Penelope's Irish Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter XVI. Salemina has her chance.
'And what use is one's life widout chances? Ye've always a chance wid the tide.' Jane Barlow.
I was walking with Lady Fincoss, and Francesca with Miss Clondalkin, a very learned personage who has deciphered more undecipherable inscriptions than any lady in Ireland, when our eyes fell upon an unexpected tableau.
Seated on a divan in the centre of the drawing-room, in a most distinguished attitude, in unexceptionable attire, and with the rose-coloured lights making all her soft greys opalescent, was Miss Salemina Peabody. Our exclamations of astonishment were so audible that they must have reached the dining-room, for Lord Killbally did not keep the gentlemen long at their wine.
Salemina cannot tell a story quite as it ought to be told to produce an effect. She is too reserved, too concise, too rigidly conscientious. She does not like to be the centre of interest, even in a modest contretemps like being locked out of a room which contains part of her dress; but from her brief explanation to Lady Killbally, her more complete and confidential account on the way home, and Benella's graphic story when we arrived there, we were able to get all the details.
When the inside-car passed out of view with us, it appears that Benella wept tears of rage, at the sight of which Oonah and Molly trembled. In that moment of despair and remorse, her mind worked as it must always have done before the Salem priestess befogged it with hazy philosophies, understood neither by teacher nor by pupil. Peter had come back, but could suggest nothing. Benella forgot her 'science,' which prohibits rage and recrimination, and called him a great, hulking, lazy vagabone, and told him she'd like to have him in Salem for five minutes, just to show him a man with head on his shoulders.
"You call this a Christian country," she said, "and you haven't got a screwdriver, nor a bradawl, nor a monkey-wrench, nor a rat-tail file, nor no kind of a useful tool to bless yourselves with; and my Miss Peabody, that's worth ten dozen of you put together, has got to stay home from the Castle and eat warmed-up scraps served in courses, with twenty minutes' wait between 'em. Now you do as I say: take the dining-table and set it out under the window, and the carving-table on top o' that, and see how fur up it'll reach. I guess you can't stump a Salem woman by telling her there ain't no ladder."
The two tables were finally in position; but there still remained nine feet of distance to that key of the situation, Salemina's window, and Mrs. Waterford's dressing-table went on top of this pile. "Now, Peter," were the next orders, "if you've got sprawl enough, and want to rest yourself by doin' something useful for once in your life, you just hold down the dining-table; and you and Oonah, Molly, keep the next two tables stiddy, while I climb up."
The intrepid Benella could barely reach the sill, even from this ingeniously dizzy elevation, and Mrs. Waterford and Salemina were called on to 'stiddy' the tables, while Molly was bidden to help by giving an heroic 'boost' when the word of command came. The device was completely successful, and in a trice the conqueror disappeared, to reappear at the window holding the precious pearl-embroidered bodice wrapped in a towel. "I wouldn't stop to fool with the door- knob till I dropped you this," she said. "Oonah, you go and wash your hands clean, and help Miss Peabody into it,--and mind you start the lacing right at the top; and you, Peter, run down to Rooney's and get the donkey and the cart, and bring 'em back with you,--and don't you let the grass grow under your feet neither!"
There was literally no other mode of conveyance within miles, and time was precious. Salemina wrapped herself in Francesca's long black cloak, and climbed into the cart. Dinnis hauls turf in it, takes a sack of potatoes or a pig to market in it, and the stubborn little ass, blind of one eye, has never in his wholly elective course of existence taken up the subject of speed.
It was eight o'clock when Benella mounted the seat beside Salemina, and gave the donkey a preliminary touch of the stick.
"Be aisy wid him," cautioned Peter. "He's a very arch donkey for a lady to be dhrivin', and mebbe he'd lay down and not get up for you."
"Arrah! shut yer mouth, Pether. Give him a couple of belts anondher the hind leg, melady, and that'll put the fear o' God in him!" said Dinnis.
"I'd rather not go at all," urged Salemina timidly; "it's too late, and too extraordinary."
"I'm not going to have it on my conscience to make you lose this dinner-party,--not if I have to carry you on my back the whole way," said Benella doggedly; "and this donkey won't lay down with me more'n once,--I can tell him that right at the start."
"Sure, melady, he'll go to Galway for you, when oncet he's started wid himself; and it's only a couple o' fingers to the Castle, annyways."
The four-mile drive, especially through the village of Ballyfuchsia, was an eventful one, but by dint of prodding, poking, and belting, Benella had accomplished half the distance in three-quarters of an hour, when the donkey suddenly lay down 'on her,' according to Peter's prediction. This was luckily at the town cross, where a group of idlers rendered hearty assistance. Willing as they were to succour a lady in disthress, they did not know of any car which could be secured in time to be of service, but one of them offered to walk and run by the side of the donkey, so as to kape him on his legs. It was in this wise that Miss Peabody approached Balkilly Castle; and when a gilded gentleman-in-waiting lifted her from Rooney's 'plain cart,' she was just on the verge of hysterics. Fortunately his Magnificence was English, and betrayed no surprise at the arrival in this humble fashion of a dinner guest, but simply summoned the Irish housekeeper, who revived her with wine, and called on all the saints to witness that she'd never heard of such a shameful thing, and such a disgrace to Ballyfuchsia. The idea of not keeping a ladder in a house where the door-knobs were apt to come off struck her as being the worst feature of the accident, though this unexpected and truly Milesian view of the matter had never occurred to us.
