Penelope's Progress/Chapter 17
"O lang, lang may the ladyes sit
Wi' their face into their hand,
Before they see Sir Patrick Spens
Come sailing to the strand."
Sir Patrick Spens.
We forced our toes into the crevices of the wall and peeped stealthily over the top. Two boys of eight or ten years, with two younger children, were busily engaged in building a castle. A great pile of stones had been hauled to the spot, evidently for the purpose of mending the wall, and these were serving as rich material for sport. The oldest of the company, a bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked boy in an Eton jacket and broad white collar, was obviously commander-in-chief; and the next in size, whom he called Rafe, was a laddie of eight, in kilts. These two looked as if they might be scions of the aristocracy, while Dandie and the Wrig were fat little yokels of another sort. The miniature castle must have been the work of several mornings, and was worthy of the respectful but silent admiration with which we gazed upon it; but as the last stone was placed in the tower, the master builder looked up and spied our interested eyes peering at him over the wall. We were properly abashed and ducked our heads discreetly at once, but were reassured by hearing him run rapidly toward us, calling, "Stop, if you please! Have you anything on just now,—are you busy?"
We answered that we were quite at leisure.
"Then would you mind coming in to help us play 'Sir Patrick Spens?' There aren't enough of us to do it nicely."
This confidence was touching, and luckily it was not in the least misplaced. Playing "Sir Patrick Spens" was exactly in our line, little as he suspected it.
"Come and help?" I said. "Simply delighted! Do come, Fanny dear. How can we get over the wall?"
"I'll show you the good broken place!" cried Sir Apple-Cheek; and following his directions we scrambled through, while Rafe took off his Highland bonnet ceremoniously and handed us down to earth.
"Hurrah! now it will be something like fun! Do you know 'Sir Patrick Spens'?"
"Every word of it. Don't you want us to pass an examination before you allow us in the game?"
"No," he answered gravely; "it's a great help, of course, to know it, but it isn't necessary. I keep the words in my pocket to prompt Dandie, and the Wrig can only say two lines, she's so little." (Here he produced some tattered leaves torn from a book of ballads.) "We've done it many a time, but this is a new Dunfermline Castle, and we are trying the play in a different way. Rafe is the king, and Dandie is the 'eldern knight,'—you remember him?"
"Certainly; he sat at the king's right knee."
"Yes, yes, that's the one! Then Rafe is Sir Patrick part of the time, and I the other part, because everybody likes to be him; but there's nobody left for the 'lords o' Noroway' or the sailors, and the Wrig is the only maiden to sit on the shore, and she always forgets to comb her hair and weep at the right time."
The forgetful and placid Wrig (I afterwards learned that this is a Scots word for the youngest bird in the nest) was seated on the grass, with her fat hands full of pink thyme and white wild woodruff. The sun shone on her curly flaxen head. She wore a dark blue cotton frock with white dots, and a short-sleeved pinafore; and though she was utterly useless from a dramatic point of view, she was the sweetest little Scotch dumpling I ever looked upon. She had been tried and found wanting in most of the principal parts of the ballad, but when left out of the performance altogether she was wont to scream so lustily that all Crummylowe rushed to her assistance.
"Now let us practice a bit to see if we know what we are going to do," said Sir Apple-Cheek. "Rafe, you can be Sir Patrick this time. The reason why we all like to be Sir Patrick," he explained, turning to me, "is that the lords o' Noroway say to him,—
'Ye Scottishmen spend a' our King's gowd,
And a' our Queenis fee;'
and then he answers,—
'Ye lee! ye lee! ye leers loud,
Fu' loudly do ye lee!'
and a lot of splendid things like that. Well, I'll be the king," and accordingly he began:—
"The King sits in Dunfermline tower,
Drinking the bluid-red wine.
'O whaur will I get a skeely skipper
To sail this new ship o' mine?'"
A dead silence ensued, whereupon the king said testily, "Now, Dandie, you never remember you're the eldern knight; go on!" Thus reminded, Dandie recited:—
"O up and spake an eldern knight
Sat at the King's right knee,
'Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor
That ever sailed the sea.'"
"Now I'll write my letter," said the king, who was endeavoring to make himself comfortable in his somewhat contracted tower.
"The King has written a braid letter
And sealed it with his hand;
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens,
Was walking on the strand.
Read the letter out loud, Rafe, and then you'll remember what to do."
"'To Noroway! to Noroway!
To Noroway on the faem!
The King's daughter of Noroway,
'Tis thou maun bring her hame,'"
"Now do the next part!"
"I can't; I'm going to chuck up that next part. I wish you'd do Sir Pat until it comes to 'Ye lee! ye lee!'"
"No, that won't do, Rafe. We have to mix up everybody else, but it 's too bad to spoil Sir Patrick."
"Well, I'll give him to you, then, and be the king. I don't mind so much now that we've got such a good tower; and why can't I stop up there even after the ship sets sail, and look out over the sea with a telescope? That's the way Elizabeth did the time she was king."
"You can stay till you have to come down and be a dead Scots lord. I'm not going to lie there as I did last time, with nobody but the Wrig for a Scots lord, and her forgetting to be dead!"
