Penelope's Experiences in Scotland by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part First--In Town.
Chapter V. We emulate the Jackdaw.
Invitations had been pouring in upon us since the delivery of our letters of introduction, and it was now the evening of our debut in Edinburgh society. Francesca had volunteered to perform the task of leaving cards, ordering a private victoria for the purpose, and arraying herself in purple and fine linen.
"Much depends upon the first impression," she had said. "Miss Hamilton's `party' may not be gifted, but it is well-dressed. My hope is that some of our future hostesses will be looking from the second-story front-windows. If they are, I can assure them in advance that I shall be a national advertisement."
It is needless to remark that as it began to rain heavily as she was leaving the house, she was obliged to send back the open carriage, and order, to save time, one of the public cabs from the stand in the Terrace.
"Would you mind having the lamiter, being first in line?" asked Susanna of Salemina, who had transmitted the command.
When Salemina fails to understand anything, the world is kept in complete ignorance.--Least of all would she stoop to ask a humble maidservant to translate the vernacular of the country; so she replied affably, "Certainly, Susanna, that is the kind we always prefer. I suppose it is covered?"
Francesca did not notice, until her coachman alighted to deliver the first letter and cards, that he had one club foot and one wooden leg; it was then that the full significance of `lamiter' came to her. He was covered, however, as Salemina had supposed, and the occurrence gave us a precious opportunity of chaffing that dungeon of learning. He was tolerably alert and vigorous, too, although he certainly did not impart elegance to a vehicle, and he knew every street in the court end of Edinburgh, and every close and wynd in the Old Town. On this our first meeting with him, he faltered only when Francesca asked him last of all to drive to `Kildonan House, Helmsdale'; supposing, not unnaturally, that it was as well known an address as Morningside House, Tipperlinn, whence she had just come. The lamiter had never heard of Kildonan House nor of Helmsdale, and he had driven in the streets of Auld Reekie for thirty years. None of the drivers whom he consulted could supply any information; Susanna Crum cudna say that she had ever heard of it, nor could Mrs. M'Collop, nor could Miss Diggity-Dalgety. It was reserved for Lady Baird to explain that Helmsdale was two hundred and eighty miles north, and that Kildonan House was ten miles from the Helmsdale railway station, so that the poor lamiter would have had a weary drive even had he known the way. The friends who had given us letters to Mr. and Mrs. Jameson-Inglis (Jimmyson-Ingals) must have expected us either to visit John o' Groats on the northern border, and drop in on Kildonan House en route, or to send our note of introduction by post and await an invitation to pass the summer. At all events, the anecdote proved very pleasing to our Edinburgh acquaintances. I hardly know whether, if they should visit America, they would enjoy tales of their own stupidity as hugely as they did the tales of ours, but they really were very appreciative in this particular, and it is but justice to ourselves to say that we gave them every opportunity for enjoyment.
But I must go back to our first grand dinner in Scotland. We were dressed at quarter-past seven, when, in looking at the invitation again, we discovered that the dinner-hour was eight o'clock, not seven-thirty. Susanna did not happen to know the exact approximate distance to Fotheringay Crescent, but the maiden Boots affirmed that it was only two minutes' drive, so we sat down in front of the fire to chat.
It was Lady Baird's birthday feast to which we had been bidden, and we had done our best to honour the occasion. We had prepared a large bouquet tied with the Maclean tartan (Lady Baird is a Maclean), and had printed in gold letters on one of the ribbons, `Another for Hector,' the battle-cry of the clan. We each wore a sprig of holly, because it is the badge of the family, while I added a girdle and shoulder-knot of tartan velvet to my pale green gown, and borrowed Francesca's emerald necklace,--persuading her that she was too young to wear such jewels in the old country.
Francesca was miserably envious that she had not thought of tartans first. "You may consider yourself `geyan fine,' all covered over with Scotch plaid, but I wouldn't be so `kenspeckle' for worlds!" she said, using expressions borrowed from Mrs. M'Collop; "and as for disguising your nationality, do not flatter yourself that you look like anything but an American. I forgot to tell you the conversation I overheard in the tram this morning, between a mother and daughter, who were talking about us, I dare say. `Have they any proper frocks for so large a party, Bella?' asked the mother.
"'I thought I explained in the beginning, mamma, that they are Americans.'
"'Still, you know they are only travelling,--just passing through, as it were; they may not be familiar with our customs, and we do want our party to be a smart one.'
"'Wait until you see them, mamma, and you will probably feel like hiding your diminished head! It is my belief that if an American lady takes a half-hour journey in a tram she carries full evening dress and a diamond necklace, in case anything should happen on the way. I am not in the least nervous about their appearance. I only hope that they will not be too exuberant; American girls are so frightfully vivacious and informal, I always feel as if I were being taken by the throat!'"
"A picturesque, though rather vigorous expression; however, it does no harm to be perfectly dressed," said Salemina consciously, putting a steel embroidered slipper on the fender and settling the holly in the silver folds of her gown; "then when they discover that we are all well bred, and that one of us is intelligent, it will be the more credit to the country that gave us birth."
"Of course it is impossible to tell what country did give you birth," retorted Francesca, "but that will only be to your advantage--away from home!"
