Penelope's Irish Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part Fifth--Royal Meath.
Chapter XXVIII. Round towers and reflections.
'On Lough Neagh's banks, as the fisherman strays, When the cool, calm eve's declining. He sees the round towers of other days Beneath the waters shining.' Thomas Moore.
A Dublin car-driver told me one day that he had just taken a picnic- party to the borders of a lake, where they had had tea in a tramcar which had been placed there for such purposes. Francesca and I were amused at the idea, but did not think of it again until we drove through the La Touche estate, on one of the first days after our arrival at Devorgilla. We left Salemina at Rosnaree House with Aunt La Touche and the children, and proceeded to explore the grounds, with the view of deciding on certain improvements to be made when the property passes, so to speak, into our hands.
Truth to say, nature has done more for it than we could have done; and if it is a trifle overgrown and rough and rank, it could hardly be more beautiful. At the very furthest confines of the demesne there is a brook,--large enough, indeed, to be called a river here, where they have no Mississippi to dwarf all other streams and serve as an impossible standard of comparison. Tall trees droop over the calm water, and on its margins grow spearwort, opening its big yellow cups to the sunshine, meadow rue, purple and yellow loosestrife, bog bean, and sweet flag. Here and there float upon the surface the round leaves and delicate white blossoms of the frogbit, together with lilies, pondweeds, and water starworts.
"What an idyllic place to sit and read, or sew, or have tea!" exclaimed Francesca.
"What a place for a tram tea-house!" I added. "Do you suppose we could manage it as a surprise to Dr. La Touche, in return for all his kindness?"
"It would cost a pretty penny, I fear," said Francesca prudently, "though it isn't as if it were going out of the family. Now that there is no longer any need for you to sell pictures, I suppose you could dash off one in an hour or two that would buy a tram; and papa cabled me yesterday, you know, to draw on him freely. I used to think, whenever he said that, that he would marry again within the week; but I did him injustice. A tram tea-house by the river,-- wouldn't it be unique? Do let us see what we can do about it through some of our Dublin acquaintances."
The plan proved unexpectedly easy to carry out, and not ruinously extravagant, either; for our friend the American consul knew the principal director in a tram company, and a dilapidated and discarded car was sent to us in a few days. There were certain moments--once when we saw that it had not been painted for twenty years, once when the freight bill was handed us, and again when we contracted for the removal of our gift from the station to the river-bank--when we regretted the fertility of imagination that had led us to these lengths; but when we finally saw the car by the water-side, there was no room left for regret. Benella said that, with the assistance of the Button Boy, she could paint it easily herself; but we engaged an expert, who put on a coat of dark green very speedily, and we consoled the Derelict with the suggestion that she could cover the cushions, and make the interior cosy and pretty.
All this happened some little time ago. Dr. La Touche has been at home for a fortnight, and we have had to use the greatest ingenuity to keep people away from that particular spot, which, fortunately for us, is a secluded one. All is ready now, however, and the following cards of invitation have been issued:-
The honour of your presence is requested at the Opening of the New Tea Tram On the River Bank, Rosnaree Demesne, Wednesday, June 27th, at 4 p.m. The ceremony will be performed by H.R.H. Salemina Peabody. The Bishop of Ossory in the Chair.
I have just learned that a certain William Beresford was Bishop of Ossory once on a time, and I intend to personate this dignitary, clad in Dr. La Touche's cap and gown. We spend this sunny morning by the river-bank; Francesca hemming the last of the yellow window curtains, and I making souvenir programmes for the great occasion. Salemina had gone for the day with the Colquhouns and Dr. La Touche to lunch with some people near Kavan and see Donaghmore Round Tower and the moat.
"Is she in love with Dr. Gerald?" asked Francesca suddenly, looking up from her work. "Was she ever in love with him? She must have been, mustn't she? I cannot and will not entertain any other conviction."
"I don't know, my dear," I answered thoughtfully, pausing over an initial letter I was illuminating; "but I can't imagine what we shall do if we have to tear down our sweet little romance, bit by bit, and leave the stupid couple sitting in the ruins. They enjoy ruins far too well already, and it would be just like their obstinacy to go on sitting in them."
"And they are so incredibly slow about it all," Francesca commented. "It took me about two minutes, at Lady Baird's dinner, where I first met Ronald, to decide that I would marry him as soon as possible. When a month had gone by, and he hadn't asked me, I thought, like Rosalind, that I'd as lief be wooed of a snail."
"I was not quite so expeditious as you," I confessed, "though I believe Himself says that his feeling was instantaneous. I never cared for anything but painting before I met him, so I never chanced to suffer any of those pangs that lovelorn maidens are said to feel when the beloved delays his avowals: perhaps that is the reason I suffer so much now, vicariously."
"The lack of positive information makes one so impatient," Francesca went on. "I am sure he is as fond of her as ever; but if she refused him when he was young and handsome, with every prospect of a brilliant career before him, perhaps he thinks he has even less chance now. He was the first to forget their romance, and the one to marry; his estates have been wasted by his father's legal warfares, and he has been an unhappy and a disappointed man. Now he has to beg her to heal his wounds, as it were, and to accept the care and responsibility of his children."
"It is very easy to see that we are not the only ones who suspect his sentiments," I said, smiling at my thoughts. "Mrs. Colquhoun told me that she and Salemina stopped at one of the tenants' cabins, the other day, to leave some small comforts that Dr. La Touche had sent to a sick child. The woman thanked Salemina, and Mrs. Colquhoun heard her say, 'When a man will stop, coming in the doore, an' stoop down to give a sthroke and a scratch to the pig's back, depend on it, ma'am, him that's so friendly with a poor fellow- crathur will make ye a good husband.'