Sir Apple-Cheek then essayed the hard part "chucked up" by Rafe. It was rather difficult, I confess, as the first four lines were in pantomime and required great versatility:—
"The first word that Sir Patrick read,
Fu' loud, loud laughéd he;
The neist word that Sir Patrick read,
The tear blinded his e'e."
These conflicting emotions successfully simulated, Sir Patrick resumed:—
"'O wha is he has dune this deed,
And tauld the King o' me,—
To send us out, at this time o' the year,
To sail upon the sea?'"
Then the king stood up in the unstable tower and shouted his own orders:—
"'Be it wind, be it weet, be it hail, be it sleet,
Our ship maun sail the faem;
The King's daughter o' Noroway,
'Tis we maun fetch her hame.'"
"Can't we rig the ship a little better?" demanded our stage manager at this juncture. "It isn't half as good as the tower."
Ten minutes' hard work, in which we assisted, produced something a trifle more nautical and seaworthy than the first ship. The ground with a few boards spread upon it was the deck. Tarpaulin sheets were arranged on sticks to represent sails, and we located the vessel so cleverly that two slender trees shot out of the middle of it and served as the tall topmasts.
"Now let us make believe that we've hoisted our sails on 'Mononday morn' and been in Noroway 'weeks but only twae,'" said our leading man; "and your time has come now," turning to us.
We felt indeed that it had; but plucking up sufficient courage for the lords o' Noroway, we cried accusingly,—
"'Ye Scottishmen spend a' our King's gowd.
And a' our Queenis fee!'"
Oh, but Sir Apple-Cheek was glorious as he roared virtuously:—
"'Ye lee! ye lee! ye leers loud,
Fu' loudly do ye lee!
'For I brocht as much white monie
As gane my men and me,
An' I brocht a half-fou o' gude red gowd
Out ower the sea wi' me.
'But betide me weil, betide me wae,
This day I'se leave the shore;
And never spend my King's monie
'Mong Noroway dogs no more.
'Make ready, make ready, my merry men a',
Our gude ship sails the morn.'
Now you be the sailors, please!"
Glad to be anything but Noroway dogs, we recited obediently:—
"'Now, ever alake, my master dear,
I fear a deadly storm!
And if ye gang to sea, master,
I fear we'll come to harm.
We added much to the effect of this stanza by flinging ourselves on the turf and embracing Sir Patrick's knees, with which touch of melodrama he was enchanted.
Then came a storm so terrible that I can hardly trust myself to describe its fury. The entire corps dramatique personated the elements, and tore the gallant ship in twain, while Sir Patrick shouted in the teeth of the gale,—
"'O whaur will I get a gude sailor
To tak' my helm in hand.
Till I get up to the tall topmast
To see if I can spy land?'"
I knew the words a trifle better than Francesca, and thus succeeded in forestalling her as the fortunate hero:—
"'O here am I, a sailor gude,
To tak' the helm in hand,
Till you go up to the tall topmast;
But I fear ye'll ne'er spy land.'"
And the heroic sailor was right, for
"He hadna gone a step, a step,
A step but only ane,
When a bout flew out o' our goodly ship,
And the saut sea it came in."
Then we fetched a web o' the silken claith, and anither o' the twine, as our captain bade us; we wapped them into our ship's side and letna the sea come in; but in vain, in vain. Laith were the gude Scots lords to weet their cork-heeled shune, but they did, and wat their hats abune; for the ship sank in spite of their despairing efforts,
"And mony was the gude lord's son
That never mair cam' hame."
Francesca and I were now obliged to creep from under the tarpaulins and personate the disheveled ladies on the strand.
"Will your hair come down?" asked the manager gravely.
"It will and shall," we rejoined; and it did.
"The ladies wrang their fingers white,
The maidens tore their hair."
"Do tear your hair, Jessie! It's the only thing you have to do, and you never do it on time!"
The Wrig made ready to howl with offended pride, but we soothed her, and she tore her yellow curls with her chubby hands.
"And lang, lang may the maidens sit
Wi' their gowd kaims i' their hair,
A waitin' for their ain dear luves,
For them they'll see nae mair.
I did a bit of sobbing here that would have been a credit to Sarah Siddons.
"Splendid! Grand!" cried Sir Patrick, as he stretched himself fifty fathoms below the imaginary surface, and gave explicit ante-mortem directions to the other Scots lords to spread themselves out in like manner.
"Half ower, half ower to Aberdour,
'Tis fifty fathoms deep,
And there lies gude Sir Patrick Spens,
Wi' the Scots lords at his feet."
"Oh, it is grand!" he repeated jubilantly. "If I could only be the king and see it all from Dunfermline tower! Could you be Sir Patrick once, do you think, now that I have shown you how?" he asked Francesca.
"Indeed I could!" she replied, glowing with excitement (and small wonder) at being chosen for the principal rôle.
"The only trouble is that you do look awfully like a girl in that white frock."
Francesca appeared rather ashamed at her natural disqualifications for the part of Sir Patrick.
"If I had only worn my long black cloak!" she sighed.
