Penelope's Irish Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter IV. Enter Benella Dusenberry.
'A fair maiden wander'd All wearied and lone, Sighing, "I'm a poor stranger, And far from my own." We invited her in, We offered her share Of our humble cottage And our humble fare; We bade her take comfort, No longer to moan, And made the poor stranger Be one of our own.' Old Irish Song.
The next morning dawned as lovely as if it had slipped out of Paradise, and as for freshness, and emerald sheen, the world from our windows was like a lettuce leaf just washed in dew. The windows of my bedroom looked out pleasantly on St. Stephen's Green, commonly called Stephen's Green, or by citizens of the baser sort, Stephens's Green. It is a good English mile in circumference, and many are the changes in it from the time it was first laid out, in 1670, to the present day, when it was made into a public park by Lord Ardilaun.
When the celebrated Mrs. Delany, then Mrs. Pendarves, first saw it, the centre was a swamp, where in winter a quantity of snipe congregated, and Harris in his History of Dublin alludes to the presence of snipe and swamp as an agreeable and uncommon circumstance not to be met with perhaps in any other great city in the world.
A double row of spreading lime-trees bordered its four sides, one of which, known as Beaux' Walk, was a favourite lounge for fashionable idlers. Here stood Bishop Clayton's residence, a large building with a front like Devonshire House in Piccadilly: so writes Mrs. Delany. It was splendidly furnished, and the bishop lived in a style which proves that Irish prelates of the day were not all given to self-abnegation and mortification of the flesh.
A long line of vehicles, outside-cars and cabs, some of them battered and shaky, others sufficiently well-looking, was gathering on two sides of the Green, for Dublin, you know, is 'the car- drivingest city in the world.' Francesca and I had our first experience yesterday in the intervals of nursing, driving to Dublin Castle, Trinity College, the Four Courts, and Grafton Street (the Regent Street of Dublin). It is easy to tell the stranger, stiff, decorous, terrified, clutching the rail with one or both hands, but we took for our model a pretty Irish girl, who looked like nothing so much as a bird on a swaying bough. It is no longer called the 'jaunting,' but the outside car and there is another charming word lost to the world. There was formerly an inside-car too, but it is almost unknown in Dublin, though still found in some of the smaller towns. An outside-car has its wheels practically inside the body of the vehicle, but an inside car carries its wheels outside. This definition was given us by an Irish driver, but lucid definition is not perhaps an Irishman's strong point. It is clearer to say that the passenger sits outside of the wheels on the one, inside on the other. There are seats for two persons over each of the two wheels, and a dickey for the driver in front, should he need to use it. Ordinarily he sits on one side, driving, while you perch on the other, and thus you jog along, each seeing your own side of the road, and discussing the topics of the day across the 'well,' as the covered-in centre of the car is called. There are those who do not agree with its champions, who call it 'Cupid's own conveyance'; they find the seat too small for two, yet feel it a bit unsociable when the companion occupies the opposite side. To me a modern Dublin car with rubber tires and a good Irish horse is the jolliest vehicle in the universe; there is a liveliness, an irresponsible gaiety, in the spring and sway of it; an ease in the half-lounging position against the cushions, a unique charm in 'travelling edgeways' with your feet planted on the step. You must not be afraid of a car if you want to enjoy it. Hold the rail if you must, at first, though it's just as bad form as clinging to your horse's mane while riding in the Row. Your driver will take all the chances that a crowded thoroughfare gives him; he would scorn to leave more than an inch between your feet and a Guinness' beer dray; he will shake your flounces and furbelows in the very windows of the passing trams, but he is beloved by the gods, and nothing ever happens to him.
The morning was enchanting, as I said, and, above all, the Derelict was better.
"It's a grand night's slape I had wid her intirely," said the housemaid; "an' sure it's not to-day she'll be dyin' on you at all, at all; she's had the white drink in the bowl twyst, and a grand cup o' tay on the top o' that."
Salemina fortified herself with breakfast before she went in to an interview, which we all felt to be important and decisive. The time seemed endless to us, and endless were our suppositions.
"Perhaps she has had morning prayers and fainted again."
"Perhaps she has turned out to be Salemina's long-lost cousin."
"Perhaps she is upbraiding Salemina for kidnapping her when she was insensible."
"Perhaps she is relating her life history; if it is a sad one, Salemina is adopting her legally at this moment."
"Perhaps she is one of Mr. Beresford's wards, and has come over to complain of somebody's ill treatment."
Here Salemina entered, looking flushed and embarrassed. We thought it a bad sign that she could not meet our eyes without confusion, but I made room for her on the sofa, and Francesca drew her chair closer.
"She is from Salem," began the poor dear; "she has never been out of Massachusetts in her life,"
"Unfortunate girl!" exclaimed Francesca, adding prudently, as she saw Salemina's rising colour, "though of course if one has to reside in a single state, Massachusetts offers more compensations than any other."
"She knows every nook and corner in the place," continued Salemina; "she has even seen the house where I was born, and her name is Benella Dusenberry."