"I have given him every opportunity to confide in me," I continued, after a pause, "but he accepts none of them; and yet I like him a thousand times better now that I have seen him as the master of his own house. He is so courtly, and, in these latter days, so genial and sunny . . . Salemina's life would not at first be any too easy, I fear; the aunt is very feeble, and the establishment is so neglected. I went into Dr. Gerald's study the other day to see an old print, and there was a buzz-buzz-zzzz when the butler pulled up the blinds. 'Do you mind bees, ma'am?' he asked blandly. 'There's been a swarm of them in one corner of the ceiling for manny years, an' we don't like to disturb them.' . . . Benella said yesterday: 'Of course, when you three separate, I shall stay with the one that needs me most; but if Miss Peabody should settle over here anywhere, I'd like to take a scrubbing brush an' go through the castle, or whatever she's going to live in, with soap and sand and ammonia, and make it water-sweet before she sets foot in it.' . . . As for the children, however, no one could regard them as a drawback, for they are altogether charming; not well disciplined, of course, but lovable to the last degree. Broona was planning her future life when we were walking together yesterday. Jackeen is to be 'an engineer, by the sea,' so it seems, and Broona is to be a farmer's wife with a tiny red bill-book like Mrs. Colquhoun's. Her little boys and girls will sell the milk, and when Jackeen has his engineering holidays he will come and eat fresh butter and scones and cream and jam at the farm, and when her children have their holidays they will go and play on 'Jackeen's beach.' It is the little people I rely upon chiefly, after all. I wish you could have seen them cataract down the staircase to greet her this morning. I notice that she tries to make me divert their attention when Dr. Gerald is present; for it is a bit suggestive to a widower to see his children pursue, hang about, and caress a lovely, unmarried lady. Broona, especially, can hardly keep away from Salemina; and she is such a fascinating midget, I should think anybody would be glad to have her included in a marriage contract. 'You have a weeny, weeny line between your eyebrows, just like my daddy's,' she said to Salemina the other day. 'It's such a little one, perhaps I can kiss it away; but daddy has too many, and they are cutted too deep. Sometimes he whispers, 'Daddy is sad, Broona,' and then I say, 'Play up, play up, and play the game!' and that makes him smile.'"
"She is a darling," said Francesca, with the suspicion of a tear in her eye. "'Were you ever in love, Miss Fancy?' she asked me once. 'I was; it was long, long ago before I belonged to daddy'; and another time when I had been reading to her, she said 'I often think that when I get into the kingdom of heaven the person I'll be gladdest to see will be Marjorie Fleming.' Yes, the children are sure to help; they always do in whatever circumstances they chance to be placed. Did you notice Salemina with them at tea-time, yesterday? It was such a charming scene. The heavy rain had kept them in, and things had gone wrong in the nursery. Salemina had glued the hair on Broona's dolly, and knit up a heart-breaking wound in her side. Then she mended the legs of all the animals in the Noah's ark, so that they stood firm, erect, and proud; and when, to draw the children's eyes from the wet window-panes, she proposed a story, it was pretty to see the grateful youngsters snuggle in her lap and by her side."
"When does an artist ever fail to see pictures? I have loved Salemina always, even when she used to part her hair in the middle and wear spectacles; but that is the first time I ever wanted to paint her, with the firelight shining on the soft, restful greys and violets of her dress, and Broona in her arms. Of course, if a woman is ever to be lovely at all, it will be when she is holding a child. It is the oldest of all old pictures, and the most beautiful, I believe, in a man's eyes.
"And do you notice that she and the doctor are beginning to speak more freely of their past acquaintance?" I went on, looking up at Francesca, who had dropped her work in her interest. "It is too amusing! Every hour or two it is: 'Do you remember the day we went to Bunker Hill?' or, 'Do you recall that charming Mrs. Andrews, with whom we used to dine occasionally?' or, 'What has become of your cousin Samuel?' and, 'Is your uncle Thomas yet living?' . . . The other day, at tea, she asked, 'Do you still take three lumps, Dr. La Touche? You had always a sweet tooth, I remember.' . . . Then they ring the changes in this way: 'You were always fond of grey, Miss Peabody.' 'You had a great fancy for Moore, in the old days, Miss Peabody: have you outgrown him, or does the 'Anacreontic little chap,' as Father Prout called him, still appeal to you?' . . . 'You used to admire Boyle O'Reilly, Dr. La Touche. Would you like to see some of his letters?' . . . 'Aren't these magnificent rhododendrons, Dr. La Touche,--even though they are magenta, the colour you specially dislike?' And so on. Did you chance to look at either of them last evening, Francesca, when I sang 'Let Erin remember the days of old'?"
"No; I was thinking of something else. I don't know what there is about your singing, Penny love, that always makes me think of the past and dream of the future. Which verse do you mean?"
And, still painting, I hummed:-
"'On Lough Neagh's banks, as the fisherman strays, When the cool, calm eve's declining, He sees the round towers of other days Beneath the waters shining. . . . . . . Thus shall memory oft, in dreams sublime, Catch a glimpse of the days that are over, And, sighing, look thro' the waves of Time, For the long-faded glories they cover.'
"That is what our two dear middle-aged lovers are constantly doing now,--looking at the round towers of other days, as they bend over memory's crystal pool and see them reflected there. It is because he fears that the glories are over and gone that Dr. Gerald is troubled. Some day he will realise that he need not live on reflections, and he will seek realities."
"I hope so," said Francesca philosophically, as she folded her work; "but sometimes these people who go mooning about, and looking through the waves of Time, tumble in and are drowned."