Penelope's Irish Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part Fifth--Royal Meath.
Chapter XXXII. 'As the sunflower turns.'
'No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets, But as truly loves on to the close, As the sunflower turns on her god, when he sets, The same look which she turned when he rose.' Thomas Moore.
Here we all are at O'Carolan's Hotel in Dublin--all but the Colquhouns, who bade us adieu at the station, and the dear children, whose tears are probably dried by now, although they flowed freely enough at parting. Broona flung her arms tempestuously around Salemina's neck, exclaiming between her sobs, "Good-bye, my thousand, thousand blessings!"--an expression so Irish that we laughed and cried in one breath at the sound of it.
Here we are in the midst of life once more, though to be sure it is Irish life, which moves less dizzily than our own. We ourselves feel thoroughly at home, nor are we wholly forgotten by the public; for on beckoning to a driver on the cab-stand to approach with his side-car, he responded with alacrity, calling to his neighbour, "Here's me sixpenny darlin' again!" and I recognised him immediately as a man who had once remonstrated with me eloquently on the subject of a fee, making such a fire of Hibernian jokes over my sixpence that I heartily wished it had been a half-sovereign.
Cables and telegrams are arriving every hour, and a rich American lady writes to Salemina, asking her if she can purchase the Book of Kells for her, as she wishes to give it to a favourite nephew who is a bibliomaniac. I am begging the shocked Miss Peabody to explain that the volume in question is not for sale, and to ask at the same time if her correspondent wishes to purchase the Lakes of Killarney or the Giant's Causeway in its stead. Francesca, in a whirl of excitement, is buying cobweb linens, harp brooches, creamy poplins with golden shamrocks woven into their lustrous surfaces; and as for laces, we spend hours in the shops, when our respective squires wish us to show them the sights of Dublin.
Benella is in her element, nursing Salemina, who sprained her ankle just as we were leaving Devorgilla. At the last moment our side- cars were so crowded with passengers and packages that she accepted a seat in Dr. Gerald's carriage, and drove to the station with him. She had a few last farewells to say in the village, and a few modest remembrances to leave with some of the poor old women; and I afterward learned that the drive was not without its embarrassments. The butcher's wife said fervently, "May you long be spared to each other!" The old weaver exclaimed, "'Twould be an ojus pity to spoil two houses wid ye!" While the woman who sells apples at the station capped all by wishing the couple "a long life and a happy death together." No wonder poor Salemina slipped and twisted her ankle as she alighted from the carriage! Though walking without help is still an impossibility, twenty-four hours of rubbing and bathing and bandaging have made it possible for her to limp discreetly, and we all went to St. Patrick's Cathedral together this morning.
We had been in the quiet churchyard, where a soft, misty rain was falling on the yellow acacias and the pink hawthorns. We had stood under the willow-tree in the deanery garden--the tree that marks the site of the house from which Dean Swift watched the movements of the torches in the cathedral at the midnight burial of Stella. They are lying side by side at the foot of a column in the south side of the nave, and a brass plate in the pavement announces:-
'Here lies Mrs. Hester Johnson, better known to the world by the name of Stella, under which she is celebrated in the writings of Dr. Jonathan Swift, Dean of this Cathedral.'
Poor Stella, at rest for a century and a half beside the man who caused her such pangs of love and grief--who does not mourn her?
The nave of the cathedral was dim, and empty of all sightseers save our own group. There was a caretaker who went about in sloppy rubber shoes, scrubbing marbles and polishing brasses, and behind a high screen or temporary partition some one was playing softly on an organ.
We stood in a quiet circle by Stella's resting-place, and Dr. Gerald, who never forgets anything, apparently, was reminding us of Thackeray's gracious and pathetic tribute:-
'Fair and tender creature, pure and affectionate heart! Boots it to you now that the whole world loves you and deplores you? Scarce any man ever thought of your grave that did not cast a flower of pity on it, and write over it a sweet epitaph. Gentle lady! so lovely, so loving, so unhappy. You have had countless champions, millions of manly hearts mourning for you. From generation to generation we take up the fond tradition of your beauty; we watch and follow your story, your bright morning love and purity, your constancy, your grief, your sweet martyrdom. We know your legend by heart. You are one of the saints of English story.'
