Penelope's Experiences in Scotland by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part Second--In the Country.
Chapter XXIV. Old songs and modern instances.
`He set her on a coal-black steed, Himself lap on behind her, An' he's awa' to the Hieland hills Whare her frien's they canna find her.'
The occupants of Bide-a-Wee Cottage awoke in anything but a Jubilee humour, next day. Willie had intended to come at nine, but of course did not appear. Francesca took her breakfast in bed, and came listlessly into the sitting-room at ten o'clock, looking like a ghost. Jean's ankle was much better--the sprain proved to be not even a strain--but her wrist was painful. It was drizzling, too, and we had promised Miss Ardmore and Miss Macrae to aid with the last Jubilee decorations, the distribution of medals at the church, and the children's games and tea on the links in the afternoon.
We have determined not to desert our beloved Pettybaw for the metropolis on this great day, but to celebrate it with the dear fowk o' Fife who had grown to be a part of our lives.
Bide-a-Wee Cottage does not occupy an imposing position in the landscape, and the choice of art fabrics at the Pettybaw draper's is small, but the moment it should stop raining we were intending to carry out a dazzling scheme of decoration that would proclaim our affectionate respect for the `little lady in black' on her Diamond Jubilee. But would it stop raining?--that was the question. The draper wasna certain that so licht a shoo'r could richtly be called rain. The village weans were yearning for the hour to arrive when they might sit on the wet golf-course and have tea; manifestly, therefore, it could not be a bad day for Scotland; but if it should grow worse, what would become of our mammoth subscription bonfire on Pettybaw Law--the bonfire that Brenda Macrae was to light, as the lady of the manor?
There were no deputations to request the honour of Miss Macrae's distinguished services on this occasion; that is not the way the self-respecting villager comports himself in Fifeshire. The chairman of the local committee, a respectable gardener, called upon Miss Macrae at Pettybaw House, and said, "I'm sent to tell ye ye're to have the pleasure an' the honour of lichtin' the bonfire the nicht! Ay, it's a grand chance ye're havin', miss, ye'll remember it as long as ye live, I'm thinkin'!"
When I complimented this rugged soul on his decoration of the triumphal arch under which the school-children were to pass, I said, "I think if her Majesty could see it, she would be pleased with our village to-day, James."
"Ay, ye're richt, miss," he replied complacently. "She'd see that Inchcawdy canna compeer wi' us; we've patronised her weel in Pettybaw!"
Truly, as Stevenson says, `he who goes fishing among the Scots peasantry with condescension for a bait will have an empty basket by evening.'
At eleven o'clock a boy arrived at Bide-a-Wee with an interesting- looking package, which I promptly opened. That dear foolish lover of mine (whose foolishness is one of the most adorable things about him) makes me only two visits a day, and is therefore constrained to send me some reminder of himself in the intervening hours, or minutes--a book, a flower, or a note. Uncovering the pretty box, I found a long, slender--something--of sparkling silver.
"What is it?" I exclaimed, holding it up. "It is too long and not wide enough for a paper-knife, although it would be famous for cutting magazines. Is it a baton? Where did Willie find it, and what can it be? There is something engraved on one side, something that looks like birds on a twig,--yes, three little birds; and see the lovely cairngorm set in the end! Oh, it has words cut in it: `To Jean: From Hynde Horn'--Goodness me! I've opened Miss Dalziel's package!"
Francesca made a sudden swooping motion, and caught box, cover, and contents in her arms.
"It is mine! I know it is mine!" she cried. "You really ought not to claim everything that is sent to the house, Penelope--as if nobody had any friends or presents but you!" and she rushed upstairs like a whirlwind.
I examined the outside wrapper, lying on the floor, and found, to my chagrin, that it did bear Miss Monroe's name, somewhat blotted by the rain; but if the box were addressed to her, why was the silver thing inscribed to Miss Dalziel? Well, Francesca would explain the mystery within the hour, unless she had become a changed being.
Fifteen minutes passed. Salemina was making Jubilee sandwiches at Pettybaw House, Miss Dalziel was asleep in her room, I was being devoured slowly by curiosity, when Francesca came down without a word, walked out of the front door, went up to the main street, and entered the village post-office without so much as a backward glance. She was a changed being, then! I might as well be living in a Gaboriau novel, I thought, and went up into my little painting and writing room to address a programme of the Pettybaw celebration to Lady Baird, watch for the glimpse of Willie coming down the loaning, and see if I could discover where Francesca went from the post-office.
Sitting down by my desk, I could find neither my wax nor my silver candlestick, my scissors nor my ball of twine. Plainly Francesca had been on one of her borrowing tours; and she had left an additional trace of herself--if one were needed--in a book of old Scottish ballads, open at `Hynde Horn.' I glanced at it idly while I was waiting for her to return. I was not familiar with the opening verses, and these were the first lines that met my eye:-
`Oh, he gave to his love a silver wand, Her sceptre of rule over fair Scotland; With three singing laverocks set thereon For to mind her of him when he was gone. And his love gave to him a gay gold ring With three shining diamonds set therein; Oh, his love gave to him this gay gold ring, Of virtue and value above all thing.'
A light dawned upon me! The silver mystery, then, was intended for a wand--and a very pretty way of making love to an American girl, too, to call it a `sceptre of rule over fair Scotland'; and the three birds were three singing laverocks `to mind her of him when he was gone'!
But the real Hynde Horn in the dear old ballad had a truelove who was not captious and capricious and cold like Francesca. His love gave him a gay gold ring--
`Of virtue and value above all thing.'
Yet stay: behind the ballad book flung heedlessly on my desk was-- what should it be but the little morocco case, empty now, in which our Francesca keeps her dead mother's engagement ring--the mother who died when she was a wee child. Truly a very pretty modern ballad to be sung in these unromantic, degenerate days!
