Penelope's Experiences in Scotland by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part First--In Town.
Chapter II. Edina, Scotia's Darling Seat.
The weather that greeted us on our unheralded arrival in Scotland was of the precise sort offered by Edinburgh to her unfortunate queen, when,
`After a youth by woes o'ercast, After a thousand sorrows past, The lovely Mary once again Set foot upon her native plain.'
John Knox records of those memorable days: `The very face of heaven did manifestlie speak what comfort was brought to this country with hir--to wit, sorrow, dolour, darkness and all impiety--for in the memorie of man never was seen a more dolorous face of the heavens than was seen at her arryvall . . . the myst was so thick that skairse micht onie man espy another; and the sun was not seyn to shyne two days befoir nor two days after.'
We could not see Edina's famous palaces and towers because of the haar, that damp, chilling, drizzling, dripping fog or mist which the east wind summons from the sea; but we knew that they were there, shrouded in the heart of that opaque, mysterious greyness, and that before many hours our eyes would feast upon their beauty.
Perhaps it was the weather, but I could think of nothing but poor Queen Mary! She had drifted into my imagination with the haar, so that I could fancy her homesick gaze across the water as she murmured, `Adieu, ma chere France! Je ne vous verray jamais plus!'- -could fancy her saying as in Allan Cunningham's verse:-
`The sun rises bright in France, And fair sets he; But he hath tint the blithe blink he had In my ain countree.'
And then I recalled Mary's first good-night in Edinburgh: that `serenade of 500 rascals with vile fiddles and rebecks'; that singing, `in bad accord,' of Protestant psalms by the wet crowd beneath the palace windows, while the fires on Arthur's Seat shot flickering gleams of welcome through the dreary fog. What a lullaby for poor Mary, half Frenchwoman and all Papist!
It is but just to remember the `indefatigable and undissuadable' John Knox's statement, `the melody lyked her weill, and she willed the same to be continewed some nightis after.' For my part, however, I distrust John Knox's musical feeling, and incline sympathetically to the Sieur de Brantome's account, with its `vile fiddles' and `discordant psalms,' although his judgment was doubtless a good deal depressed by what he called the si grand brouillard that so dampened the spirits of Mary's French retinue.
Ah well, I was obliged to remember, in order to be reasonably happy myself, that Mary had a gay heart, after all; that she was but nineteen; that, though already a widow, she did not mourn her young husband as one who could not be comforted; and that she must soon have been furnished with merrier music than the psalms, for another of the sour comments of the time is, `Our Queen weareth the dule [weeds], but she can dance daily, dule and all!'
These were my thoughts as we drove through invisible streets in the Edinburgh haar, turned into what proved next day to be a Crescent, and drew up to an invisible house with a visible number 22 gleaming over a door which gaslight transformed into a probability. We alighted, and though we could scarcely see the driver's outstretched hand, he was quite able to discern a half-crown, and demanded three shillings.
The noise of our cab had brought Mrs. M'Collop to the door,--good (or at least pretty good) Mrs. M'Collop, to whose apartments we had been commended by English friends who had never occupied them.
Dreary as it was without, all was comfortable within-doors, and a cheery (one-and-sixpenny) fire crackled in the grate. Our private drawing-room was charmingly furnished, and so large that, notwithstanding the presence of a piano, two sofas, five small tables, cabinets, desks, and chairs,--not forgetting a dainty five- o'clock tea equipage,--we might have given a party in the remaining space.
"If this is a typical Scotch lodging, I like it; and if it is Scotch hospitality to lay the cloth and make the fire before it is asked for, then I call it simply Arabian in character!" and Salemina drew off her damp gloves, and extended her hands to the blaze.
"And isn't it delightful that the bill doesn't come in for a whole week?" asked Francesca. "We have only our English experiences on which to found our knowledge, and all is delicious mystery. The tea may be a present from Mrs. M'Collop, and the sugar may not be an extra; the fire may be included in the rent of the apartment, and the piano may not be taken away to-morrow to enhance the attractions of the dining-room floor." (It was Francesca, you remember, who had `warstled' with the itemised accounts at Smith's Private Hotel in London, and she who was always obliged to turn pounds, shillings, and pence into dollars and cents before she could add or subtract.)
"Come and look at the flowers in my bedroom," I called, "four great boxes full! Mr. Beresford must have ordered the carnations, because he always does; but where did the roses come from, I wonder?"
I rang the bell, and a neat white-aproned maid appeared.
"Who brought these flowers, please?"
"I cudna say, mam."
"Thank you; will you be good enough to ask Mrs. M'Collop?"
In a moment she returned with the message, "There will be a letter in the box, mam."
"It seems to me the letter should be in the box now, if it is ever to be," I thought, and I presently drew this card from among the fragrant buds:-
`Lady Baird sends these Scotch roses as a small return for the pleasure she has received from Miss Hamilton's pictures. Lady Baird will give herself the pleasure of calling to-morrow; meantime she hopes that Miss Hamilton and her party will dine with her some evening this week.'
"How nice!" exclaimed Salemina.
"The celebrated Miss Hamilton's undistinguished party presents its humble compliments to Lady Baird," chanted Francesca, "and having no engagements whatever, and small hope of any, will dine with her on any and every evening she may name. Miss Hamilton's party will wear its best clothes, polish its mental jewels, and endeavour in every possible way not to injure the gifted Miss Hamilton's reputation among the Scottish nobility."
I wrote a hasty note of thanks to Lady Baird, and rang the bell.
"Can I send a message, please?" I asked the maid.
"I cudna say, mam."
"Will you be good enough to ask Mrs. M'Collop, please?"
"The Boots will tak' it at seeven o'clock, mam."
"Thank you; is Fotheringay Crescent near here?"
"I cudna say, mam."
"Thank you; what is your name, please?"
I waited in well-grounded anxiety, for I had no idea that she knew her name, or that if she had ever heard it, she could say it; but, to my surprise, she answered almost immediately, "Susanna Crum, mam!"
What a joy it is in a vexatious world, where things `gang aft agley,' to find something absolutely right.
If I had devoted years to the subject, having the body of Susanna Crum before my eyes every minute of the time for inspiration, Susanna Crum is what I should have named that maid. Not a vowel could be added, not a consonant omitted. I said so when first I saw her, and weeks of intimate acquaintance only deepened my reverence for the parental genius that had so described her to the world.