As Dr. Gerald's voice died away, the strains of 'Love's Young Dream' floated out from the distant end of the building.
"The organist must be practising for a wedding," said Francesca, very much alive to anything of that sort.
"'Oh, there's nothing half so sweet in life,'"
she hummed. "Isn't it charming?"
"You ought to know," Dr. Gerald answered, looking at her affectionately, though somewhat too sadly for my taste; "but an old fellow like me must take refuge in the days of 'milder, calmer beam,' of which the poet speaks."
Ronald and Himself, guide-books in hand, walked away to talk about the 'Burial of Sir John Moore,' and look for Wolfe's tablet, and I stole behind the great screen which had been thrown up while repairs of some sort were being made or a new organ built. A young man was evidently taking a lesson, for the old organist was sitting on the bench beside him, pulling out the stops, and indicating the time with his hand. There was to be a wedding--that was certain; for 'Love's Young Dream' was taken off the music rack at that moment, while 'Believe me, if all those endearing young charms' was put in its place, and the melody came singing out to us on the vox humana stop.
'Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art, Let thy loveliness fade as it will, And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart Would entwine itself verdantly still.'
Francesca joined me just then, and a tear was in her eye. "Penny dear, when all is said, 'Believe me' is the dearer song of the two. Anybody can sing, feel, live, the first, which is but a youthful dream, after all; but the other has in it the proved fidelity of the years. The first song belongs to me, I know, and it is all I am fit for now; but I want to grow toward and deserve the second."
"You are right; but while Love's Young Dream is yours and Ronald's, dear, take all the joy that it holds for you. The other song is for Salemina and Dr. Gerald, and I only hope they are realising it at this moment--secretive, provoking creatures that they are!"
The old organist left his pupil just then, and disappeared through a little door in the rear.
"Have you the Wedding March there?" I asked the pupil who had been practising the love-songs.
"Oh yes, madam, though I am afraid I cannot do it justice," he replied modestly. "Are you interested in organ music?"
"I am very much interested in yours, and I am still more interested in a romance that has been dragging its weary length along for twenty years, and is trying to bring itself to a crisis just on the other side of that screen. You can help me precipitate it, if you only will!"
Well, he was young and he was an Irishman, which is equivalent to being a born lover,and he had been brought up on Tommy Moore and music--all of which I had known from the moment I saw him, else I should not have made the proposition. I peeped from behind the screen. Ronald and Himself were walking toward us; Salemina and Dr. Gerald were sitting together in one of the front pews. I beckoned to my husband.
"Will you and Ronald go quietly out one of the side doors," I asked, "take your own car, and go back to the hotel, allowing us to follow you a little later?"
It takes more than one year of marriage for even the cleverest Benedict to uproot those weeds of stupidity, denseness, and non- comprehension that seem to grow so riotously in the mental garden of the bachelor; so, said Himself, "We came all together; why shouldn't we go home all together?" (So like a man! Always reasoning from analogy; always, so to speak, 'lugging in' logic!)
"Desperate situations demand desperate remedies," I replied mysteriously, though I hope patiently. "If you go home at once without any questions, you will be virtuous, and it is more than likely that you will also be happy; and if you are not, somebody else will be."
Having seen the backs of our two cavaliers disappearing meekly into the rain, I stationed Francesca at a point of vantage, and went out to my victims in the front pew.
"The others went on ahead," I explained, with elaborate carelessness--"they wanted to drive by Dublin Castle; and we are going to follow as we like. For my part, I am tired, and you are looking pale, Salemina; I am sure your ankle is painful. Help her, Dr. Gerald, please; she is so proud and self-reliant that she won't even lean on any one's arm, if she can avoid it. Take her down the middle aisle, for I've sent your car to that door' (this was the last of a series of happy thoughts on my part). "I'll go and tell Francesca, who is flirting with the organist. She has an appointment at the tailor's; so I will drop her there, and join you at the hotel in a few minutes."
The refractory pair of innocent, middle-aged lovers started, arm in arm, on what I ardently hoped would be an eventful walk together. It was from, instead of toward the altar, to be sure, but I was certain it would finally lead them to it, notwithstanding the unusual method of approach. I gave Francesca the signal, and then, disappearing behind the screen, I held her hand in a palpitation of nervous apprehension that I had scarcely felt when Himself first asked me to be his.
