Penelope's Irish Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter III. We sight a derelict.
'O Bay of Dublin, my heart you're troublin', Your beauty haunts me like a fever dream.' Lady Dufferin.
To perform the introduction properly I must go back a day or two. We had elected to cross to Dublin directly from Scotland, an easy night journey. Accordingly we embarked in a steamer called the Prince or the King of something or other, the name being many degrees more princely or kingly than the craft itself.
We had intended, too, to make our own comparison of the Bay of Dublin and the Bay of Naples, because every traveller, from Charles Lever's Jack Hinton down to Thackeray and Mr. Alfred Austin has always made it a point of honour to do so. We were balked in our conscientious endeavour, because we arrived at the North Wall forty minutes earlier than the hour set by the steamship company. It is quite impossible for anything in Ireland to be done strictly on the minute, and in struggling not to be hopelessly behind time, a 'disthressful counthry' will occasionally be ahead of it. We had been told that we should arrive in a drizzling rain, and that no one but Lady Dufferin had ever on approaching Ireland seen the 'sweet faces of the Wicklow mountains reflected in a smooth and silver sea.' The grumblers were right on this special occasion, although we have proved them false more than once since.
I was in a fever of fear that Ireland would not be as Irish as we wished it to be. It seemed probable that processions of prosperous aldermen, school directors, contractors, mayors, and ward politicians, returning to their native land to see how Herself was getting on, the crathur, might have deposited on the soil successive layers of Irish-American virtues, such as punctuality, thrift, and cleanliness, until they had quite obscured fair Erin's peculiar and pathetic charm. We longed for the new Ireland as fervently as any of her own patriots, but we wished to see the old Ireland before it passed. There is plenty of it left (alas! the patriots would say), and Dublin was as dear and as dirty as when Lady Morgan first called it so, long years ago. The boat was met by a crowd of ragged gossoons, most of them barefooted, some of them stockingless, and in men's shoes, and several of them with flowers in their unspeakable hats and caps. There were no cabs or jaunting cars because we had not been expected so early, and the jarveys were in attendance on the Holyhead steamer. It was while I was searching for a piece of lost luggage that I saw the stewardess assisting a young woman off the gang plank, and leading her toward a pile of wool bags on the dock. She sank helplessly on one of them, and leaned her head on another. As the night had been one calculated to disturb the physical equilibrium of a poor sailor, and the breakfast of a character to discourage the stoutest stomach, I gave her a careless thought of pity and speedily forgot her. Two trunks, a holdall, a hatbox--in which reposed, in solitary grandeur, Francesca's picture hat, intended for the further undoing of the Irish gentry--a guitar case, two bags, three umbrellas; all were safe but Salemina's large Vuitton trunk and my valise, which had been last seen at Edinburgh station. Salemina returned to the boat, while Francesca and I wended our way among the heaps of luggage, followed by crowds of ragamuffins, who offered to run for a car, run for a cab, run for a porter, carry our luggage up the street to the cab-stand, carry our wraps, carry us, 'do any mortial thing for a penny, melady, an' there is no cars here, melady, God bless me sowl, and that He be good to us all if I'm tellin' you a word of a lie!'
Entirely unused to this flow of conversation, we were obliged to stop every few seconds to recount our luggage and try to remember what we were looking for. We all met finally, and I rescued Salemina from the voluble thanks of an old woman to whom she had thoughtlessly given a three-penny bit. This mother of a 'long wake family' was wishing that Salemina might live to 'ate the hin' that scratched over her grave, and invoking many other uncommon and picturesque blessings, but we were obliged to ask her to desist and let us attend to our own business.
"Will I clane the whole of thim off for you for a penny, your ladyship's honour, ma'am?" asked the oldest of the ragamuffins, and I gladly assented to the novel proposition. He did it, too, and there seemed to be no hurt feelings in the company.
