Penelope's Progress/Chapter 25
"Pale and wan was she when Glenlogie gaed ben,
But red rosy grew she whene'er he sat doun."
Just here the front door banged, and a manly step sounded on the stair. Francesca sat up straight in a big chair, and dried her eyes hastily with her poor little wet ball of a handkerchief; for she knows that Willie is a privileged visitor in my studio. The door opened (it was ajar), and Ronald Macdonald strode into the room. I hope I may never have the same sense of nothingness again! To be young, pleasing, gifted, and to be regarded no more than a fly upon the wall, is death to one's self-respect.
He dropped on one knee beside Francesca and took her two hands in his without removing his gaze from her speaking face. She burned, but did not flinch under the ordeal. The color leaped into her cheeks. Love swam in her tears, but was not drowned there; it was too strong.
"Did you mean it?" he asked.
She looked at him, trembling, as she said, "I meant every word, and far, far more. I meant all that a girl can say to a man when she loves him, and wants to be everything she is capable of being to him, to his work, to his people, and to his—country."
Even this brief colloquy had been embarrassing, but I knew that worse was still to come and could not be delayed much longer, so I left the room hastily and with no attempt at apology; not that they minded my presence in the least, or observed my exit, though I was obliged to leap over Mr. Macdonald's feet in passing.
I found Mr. Beresford sitting on the stairs, in the lower hall.
"Willie, you angel, you idol, where did you find him?" I exclaimed.
"When I went into the post-office, an hour ago," he replied, "I met Francesca. She asked me for Macdonald's Edinburgh address, saying she had something that belonged to him and wished to send it after him. I offered to address the package and see that it reached him as expeditiously as possible. 'That is what I wish,' she said, with elaborate formality. 'This is something I have just discovered, something he needs very much, something he does not know he has left behind.' I did not think it best to tell her at the moment that Macdonald had not yet deserted Inchcaldy."
"Willie, you have the quickest intelligence and the most exquisite insight of any man I ever met!"
"But the fact was that I had been to see him off, and found him detained by the sudden illness of one of his elders. I rode over again to take him the little parcel. Of course I don't know what it contained; by its size and shape I should judge it might be a thimble, or a collar-button, or a sixpence; but, at all events, he must have needed the thing, for he certainly did not let the grass grow under his feet after he received it! Let us go into the sitting-room until they come down,—as they will have to, poor wretches, sooner or later; I know that I am always being brought down against my will. Salemina wants your advice about the number of her Majesty's portraits to be hung on the front of the cottage, and the number of candles to be placed in each window."
It was a half-hour later when Mr. Macdonald came into the room, and walking directly up to Salemina kissed her hand respectfully.
"Miss Salemina," he said, with evident emotion, "I want to borrow one of your national jewels for my Queen's crown."
"And what will our President say to lose a jewel from his crown?"
"Good republican rulers do not wear coronets, as a matter of principle," he argued; "but in truth I fear I am not thinking of her Majesty—God bless her! This gem is not entirely for state occasions.
'I would wear it in my bosom,
Lest my jewel I should tine.'
It is the crowning of my own life rather than that of the British Empire that engages my present thought. Will you intercede for me with Francesca's father?"
"And this is the end of all your international bickering?" Salemina asked teasingly.
"Yes," he answered; "we have buried the hatchet, signed articles of agreement, made treaties of international comity. Francesca stays over here as a kind of missionary to Scotland, so she says, or as a feminine diplomat; she wishes to be on hand to enforce the Monroe Doctrine properly, in case her government's accredited ambassadors relax in the performance of their duty."
"Salemina!" called a laughing voice outside the door. "I am won'erful lifted up. You will be a prood woman the day, for I am now Estaiblished!" and Francesca, clad in Miss Grieve's Sunday bonnet, shawl, and black cotton gloves, entered and curtsied demurely to the floor. She held, as corroborative detail, a life of John Knox in her hand, and anything more incongruous than her sparkling eyes and mutinous mouth under the melancholy head-gear can hardly be imagined.
"I am now Estaiblished," she repeated. "Div ye ken the new asseestant frae Inchcawdy pairish? I'm the mon" (a second deep curtsy here). "I trust, leddies, that ye'll mak' the maist o' your releegious preevileges, an' that ye'll be constant at the kurruk.—Have you given papa's consent, Salemina? And isn't it dreadful that he is Scotch?"
"Isn't it dreadful that she is not?" asked Mr. Macdonald. "Yet to my mind no woman in Scotland is half as lovable as she!"
"And no man in America begins to compare with him," Francesca confessed sadly. "Isn't it pitiful that out of the millions of our own countrypeople we couldn't have found somebody that would do? What do you think now, Lord Ronald Macdonald, of those dangerous international alliances?"
"You never understood that speech of mine," he replied, with prompt mendacity. "When I said that international marriages presented more difficulties to the imagination than others, I was thinking of your marriage and mine, and that, I knew from the first moment I saw you, would be extremely difficult to arrange!"