Francesca is inflexibly, almost aggressively American, but Salemina is a citizen of the world. If the United States should be involved in a war, I am confident that Salemina would be in front with the other Gatling guns, for in that case a principle would be at stake; but in all lesser matters she is extremely unprejudiced. She prefers German music, Italian climate, French dressmakers, English tailors, Japanese manners, and American--American something--I have forgotten just what; it is either the ice-cream soda or the form of government,--I can't remember which.
"I wonder why they named it `Fotheringay' Crescent," mused Francesca. "Some association with Mary Stuart, of course. Poor, poor, pretty lady! A free queen only six years, and think of the number of beds she slept in, and the number of trees she planted; we have already seen, I am afraid to say how many. When did she govern, when did she scheme, above all when did she flirt, with all this racing and chasing over the country? Mrs. M'Collop calls Anne of Denmark a `sad scattercash' and Mary an `awfu' gadabout,' and I am inclined to agree with her. By the way, when she was making my bed this morning, she told me that her mother claimed descent from the Stewarts of Appin, whoever they may be. She apologised for Queen Mary's defects as if she were a distant family connection. If so, then the famous Stuart charm has been lost somewhere, for Mrs M'Collop certainly possesses no alluring curves of temperament."
"I am going to select some distinguished ancestors this very minute, before I go to my first Edinburgh dinner," said I decidedly. "It seems hard that ancestors should have everything to do with settling our nationality and our position in life, and we not have a word to say. How nice it would be to select one's own after one had arrived at years of discretion, or to adopt different ones according to the country one chanced to be visiting! I am going to do it; it is unusual, but there must be a pioneer in every good movement. Let me think: do help me, Salemina! I am a Hamilton to begin with; I might be descended from the logical Sir William himself, and thus become the idol of the university set!"
"He died only about thirty years ago, and you would have to be his daughter: that would never do," said Salemina. "Why don't you take Thomas Hamilton, Earl of Melrose and Haddington? He was Secretary of State, King's Advocate, Lord President of the Court of Session, and all sorts of fine things. He was the one King James used to call `Tam o' the Cowgate'!"
"Perfectly delightful! I don't care so much about his other titles, but `Tam o' the Cowgate' is irresistible. I will take him. He was my--what was he?"
"He was at least your great-great-great-great-grandfather; that is a safe distance. Then there's that famous Jenny Geddes, who flung her fauld-stule at the Dean in St. Giles',--she was a Hamilton too, if you fancy her!"
"Yes, I'll take her with pleasure," I responded thankfully. "Of course I don't know why she flung the stool,--it may have been very reprehensible; but there is always good stuff in stool-flingers; it's the sort of spirit one likes to inherit in diluted form. Now, whom will you take?"
"I haven't even a peg on which to hang a Scottish ancestor," said Salemina disconsolately.
"Oh, nonsense! think harder. Anybody will do as a starting-point; only you must be honourable and really show relationship, as I did with Jenny and Tam."
"My aunt Mary-Emma married a Lindsay," ventured Salemina hesitatingly.
"That will do," I answered delightedly.
"'The Gordons gay in English blude They wat their hose and shoon; The Lindsays flew like fire aboot Till a' the fray was dune.'
You can play that you are one of the famous `licht Lindsays,' and you can look up the particular ancestor in your big book. Now, Francesca, it's your turn!"
"I am American to the backbone," she declared, with insufferable dignity. "I do not desire any foreign ancestors."
"Francesca!" I expostulated. "Do you mean to tell me that you can dine with a lineal descendant of Sir Fitzroy Donald Maclean, Baronet, of Duart and Morven, and not make any effort to trace your genealogy back further than your parents?"
"If you goad me to desperation," she answered, "I will wear an American flag in my hair, declare that my father is a Red Indian, or a pork-packer, and talk about the superiority of our checking system and hotels all the evening. I don't want to go, any way. It is sure to be stiff and ceremonious, and the man who takes me in will ask me the population of Chicago and the amount of wheat we exported last year,--he always does."
"I can't see why he should," said I. "I am sure you don't look as if you knew."
"My looks have thus far proved no protection," she replied sadly. "Salemina is so flexible, and you are so dramatic, that you enter into all these experiences with zest. You already more than half believe in that Tam o' the Cowgate story. But there'll be nothing for me in Edinburgh society; it will be all clergymen--"
"Ministers" interjected Salemina.
--"all ministers and professors. My Redfern gowns will be unappreciated, and my Worth evening frocks worse than wasted!"
"There are a few thousand medical students," I said encouragingly, "and all the young advocates, and a sprinkling of military men--they know Worth frocks."
"And," continued Salemina bitingly, "there will always be, even in an intellectual city like Edinburgh, a few men who continue to escape all the developing influences about them, and remain commonplace, conventional manikins, devoted to dancing and flirting. Never fear, they will find you!"
This sounds harsh, but nobody minds Salemina, least of all Francesca, who well knows that she is the apple of that spinster's eye. But at this moment Susanna opens the door (timorously, as if there might be a panther behind it) and announces the cab (in the same tone in which she would announce the beast); we pick up our draperies, and are whirled off by the lamiter to dine with the Scottish nobility.