Just then there was a rattle of cabs and side-cars, and our self- constituted major-domo engaged two of them to await our pleasure. At the same moment our eyes lighted upon Salemina's huge Vuitton, which had been dragged behind the pile of wool sacks. It was no wonder it had escaped our notice, for it was mostly covered by the person of the sea-sick maiden whom I had seen on the arm of the stewardess. She was seated on it, exhaustion in every line of her figure, her head upon my travelling bag, her feet dangling over the edge until they just touched the 'S. P., Salem, Mass., U.S.A.' painted in large red letters on the end. She was too ill to respond to our questions, but there was no mistaking her nationality. Her dress, hat, shoes, gloves, face, figure were American. We sent for the stewardess, who told us that she had arrived in Glasgow on the day previous, and had been very ill all the way coming from Boston.
"Boston!" exclaimed Salemina. "Do you say she is from Boston, poor thing?"
("I didn't know that a person living in Boston could ever, under any circumstances, be a 'poor thing,'" whispered Francesca to me.)
"She was not fit to be crossing last night, and the doctor on the American ship told her so, and advised her to stay in bed for three days before coming to Ireland; but it seems as if she were determined to get to her journey's end."
"We must have our trunk," I interposed. "Can't we move her carefully over to the wool sacks, and won't you stay with her until her friends come?"
"She has no friends in this country, ma'am. She's just travelling for pleasure like."
"Good gracious! what a position for her to be in," said Salemina. "Can't you take her back to the steamer and put her to bed?"
"I could ask the captain, certainly, miss, though of course it's something we never do, and besides we have to set the ship to rights and go across again this evening."
"Ask her what hotel she is going to, Salemina," we suggested, "and let us drop her there, and put her in charge of the housekeeper; of course if it is only sea-sickness she will be all right in the morning."
The girl's eyes were closed, but she opened them languidly as Salemina chafed her cold hands, and asked gently if we could not drive her to an hotel.
"Is--this--your--baggage?" she whispered.
"It is," Salemina answered, somewhat puzzled.
"Then don't--leave me here, I am from Salem--myself," whereupon without any more warning she promptly fainted away on the trunk.
The situation was becoming embarrassing. The assemblage grew larger, and a more interesting and sympathetic audience I never saw. To an Irish crowd, always warm-hearted and kindly, willing to take any trouble for friend or stranger, and with a positive terror of loneliness, or separation from kith and kin, the helpless creature appealed in every way. One and another joined the group with a "Holy Biddy! what's this at all?"
"The saints presarve us, is it dyin' she is?"
"Look at the iligant duds she do be wearin'."
"Call the docthor, is it? God give you sinse! Sure the docthors is only a flock of omadhauns."
"Is it your daughter she is, ma'am?" (This to Salemina.)
"She's from Ameriky, the poor mischancy crathur."
"Give her a toothful of whisky, your ladyship. Sure it's nayther bite nor sup she's had the morn, and belike she's as impty as a quarry-hole."
When this last expression from the mother of the long weak family fell upon Salemina's cultured ears she looked desperate.
We could not leave a fellow-countrywoman, least of all could Salemina forsake a fellow-citizen, in such a hapless plight.
"Take one cab with Francesca and the luggage, Penelope," she whispered. "I will bring the girl with me, put her to bed, find her friends, and see that she starts on her journey safely; it's very awkward, but there's nothing else to be done."
So we departed in a chorus of popular approval.
"Sure it's you that have the good hearts!"
"May the heavens be your bed!"
"May the journey thrive wid her, the crathur!"
Francesca and I arrived first at the hotel where our rooms were already engaged, and there proved to be a comfortable little dressing, or maid's, room just off Salemina's.
Here the Derelict was presently ensconced, and there she lay, in a sort of profound exhaustion, all day, without once absolutely regaining her consciousness. Instead of visiting the National Gallery as I had intended, I returned to the dock to see if I could find the girl's luggage, or get any further information from the stewardess before she left Dublin.
