forever in America, we are able to stay parted, if we wish.' Then he will say, 'Quite so, quite so; but I suppose even you, Miss Monroe, will allow that a minister may not move his church to please a lady.' 'Certainly not,' I shall reply, 'eespecially when it is Estaiblished!' Then he will laugh, and we shall be better friends for a few moments; and then I shall tell him my latest story about the Scotchman who prayed, 'Lord, I do not ask that Thou shouldst give me wealth; only show me where it is, and I will attend to the rest.'"
Salemina moaned at the delightful prospect opening before us, while I went to the piano and caroled impersonally:—
"Oh, wherefore did I cross the Forth,
And leave my love behind me?
Why did I venture to the north
With one that did not mind me?
I'm sure I've seen a better limb
And twenty better faces;
But still my mind it runs on him
When I am at the races!"
Francesca left the room at this, and closed the door behind her with such energy that the bust of Sir Walter rocked on the hall shelf. Running upstairs she locked herself in her bedroom, and came down again only to help us receive Jane Grieve, who arrived at eight o'clock.
In times of joy, Salemina, Francesca, and I occasionally have our trifling differences of opinion, but in hours of affliction we are as one flesh. An all-wise Providence sent us Jane Grieve for fear that we should be too happy in Pettybaw. Plans made in heaven for the discipline of sinful human flesh are always successful, and this was no exception.
We had sent a "machine" from the inn to meet her, and when it drew up at the door we went forward to greet the rosy little Jane of our fancy. An aged person, wearing a rusty black bonnet and shawl, and carrying what appeared to be a tin cake-box and a baby's bath-tub, descended rheumatically from the vehicle and announced herself as Miss Grieve. She was too old to call by her Christian name, too sensitive to call by her surname, so Miss Grieve she remained, as announced, to the end of the chapter, and our rosy little Jane died before she was actually born. The man took her curious luggage into the kitchen, and Salemina escorted her thither, while Francesca and I fell into each other's arms and laughed hysterically.
"Nobody need tell me that she is Mrs. M'Collop's sister's husband's niece," she whispered, "though she may possibly be somebody's grandaunt. Doesn't she remind you of Mrs. Gummidge?"
Salemina returned in a quarter of an hour, and sank dejectedly on the sofa.
"Run over to the inn, Francesca," she said, "and order bacon and eggs at eight-thirty tomorrow morning. Miss Grieve thinks we had better not breakfast at home until she becomes accustomed to the surroundings."
"Shall we allow her to become accustomed to them?" I questioned.
"She came up from Glasgow to Edinburgh for the day, and went to see Mrs. M'Collop just as our telegram arrived. She was living with an 'extremely nice family' in Glasgow, and only broke her engagement in order to try Fifeshire air for the summer; so she will remain with us as long as she is benefited by the climate."
"Can't we pay her for a month and send her away?"
"How can we? She is Mrs. M'Collop's sister's husband's niece, and we intend returning to Mrs. M'Collop. She has a nice ladylike appearance, but when she takes her bonnet off she looks seventy years old."
"She ought always to keep it off, then," returned Francesca, "for she looked eighty with it on. We shall have to soothe her last moments, of course, and pay her funeral expenses. Did you offer her a cup of tea and show her the box-bed?"
"Yes; she said she was muckle obleeged to me, but the coals were so poor and hard she couldna batter them up to start a fire the nicht, and she would try the box-bed to see if she could sleep in it. I am glad to remember that it was you who telegraphed for her, Penelope."
"Let there be no recriminations," I responded; "let us stand shoulder to shoulder in this calamity,—isn't there a story called 'Calamity Jane?' We might live at the inn, and give her the cottage for a summer residence, but I utterly refuse to be parted from our cat and the 1602 lintel."
After I have once described Miss Grieve I shall not suffer her to begloom these pages as she did our young lives. She is so exactly like her kind in America that she cannot be looked upon as a national type. Everywhere we go we see fresh, fair-haired, sonsie lassies; why should we have been visited with this affliction, we who have no courage in a foreign land to rid ourselves of it?
She appears at the door of the kitchen with some complaint, and stands there talking to herself in a depressing murmur until she arrives at the next grievance. Whenever we hear this, which is whenever we are in the sitting-room, we amuse ourselves by chanting lines of melancholy poetry which correspond to the sentiments she seems to be uttering. It is the only way the infliction can be endured, for the sitting-room is so small we cannot keep the door closed habitually. The effect of this plan is something like the following:—
She. "The range has sic a bad draft I canna mak' the fire draw!"
We."But I'm ower auld for the tears to start,
An'sae the sighs maun blaw!"
She. "The clock i' the hall doesna strike. I have to get oot o' my bed to see the time."
We."The broken hairt it kens
Nae second spring again!"
She. "There are not eneuch jugs i' the hoose."
We."I'm downright dizzy wi' the thought,—
In troth I'm like to greet!"
She. "The sink drain is na recht."
We."An' it's oh! to win awa', awa',
An' it's oh! to win awa'!"
She. "I canna thole a box-bed!"
We."Ay, waukin' O
Waukin' O an' weary.
Sleep I can get nane,
Ay waukin' O!"
She. "It's fair insultin' to rent a hoose wi' so few convenience."
We."An' I'm ower auld to fish ony mair,
An' I hinna the chance to droon."
She. "The work is fair sickenin' i' this hoose, an' a' for ane puir body to do by her lane."
We."How can ye chant, ye little birds,
An' I sae weary, fu' o' care?"
She. "Ah, but that was a fine family I lived wi' in Glasgy; an' it's a wearifu' day's work I've had the day."
We."Oh, why was I spared to cry, wae's me!"
She. "Why dinna they leave floo'rs i' the garden, makin' sic a mess i' the hoose wi' 'em? It's not for the knowin' what they will be after next!"
We."Oh, waly waly up the bank.
And waly waly doon the brae!"
Miss Grieve's plaints never grow less, though we are sometimes at a loss for appropriate quotations to match them. The poetic interpolations are introduced merely to show the general spirit of her conversation. They take the place of her sighs, which are by their nature unprintable. Many times each day she is wont to sink into one low chair, and, extending her feet in another, close her eyes and murmur undistinguishable plaints which come to us in a kind of rhythmic way. She has such a shaking right hand we have been obliged to give up coffee and have tea, as the former beverage became too unsettled on its journey from the kitchen to the breakfast-table. She says she kens she is a guid cook, though salf-praise is sma' racommendation (sma' as it is she will get no other!); but we have little opportunity to test her skill, as she prepares only our breakfasts of eggs and porridge. Visions of home-made goodies had danced before our eyes, but as the hall clock doesna strike she is unable to rise at any exact hour, and as the range draft is bad, and the coals too hard to batter up vi' a hatchet, we naturally have to content ourselves with the baker's loaf.
And this is a truthful portrait of "Calamity Jane," our one Pettybaw grievance.