"Oh, I have an idea!" cried the boy. "Hand her the minister's gown from the hedge, Rafe. You see, Mistress Ogilvie of Crummylowe lent us this old gown for a sail; she's doing something to a new one, and this was her pattern."
Francesca slipped it on over her white serge, and the Pettybaw parson should have seen her with the long veil of her dark locks floating over his ministerial garment.
"It seems a pity to put up your hair," said the stage manager critically, "because you look so jolly and wild with it down, but I suppose you must; and will you have Rafe's bonnet?"
Yes, she would have Rafe's bonnet; and when she perched it on the side of her head and paced the deck restlessly, while the black gown floated behind in the breeze, we all cheered with enthusiasm, and, having rebuilt the ship, began the play again from the moment of the gale. The wreck was more horribly realistic than ever, this time, because of our rehearsal; and when I crawled from under the masts and sails to seat myself on the beach with the Wrig, I had scarcely strength enough to remove the cooky from her hand and set her a-combing her curly locks.
When our new Sir Patrick stretched herself on the ocean bed, she fell with a despairing wail; her gown spread like a pall over the earth, the Highland bonnet came off, and her hair floated over a haphazard pillow of Jessie's wild flowers.
"Oh, it is fine, that part; but from here is where it always goes wrong!" cried the king from the castle tower. "It's too bad to take the maidens away from the strand where they look so bonnie, and Rafe is splendid as the gude sailor, but Dandie looks so silly as one little dead Scots lord; if we only had one more person, young or old, if he was ever so stupid!"
"Would I do?"
This unexpected offer came from behind one of the trees that served as topmasts, and at the same moment there issued from that delightfully secluded retreat Ronald Macdonald, in knickerbockers and a golf cap.
Suddenly as this apparition came, there was no lack of welcome on the children's part. They shouted his name in glee, embraced his legs, and pulled him about like affectionate young bears. Confusion reigned for a moment, while Sir Patrick rose from her sea grave all in a mist of floating hair, from which hung impromptu garlands of pink thyme and green grasses.
"Allow me to do the honors, please, Jamie," said Mr. Macdonald, when he could escape from the children's clutches. "Have you been properly presented? I suppose not. Ladies, the young Master of Rowardennan. Jamie, Miss Hamilton and Miss Monroe from the United States of America." Sir Apple-Cheek bowed respectfully. "Let me present the Honorable Ralph Ardmore, also from the castle, together with Dandie Dinmont and the Wrig from Crummylowe. Sir Patrick, it is indeed a pleasure to see you again. Must you take off my gown? I had thought it was past use, but it never looked so well before."
The counterfeit presentment of Sir Patrick vanished as the long drapery flew to the hedge whence it came, and there remained only an offended young goddess, who swung her dark mane tempestuously to one side, plaited it in a thick braid, tossed it back again over her white serge shoulder, and crowded on her sailor hat with unnecessary vehemence.
"Yes, my gown; whose else could you more appropriately borrow, pray? Mistress Ogilvie of Crummylowe presses, sponges, and darns my bachelor wardrobe, but I confess I never suspected that she rented it out for theatrical purposes. I have been calling upon you in Pettybaw: Lady Ardmore was there at the same time. Finding but one of the three American Graces at home, I stayed a few moments only, and am now returning to Inchcaldy by way of Crummylowe." Here he plucked the gown off the hedge and folded it carefully.
"Can't we keep it for a sail, Mr. Macdonald?" pleaded Jamie. "Mistress Ogilvie said it wasn't any more good."
"When Mistress Ogilvie made that remark," replied the Reverend Ronald, "she had no idea that it would ever touch the shoulders of the martyred Sir Patrick Spens. Now I happen to love"—
Francesca hung out a scarlet flag in each cheek, and I was about to say, "Don't mind me!" when he continued:—
"As I was saying, I happen to love 'Sir Patrick Spens,'—it is my favorite ballad: so, with your permission, I will take the gown, and you can find something less valuable for a sail!"
I could never understand just why Francesca was so annoyed at being discovered in our innocent game. Of course she was prone on Mother Earth and her tresses were much disheveled, but she looked lovely, after all, in comparison with me, the humble "supe" and lightning-change artist; yet I kept my temper,—at least I kept it until the Reverend Ronald observed, after escorting us through the gap in the wall, "By the way, Miss Hamilton, there was a gentleman from Paris at your cottage, and he is walking down the road to meet you."
Walking down the road to meet me, forsooth! Have ministers no brains? The Reverend Mr. Macdonald had wasted five good minutes with his observations, introductions, explanations, felicitations, and adorations, and meantime, regardez-moi, messieurs et mesdames, s'il vous plait! I have been a Noroway dog, a ship-builder, and a gallant sailorman; I have been a gurly sea and a towering gale; I have crawled from beneath broken anchors, topsails, and mizzenmasts to a strand where I have been a suffering lady plying a gowd kaim. My skirt of blue drill has been twisted about my person until it trails in front; my collar is wilted, my cravat untied; I have lost a stud and a sleeve-link; my hair is in a tangled mass, my face is scarlet and dusty—and a gentleman from Paris is walking down the road to meet me!