"I'll send the doctor at once, but we must learn all possible particulars now," I said maliciously to poor Salemina. "It would be so awkward, you know, if you should be arrested for abduction."
The doctor thought it was probably nothing more than the complete prostration that might follow eight days of sea-sickness, but the patient's heart was certainly a little weak, and she needed the utmost quiet. His fee was a guinea for the first visit, and he would drop in again in the course of the afternoon to relieve our anxiety. We took turns in watching by her bedside, but the two unemployed ones lingered forlornly near, and had no heart for sightseeing. Francesca did, however, purchase opera tickets for the evening, and secretly engaged the housemaid to act as head nurse in our absence.
As we were dining at seven, we heard a faint voice in the little room beyond. Salemina left her dinner and went in to find her charge slightly better. We had been able thus far only to take off her dress, shoes, and such garments as made her uncomfortable; Salemina now managed to slip on a nightdress and put her under the bedcovers, returning then to her cold mutton cutlet.
"She's an extraordinary person," she said, absently playing with her knife and fork. "She didn't ask me where she was, or show any interest in her surroundings; perhaps she is still too weak. She said she was better, and when I had made her ready for bed, she whispered, 'I've got to say my prayers'.
"'Say them by all means,' I replied.
"'But I must get up and kneel down, she said.
"I told her she must do nothing of the sort; that she was far too ill.
"'But I must,' she urged. 'I never go to bed without saying my prayers on my knees.'
"I forbade her doing it; she closed her eyes, and I came away. Isn't she quaint?"
At this juncture we heard the thud of a soft falling body, and rushing in we found that the Derelict had crept from her bed to her knees, and had probably not prayed more than two minutes before she fainted for the fifth or sixth time in twenty-four hours. Salemina was vexed, angel and philanthropist though she is. Francesca and I were so helpless with laughter that we could hardly lift the too conscientious maiden into bed. The situation may have been pathetic; to the truly pious mind it would indeed have been indescribably touching, but for the moment the humorous side of it was too much for our self-control. Salemina, in rushing for stimulants and smelling salts, broke her only comfortable eyeglasses, and this accident, coupled with her other anxieties and responsibilities, caused her to shed tears, an occurrence so unprecedented that Francesca and I kissed and comforted her and tucked her up on the sofa. Then we sent for the doctor, gave our opera tickets to the head waiter and chambermaid, and settled down to a cheerful home evening, our first in Ireland.
"If Himself were here, we should not be in this plight," I sighed.
"I don't know how you can say that," responded Salemina, with considerable spirit. "You know perfectly well that if your husband had found a mother and seven children helpless and deserted on that dock, he would have brought them all to this hotel, and then tried to find the father and grandfather."
"And it's not Salemina's fault," argued Francesca. "She couldn't help the girl being born in Salem; not that I believe that she ever heard of the place before she saw it printed on Salemina's trunk. I told you it was too big and red, dear, but you wouldn't listen! I am the strongest American of the party, but I confess that U.S.A. in letters five inches long is too much for my patriotism."
"It would not be if you ever had charge of the luggage," retorted Salemina.
"And whatever you do, Francesca," I added beseechingly, "don't impugn the veracity of our Derelict. While we think of ourselves as ministering angels I can endure anything, but if we are the dupes of an adventuress, there is nothing pretty about it. By the way, I have consulted the English manageress of this hotel, who was not particularly sympathetic. 'Perhaps you shouldn't have assumed charge of her, madam,' she said, 'but having done so, hadn't you better see if you can get her into a hospital?' It isn't a bad suggestion, and after a day or two we will consider it, or I will get a trained nurse to take full charge of her. I would be at any reasonable expense rather than have our pleasure interfered with any further."
It still seems odd to make a proposition of this kind. In former times, Francesca was the Croesus of the party, Salemina came second, and I last, with a most precarious income. Now I am the wealthy one, Francesca is reduced to the second place, and Salemina to the third, but it makes no difference whatever, either in our relations, our arrangements, or, for that matter, in our expenditures.