Francesca came in at the door behind me, saw her secret reflected in my tell-tale face, saw the sympathetic moisture in my eyes, and, flinging herself into my willing arms, burst into tears.
"O Pen, dear, dear Pen, I am so miserable and so happy; so afraid that he won't come back, so frightened for fear that he will! I sent him away because there were so many lions in the path, and I didn't know how to slay them. I thought of my f-father; I thought of my c-c-country. I didn't want to live with him in Scotland, I knew that I couldn't live without him in America, and there I was! I didn't think I was s-suited to a minister, and I am not; but oh! this p-particular minister is so s-suited to me!" and she threw herself on the sofa and buried her head in the cushions.
She was so absurd even in her grief that I had hard work to keep from smiling.
"Let us talk about the lions," I said soothingly. "But when did the trouble begin? When did he speak to you?"
"After the tableau last night; but of course there had been other-- other--times--and things."
"Of course. Well?"
"He had told me a week before that he should go away for a while, that it made him too wretched to stay here just now; and I suppose that was when he got the silver wand ready for me. It was meant for the Jean of the poem, you know. Of course he would not put my own name on a gift like that."
"You don't think he had it made for Jean Dalziel in the first place?"--I asked this, thinking she needed some sort of tonic in her relaxed condition.
"You know him better than that, Penelope! I am ashamed of you! We had read Hynde Horn together ages before Jean Dalziel came; but I imagine, when we came to acting the lines, he thought it would be better to have some other king's daughter; that is, that it would be less personal. And I never, never would have been in the tableau, if I had dared refuse Lady Ardmore, or could have explained; but I had no time to think. And then, naturally, he thought by me being there as the king's daughter that--that--the lions were slain, you know; instead of which they were roaring so that I could hardly hear the orchestra."
"Francesca, look me in the eye! Do--you--love him?"
"Love him? I adore him!" she exclaimed in good clear decisive English, as she rose impetuously and paced up and down in front of the sofa. "But in the first place there is the difference in nationality."
"I have no patience with you. One would think he was a Turk, an Esquimau, or a cannibal. He is white, he speaks English, and he believes in the Christian religion. The idea of calling such a man a foreigner!"
"Oh, it didn't prevent me from loving him," she confessed, "but I thought at first it would be unpatriotic to marry him."
"Did you think Columbia could not spare you even as a rare specimen to be used for exhibition purposes?" I asked wickedly.
"You know I am not so conceited as that! No," she continued ingenuously, "I feared that if I accepted him it would look, over here, as if the home-supply of husbands were of inferior quality; and then we had such disagreeable discussions at the beginning, I simply could not bear to leave my nice new free country, and ally myself with his aeons of tiresome history. But it came to me in the night, a week ago, that after all I should hate a man who didn't love his Fatherland; and in the illumination of that new idea Ronald's character assumed a different outline in my mind. How could he love America when he had never seen it? How could I convince him that American women are the most charming in the world in any better way than by letting him live under the same roof with a good example? How could I expect him to let me love my country best unless I permitted him to love his best?"
"You needn't offer so many apologies for your infatuation, my dear," I answered dryly.
"I am not apologising for it!" she exclaimed impulsively. "Oh, if you could only keep it to yourself, I should like to tell you how I trust and admire and reverence Ronald Macdonald, but of course you will repeat everything to Willie Beresford within the hour! You think he has gone on and on loving me against his better judgment. You believe he has fought against it because of my unfitness, but that I, poor, weak, trivial thing, am not capable of deep feeling and that I shall never appreciate the sacrifices he makes in choosing me! Very well, then, I tell you plainly that if I had to live in a damp manse the rest of my life, drink tea and eat scones for breakfast, and--and buy my hats of the Inchcaldy milliner, I should still glory in the possibility of being Ronald Macdonald's wife--a possibility hourly growing more uncertain, I am sorry to say!"
"And the extreme aversion with which you began," I asked--"what has become of that, and when did it begin to turn in the opposite direction?"
"Aversion!" she cried, with convincing and unblushing candour. "That aversion was a cover, clapped on to keep my self-respect warm. I abused him a good deal, it is true, because it was so delightful to hear you and Salemina take his part. Sometimes I trembled for fear you would agree with me, but you never did. The more I criticised him, the louder you sang his praises--it was lovely! The fact is--we might as well throw light upon the whole matter, and then never allude to it again; and if you tell Willie Beresford, you shall never visit my manse, nor see me preside at my mothers' meetings, nor hear me address the infant class in the Sunday-school--the fact is, I liked him from the beginning at Lady Baird's dinner. I liked the bow he made when he offered me his arm (I wish it had been his hand); I liked the top of his head when it was bowed; I liked his arm when I took it; I liked the height of his shoulder when I stood beside it; I liked the way he put me in my chair (that showed chivalry), and unfolded his napkin (that was neat and business-like), and pushed aside all his wine-glasses but one (that was temperate); I liked the side view of his nose, the shape of his collar, the cleanness of his shave, the manliness of his tone--oh, I liked him altogether, you must know how it is, Penelope--the goodness and strength and simplicity that radiated from him. And when he said, within the first half-hour, that international alliances presented even more difficulties to the imagination than others, I felt, to my confusion, a distinct sense of disappointment. Even while I was quarrelling with him, I said to myself, `Poor darling, you cannot have him even if you should want him, so don't look at him much!'-- But I did look at him; and what is worse, he looked at me; and what is worse yet, he curled himself so tightly round my heart that if he takes himself away, I shall be cold the rest of my life!"
"Then you are really sure of your love this time, and you have never advised him to wed somebody more worthy than yourself?" I asked.
"Not I!" she replied. "I wouldn't put such an idea into his head for worlds! He might adopt it!"