"Impossible!" cried Francesca. "Dusenberry is unlikely enough, but who ever heard of such a name as Benella! It sounds like a flavouring extract."
"She came over to see the world, she says."
"Oh! then she has money?"
"No--or at least, yes; or at least she had enough when she left America to last for two or three months, or until she could earn something."
"Of course she left her little all in a chamois-skin bag under her pillow on the steamer," suggested Francesca.
"That is precisely what she did," Salemina replied, with a pale smile. "However, she was so ill in the steerage that she had to pay twenty-five or thirty dollars extra to go into the second cabin, and this naturally reduced the amount of her savings, though it makes no difference since she left them all behind her, save a few dollars in her purse. She says she is usually perfectly well, but that she was very tired when she started, that it was her first sea-voyage, and the passage was unusually rough."
"Where is she going?"
"I don't know; I mean she doesn't know. Her maternal grandmother was born in Trim, near Tara, in Meath, but she does not think she has any relations over here. She is entirely alone in the world, and that gives her a certain sentiment in regard to Ireland, which she heard a great deal about when she was a child. The maternal grandmother must have gone to Salem at a very early age, as Benella herself savours only of New England soil."
"Has she any trade, or is she trained to do anything whatsoever?" asked Francesca.
"No, she hoped to take some position of 'trust.' She does not care at all what it is, so long as the occupation is 'interestin' work,' she says. That is rather vague, of course, but she speaks and appears like a nice, conscientious person."
"Tell us the rest; conceal nothing," I said sternly.
"She--she thinks that we have saved her life, and she feels that she belongs to us," faltered Salemina.
"Belongs to us!" we cried in a duet. "Was there ever such a base reward given to virtue; ever such an unwelcome expression of gratitude! Belong to us, indeed! We can't have her; we won't have her. Were you perfectly frank with her?"
"I tried to be, but she almost insisted; she has set her heart upon being our maid."
"Does she know how to be a maid?"
"No, but she is extremely teachable, she says."
"I have my doubts," remarked Francesca; "a liking for personal service is not a distinguishing characteristic of New Englanders; they are not the stuff of which maids are made. If she were French or German or Senegambian, in fact anything but a Saleminian, we might use her; we have always said we needed some one."
Salemina brightened. "I thought myself it might be rather nice-- that is, I thought it might be a way out of the difficulty. Penelope had thought at one time of bringing a maid, and it would save us a great deal of trouble. The doctor thinks she could travel a short distance in a few days; perhaps it is a Providence in disguise."
"The disguise is perfect," murmured Francesca.
"You see," Salemina continued, "when the poor thing tottered along the wharf the stewardess laid her on the pile of wool sacks-"
"Like a dying Chancellor," again interpolated the irrepressible.
"And ran off to help another passenger. When she opened her eyes, she saw straight in front of her, in huge letters, 'Salem, Mass., U.S.A.' It loomed before her despairing vision, I suppose, like a great ark of refuge, and seemed to her in her half-dazed condition not only a reminder, but almost a message from home. She had then no thought of ever seeing the owner; she says she felt only that she should like to die quietly on anything marked 'Salem, Mass.' Go in to see her presently, Penelope, and make up your own mind about her. See if you can persuade her to--to--well, to give us up. Try to get her out of the notion of being our maid. She is so firm; I never saw so feeble a person who could be so firm; and what in the world shall we do with her if she keeps on insisting, in her nervous state?"
"My idea would be," I suggested, "to engage her provisionally, if we must, not because we want her, but because her heart is weak. I shall tell her that we do not feel like leaving her behind, and yet we ourselves cannot be detained in Dublin indefinitely; that we will try the arrangement for a month, and that she can consider herself free to leave us at any time on a week's notice."
"I approve of that," agreed Francesca, "because it makes it easier to dismiss her in case she turns out to be a Massachusetts Borgia. You remember, however, that we bore with the vapours and vagaries, the sighs and moans of Jane Grieve in Pettybaw, all those weeks, and not one of us had the courage to throw off her yoke. Never shall I forget her at your wedding, Penelope; the teardrop glistened in her eye as usual; I think it is glued there! Ronald was sympathetic, because he fancied she was weeping for the loss of you, but on inquiry it transpired that she was thinking of a marriage in that 'won'erfu' fine family in Glasgy,' with whose charms she had made us all too familiar. She asked to be remembered when I began my own housekeeping, and I told her truthfully that she was not a person who could be forgotten; I repressed my feeling that she is too tearful for a Highland village where it rains most of the year, also my conviction that Ronald's parish would chasten me sufficiently without her aid."
I did as Salemina wished, and had a conference with Miss Dusenberry. I hope I was quite clear in my stipulations as to the perfect freedom of the four contracting parties. I know I intended to be, and I was embarrassed to see Francesca and Salemina exchange glances next day when Benella said she would show us what a good sailor she could be, on the return voyage to America, adding that she thought a person would be much less liable to sea-sickness when travelling in the first cabin.