Penelope's Irish Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter XIV. Mrs. Mullarkey's iligant locks.
'Where spreads the beautiful water to gay or cloudy skies, And the purple peaks of Killarney from ancient woods arise.' William Allingham.
Mrs. Mullarkey cannot spoil this paradise for us. When I wake in the morning, the fuchsia-tree outside my window is such a glorious mass of colour that it distracts my eyes from the unwashed glass. The air is still; the mountains in the far distance are clear purple; everything is fresh washed and purified for the new day. Francesca and I leave the house sleeping, and make our way to the bogs. We love to sit under a blossoming sloe-bush and see the silver pools glistening here and there in the turf cuttings, and watch the transparent vapour rising from the red-brown of the purple-shadowed bog fields. Dinnis Rooney, half awake, leisurely, silent, is moving among the stacks with his creel. How the missel thrushes sing in the woods, and the plaintive note of the curlew gives the last touch of mysterious tenderness to the scene. There is a moist, rich fragrance of meadowsweet and bog myrtle in the air; and how fresh and wild and verdant it is!
'For there's plenty to mind, sure, if on'y ye look to the grass at your feet, For 'tis thick wid the tussocks of heather, an' blossoms and herbs that smell sweet If ye tread thim; an' maybe the white o' the bog-cotton waves in the win', Like the wool ye might shear off a night-moth, an' set an ould fairy to spin; Or wee frauns, each wan stuck 'twixt two leaves on a grand little stem of its own, Lettin' on 'twas a plum on a tree.'*
As for Lough Lein itself, who could speak its loveliness, lying like a crystal mirror beneath the black Reeks of the McGillicuddy, where, in the mountain fastnesses, lie spell-bound the sleeping warriors who, with their bridles and broadswords in hand, await but the word to give Erin her own! When we glide along the surface of the lakes, on some bright day after a heavy rain; when we look down through the clear water on tiny submerged islets, with their grasses and drowned daisies glancing up at us from the blue; when we moor the boat and climb the hillsides, we are dazzled by the luxuriant beauty of it all. It hardly seems real--it is too green, too perfect, to be believed; and one thinks of some fairy drop-scene, painted by cunning-fingered elves and sprites, who might have a wee folk's way of mixing roses and rainbows, dew-drenched greens and sun-warmed yellows; showing the picture to you first all burnished, glittering and radiant, then 'veiled in mist and diamonded with showers.' We climb, climb, up, up, into the heart of the leafy loveliness; peering down into dewy dingles, stopping now and again to watch one of the countless streams as it tinkles and gurgles down an emerald ravine to join the lakes. The way is strewn with lichens and mosses; rich green hollies and arbutus surround us on every side; the ivy hangs in sweet disorder from the rocks; and when we reach the innermost recess of the glen we can find moist green jungles of ferns and bracken, a very bending, curling forest of fronds:-
'The fairy's tall palm-tree, the heath bird's fresh nest, And the couch the red deer deems the sweetest and best.'
Carrantual rears its crested head high above the other mountains, and on its summit Shon the Outlaw, footsore, weary, slept; sighing, "For once, thank God, I am above all my enemies."
You must go to sweet Innisfallen, too, and you must not be prosaic or incredulous at the boatman's stories, or turn the 'bodthered ear to them.' These are no ordinary hillsides: not only do the wee folk troop through the frond forests nightly, but great heroic figures of romance have stalked majestically along these mountain summits. Every waterfall foaming and dashing from its rocky bed in the glen has a legend in the toss and swirl of the water.
Can't you see the O'Sullivan, famous for fleetness of foot and prowess in the chase, starting forth in the cool o' the morn to hunt the red deer? His dogs sniff the heather; a splendid stag bounds across the path; swift as lightning the dogs follow the scent across moors and glens. Throughout the long day the chieftain chases the stag, until at nightfall, weary and thirsty, he loses the scent, and blows a blast on his horn to call the dogs homeward.
And then he hears a voice: "O'Sullivan, turn back!"
He looks over his shoulder to behold the great Finn McCool, central figure in centuries of romance.
"Why do you dare chase my stag?" he asks.