"Well, I got Miss Peabody to the dinner-party," said Benella triumphantly, when she was laboriously unlacing my frock, later on, "or at least I got her there before it broke up. I had to walk every step o' the way home, and the donkey laid down four times, but I was so nerved up I didn't care a mite. I was bound Miss Peabody shouldn't lose her chance, after all she's done for me!"
"Her chance?" I asked, somewhat puzzled, for dinners, even Castle dinners, are not rare in Salemina's experience.
"Yes, her chance," repeated Benella mysteriously; "you'd know well enough what I mean, if you'd ben born and brought up in Salem, Massachusetts!"
* * *
Copy of a letter read by Penelope O'Connor, descendant of the King of Connaught, at the dinner of Lord and Lady Killbally at Balkilly Castle. It needed no apology then, but in sending it to our American friends, we were obliged to explain that though the Irish peasants interlard their conversation with saints, angels, and devils, and use the name of the Virgin Mary, and even the Almighty, with, to our ears, undue familiarity and frequency, there is no profane or irreverent intent. They are instinctively religious, and it is only because they feel on terms of such friendly intimacy with the powers above that they speak of them so often.
At the Widdy Mullarkey's,
Och! musha bedad, man alive, but it's a fine counthry over here, and it bangs all the jewel of a view we do be havin' from the windys, begorra! Knockarney House is in a wild, remoted place at the back of beyant, and faix we're as much alone as Robinson Crusoe on a dissolute island; but when we do be wishful to go to the town, sure there's ivery convaniency. There's ayther a bit of a jauntin' car wid a skewbald pony for drivin', or we can borry the loan of Dinnis Rooney's blind ass wid the plain cart, or we can just take a fut in a hand and leg it over the bog. Sure it's no great thing to go do, but only a taste of divarsion like, though it's three good Irish miles an' powerful hot weather, with niver a dhrop of wet these manny days. It's a great old spring we're havin' intirely; it has raison to be proud of itself, begob!
Paddy, the gossoon that drives the car (it's a gossoon we call him, but faix he stands five fut nine in his stockin's, when he wears anny)--Paddy, as I'm afther tellin' you, lives in a cabin down below the knockaun, a thrifle back of the road. There's a nate stack of turf fornint it, and a pitaty pot sets beside the doore, wid the hins and chuckens rachin' over into it like aigles tryin' to swally the smell.
Across the way there does be a bit of sthrame that's fairly shtiff wid troutses in the saison, and a growth of rooshes under the edge lookin' that smooth and greeny it must be a pleasure intirely to the grand young pig and the goat that spinds their time by the side of it when out of doores, which is seldom. Paddy himself is raggetty like, and a sight to behould wid the daylight shinin' through the ould coat on him; but he's a dacint spalpeen, and sure we'd be lost widout him. His mother's a widdy woman with nine moidtherin' childer, not countin' the pig an' the goat, which has aquil advantages. It's nine she has livin', she says, and four slapin' in the beds o' glory; and faix I hope thim that's in glory is quieter than the wans that's here, for the divil is busy wid thim the whole of the day. Here's wan o' thim now makin' me as onaisy as an ould hin on a hot griddle, slappin' big sods of turf over the dike, and ruinatin' the timpers of our poulthry. We've a right to be lambastin' thim this blessed minute, the crathurs; as sure as eggs is mate, if they was mine they'd sup sorrow wid a spoon of grief, before they wint to bed this night!
Mistress Colquhoun, that lives at Ardnagreena on the road to the town, is an iligant lady intirely, an' she's uncommon frindly, may the peace of heaven be her sowl's rist! She's rale charitable-like an' liberal with the whativer, an' as for Himself, sure he's the darlin' fine man! He taches the dead-and-gone languages in the grand sates of larnin', and has more eddication and comperhinson than the whole of County Kerry rowled together.
Then there's Lord and Lady Killbally; faix there's no iliganter family on this counthryside, and they has the beautiful quality stoppin' wid thim, begob! They have a pew o' their own in the church, an' their coachman wears top-boots wid yaller chimbleys to thim. They do be very openhanded wid the eatin' and the drinkin', and it bangs Banagher the figurandyin' we do have wid thim! So you see Ould Ireland is not too disthressful a counthry to be divartin' ourselves in, an' we have our healths finely, glory be to God!
Well, we must be shankin' off wid ourselves now to the Colquhouns', where they're wettin' a dhrop o' tay for us this mortial instant.
It's no good for yous to write to us here, for we'll be quittin' out o' this before the letther has a chanst to come; though sure it can folly us as we're jiggin' along to the north.
Don't be thinkin' that you've shlipped hould of our ricollections, though the breadth of the ocean say's betune us. More power to your elbow! May your life be aisy, and may the heavens be your bed!
Penelope O'Connor Beresford.