The young organist, blushing to the roots of his hair, trembling with responsibility, smiling at the humour of the thing, pulled out all the stops, and the Wedding March pealed through the cathedral, the splendid joy and swing and triumph of it echoing through the vaulted aisles in a way that positively incited one to bigamy.
"We may regard the matter as settled now," whispered Francesca comfortably. "Anybody would ask anybody else to marry him, whether he was in love with her or not. If it weren't so beautiful and so touching, wouldn't it be amusing? Isn't the organist a darling, and doesn't he enter into the spirit of it? See him shaking with sympathetic laughter, and yet he never lets a smile creep into the music; it is all earnestness and majesty. May I peep now and see how they are getting on?"
"Certainly not! What are you thinking of, Francesca? Our only justification in this whole matter is that we are absolutely serious about it. We shall say good-bye to the organist, wring his hand gratefully, and steal with him through the little door. Then in a half-hour we shall know the worst or the best; and we must remember to send him cards and a marked copy of the newspaper containing the marriage notice."
Salemina told me all about it that night, but she never suspected the interference of any deus ex machina save that of the traditional God of Love, who, it seems to me, has not kept up with the requirements of the age in all respects, and leaves a good deal for us women to do nowadays.
"Would that you had come up this aisle to meet me, Salemina, and that you were walking down again as my wife!" This was what Dr. Gerald had surprised her by saying, when the wedding music had finally entered into his soul, driving away for the moment his doubt and fear and self-distrust; and I can well believe that the hopelessness of his tone stirred her tender heart to its very depths.
"What did you answer?" I asked breathlessly, on the impulse of the moment.
We were talking by the light of a single candle. Salemina turned her head a little aside, but there was a look on her face that repaid me for all my labour and anxiety, a look in which her forty years melted away and became as twenty, a look that was the outward and visible expression of the inward and spiritual youth that has always been hers; then she replied simply-
"I told him what is true: that my life had been one long coming to meet him, and that I was quite ready to walk with him to the end of the world."
. . . . . .
I left her to her thoughts, which I well knew were more precious than my words, and went across the hall, where Benella was packing Francesca's last purchases. Ordinarily one of us manages to superintend such operations, as the Derelict's principal aim is to make two garments go where only one went before. Nature in her wildest moments never abhorred a vacuum in her dominion as Miss Dusenberry resents it in a trunk.
"Benella," I said, in that mysterious whisper which one uses for such communications, "Dr. La Touche has asked Miss Peabody to marry him, and she has consented."
"It was full time!" the Derelict responded, with a deep sigh of relief, "but better late than never! Men folks are so queer, I don't hardly know how a merciful Providence ever came to invent 'em! Either they're so bold they'd propose to the Queen o' Sheba without mindin' it a mite, or else they're such scare-cats you 'bout have to ask 'em yourself, and then lug 'em to the minister's afterwards-- there don't seem to be no halfway with 'em. Well, I'm glad you're all settled; it must be nice to have folks!"
It was a pathetic little phrase, and I fancied I detected a tear in her usually cheerful and decided voice. Acting on the suspicion, I said hurriedly, "You have already had a share of Miss Monroe's 'folks' and mine offered you, and now Miss Peabody will be sure to add hers to the number. Your only difficulty will be to attend to them all impartially, and keep them from quarrelling as to which shall have you next."
She brightened visibly. "Yes," she assented, without any superfluous modesty,--squeezing as she spoke a pair of bronze slippers into the crown of Francesca's favourite hat--"yes, that part'll be hard on all of us; but I want you to know that I belong to you this winter, any way; Miss Peabody can get along without me better'n you can."
Her glance was freighted with a kind of evasive, half-embarrassed affection; shy, unobtrusive, respectful it was, but altogether friendly and helpful.
That the relations between us have ever quite been those of mistress and maid, I cannot affirm. We have tried to persuade ourselves that they were at least an imitation of the proper thing, just to maintain our self-respect while travelling in a country of monarchical institutions, but we have always tacitly understood the real situation and accepted its piquant incongruities.
So when I met Benella Dusenberry's wistful, sympathetic eye, my republican head, reckless of British conventions, found the maternal hollow in her spinster shoulder as I said, "Dear old Derelict! it was a good day for us when you drifted into our harbour!"