"Because it is the finest man ever saw," answers the chieftain composedly.
"You are a valiant man," says the hero, pleased with the reply; "and as you thirst from the long chase, I will give you to drink." So he crunches his giant heel into the rock, and forth burst the waters, seething and roaring as they do to this day; "and may the divil fly away wid me if I've spoke an unthrue word, ma'am!"
Come to Lough Lein as did we, too early for the crowd of sightseers; but when the 'long light shakes across the lakes,' the blackest arts of the tourist (and they are as black as they are many) cannot break the spell. Sitting on one of these hillsides, we heard a bugle-call taken up and repeated in delicate, ethereal echoes,--sweet enough, indeed, to be worthy of the fairy buglers who are supposed to pass the sound along their lines from crag to crag, until it faints and dies in silence. And then came the 'Lament for Owen Roe O'Neil.' We were thrilled to the very heart with the sorrowful strains; and when we issued from our leafy covert, and rounded the point of rocks from which the sound came, we found a fat man in uniform playing the bugle. 'Blank's Tours' was embroidered on his cap, and I have no doubt that he is a good husband and father, even a good citizen, but he is a blight upon the landscape, and fancy cannot breathe in his presence. The typical tourist should be encouraged within bounds, both because he is of some benefit to Ireland, and because Ireland is of inestimable benefit to him; but he should not be allowed to jeer and laugh at the legends (the gentle smile of sophisticated unbelief, with its twinkle of amusement, is unknown to and for ever beyond him); and above all, he should never be allowed to carry or to play on a concertina, for this is the unpardonable sin.
We had an adventure yesterday. We were to dine at eight o'clock at Balkilly Castle, where Dr. La Touche is staying the week-end with Lord and Lady Killbally. We had been spending an hour or two after tea in writing an Irish letter, and were a bit late in dressing. These letters, written in the vernacular, are a favourite diversion of ours when visiting in foreign lands; and they are very easily done when once you have caught the idioms, for you can always supplement your slender store of words and expressions with choice selections from native authors.
What Francesca and I wore to the Castle dinner is, alas! no longer of any consequence to the community at large. In the mysterious purposes of that third volume which we seem to be living in Ireland, Francesca's beauty and mine, her hats and frocks as well as mine, are all reduced to the background; but Salemina's toilet had cost us some thought. When she first issued from the discreet and decorous fastnesses of Salem society, she had never donned any dinner dress that was not as high at the throat and as long in the sleeves as the Puritan mothers ever wore to meeting. In England she lapsed sufficiently from the rigid Salem standard to adopt a timid compromise; in Scotland we coaxed her into still further modernities, until now she is completely enfranchised. We achieved this at considerable trouble, but do not grudge the time spent in persuasion when we see her en grande toilette. In day dress she has always been inclined ever so little to a primness and severity that suggest old-maidishness. In her low gown of pale grey, with all her silver hair waved softly, she is unexpectedly lovely,--her face softened, transformed, and magically 'brought out' by the whiteness of her shoulders and slender throat. Not an ornament, not a jewel, will she wear; and she is right to keep the nunlike simplicity of style which suits her so well, and which holds its own even in the vicinity of Francesca's proud and glowing young beauty.
On this particular evening, Francesca, who wished her to look her best, had prudently hidden her eyeglasses, for which we are now trying to substitute a silver-handled lorgnette. Two years ago we deliberately smashed her spectacles, which she had adopted at five- and-twenty.
"But they are more convenient than eye-glasses," she urged obtusely.
"That argument is beneath you, dear," we replied. "If your hair were not prematurely grey, we might permit the spectacles, hideous as they are, but a combination of the two is impossible; the world shall not convict you of failing sight when you are guilty only of petty astigmatism!"
The grey satin had been chosen for this dinner, and Salemina was dressed, with the exception of the pretty pearl-embroidered waist that has to be laced at the last moment, and had slipped on a dressing jacket to come down from her room in the second story, to be advised in some trifling detail. She looked unusually well, I thought: her eyes were bright and her cheeks flushed, as she rustled in, holding her satin skirts daintily away from the dusty carpets.
Now, from the morning of our arrival we have had trouble with the Mullarkey door-knobs, which come off continually, and lie on the floors at one side of the door or the other. Benella followed Salemina from her room, and, being in haste, closed the door with unwonted energy. She heard the well-known rattle and clang, but little suspected that, as one knob dropped outside in the hall, the other fell inside, carrying the rod of connection with it. It was not long before we heard a cry of despair from above, and we responded to it promptly.
"It's fell in on the inside, knob and all, as I always knew it would some day; and now we can't get back into the room!" said Benella.
"Oh, nonsense! We can open it with something or other," I answered encouragingly, as I drew on my gloves; "only you must hasten, for the car is at the door."
The curling iron was too large, the shoe hook too short, a lead pencil too smooth, a crochet needle too slender: we tried them all, and the door resisted all our insinuations. "Must you necessarily get in before we go?" I asked Salemina thoughtlessly.
She gave me a glance that almost froze my blood, as she replied, "The waist of my dress is in the room."
Francesca and I spent a moment in irrepressible mirth, and then summoned Mrs. Mullarkey. Whether the Irish kings could be relied upon in an emergency I do not know, but their descendants cannot. Mrs. Mullarkey had gone to the convent to see the Mother Superior about something; Mr. Mullarkey was at the Dooclone market; Peter was not to be found; but Oonah and Molly came, and also the old lady from Mullinavat, with a package of raffle tickets in her hand.
We left this small army under Benella's charge, and went down to my room for a hasty consultation.
"Could you wear any evening bodice of Francesca's?" I asked.
"Of course not. Francesca's waist measure is three inches smaller than mine."
"Could you manage my black lace dress?"
"Penelope, you know it would only reach to my ankles! No, you must go without me, and go at once. We are too new acquaintances to keep Lady Killbally's dinner waiting. Why did I come to this place like a pauper, with only one evening gown, when I should have known that if there is a castle anywhere within forty miles you always spend half your time in it!"
This slur was totally unjustified, but I pardoned it, because Salemina's temper is ordinarily perfect, and the circumstances were somewhat tragic. "If you had brought a dozen costumes, they would all be in your room at this moment," I replied; "but we must think of something. It is impossible for you to remain behind; we were invited more on your account than our own, for you are Dr. La Touche's friend, and the dinner is especially in his honour. Molly, have you a ladder?"
"Sorra a wan, ma'am."
"Could we borrow one?"
"We could not, Mrs. Beresford, ma'am."
"Then see if you can break down the door; try hard, and if you succeed I will buy you a nice new one! Part of Miss Peabody's dress is inside the room, and we shall be late to the Castle dinner."
The entire corps, with Mrs. Waterford of Mullinavat on top, cast itself on the door, which withstood the shock to perfection. Then in a moment we heard: "Weary's on it, it will not come down for us, ma'am. It's the iligant locks we do be havin' in the house; they're mortial shtrong, ma'am!"
"Strong, indeed!" exclaimed the incensed Benella, in a burst of New England wrath. "There's nothing strong about the place but the impidence of the people in it! If you had told Peter to get a carpenter or a locksmith, as I've been asking you these two weeks, it would have been all right; but you never do anything till a month after it's too late. I've no patience with such a set of doshies, dawdling around and leaving everything to go to rack and ruin!"
"Sure it was yourself that ruinated the thing," responded Molly, with spirit, for the unaccustomed word 'doshy' had kindled her quick Irish temper. "It's aisy handlin' the knob is used to, and faith it would 'a' stuck there for you a twelvemonth!"
"They will be quarrelling soon," said Salemina nervously. "Do not wait another instant; you are late enough now, and I insist on your going. Make any excuse you see fit: say I am ill, say I am dead, if you like, but don't tell the real excuse--it is too shiftless and wretched and embarrassing. Don't cry, Benella. Molly, Oonah, go downstairs to your work. Mrs. Waterford, I think perhaps you have forgotten that we have already purchased raffle tickets, and we'll not take any more for fear that we may draw the necklace. Good-bye, dears; tell Lady Killbally I shall see her to-morrow."