Penelope's Irish Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter VII. A tour and a detour.
'"An' there," sez I to meself, "we're goin' wherever we go, But where we'll be whin we git there it's never a know I'll know."' Jane Barlow.
We had planned to go direct from Dublin to Valencia Island, where there is not, I am told, 'one dhry step 'twixt your fut an' the States'; but we thought it too tiring a journey for Benella, and arranged for a little visit to Cork first. We nearly missed the train owing to the late arrival of Salemina at the Kingsbridge station. She had been buying malted milk, Mellin's Food, an alcohol lamp, a tin cup, and getting all the doctor's prescriptions renewed.
We intended, too, to go second or third class now an then, in order to study the humours of the natives, but of course we went 'first' on this occasion on account of Benella. I told her that we could not follow British usage and call her by her surname. Dusenberry was too long and too--well, too extraordinary for daily use abroad.
"P'r'aps it is," she assented meekly; "and still, Mis' Beresford, when a man's name is Dusenberry, you can't hardly blame him for wanting his child to be called by it, can you?"
This was incontrovertible, and I asked her middle name. It was Frances, and that was too like Francesca.
"You don't like the sound o' Benella?" she inquired. "I've always set great store by my name, it is so unlikely. My father's name was Benjamin and my mother's Ella, and mine is made from both of 'em; but you can call me any kind of a name you please, after what you've done for me," and she closed her eyes patiently.
'Call me Daphne, call me Chloris, Call me Lalage or Doris, Only, only call me thine,'
which is exactly what we are not ready to do, I thought, in a poetic parenthesis.
Benella looks frail and yet hardy. She has an unusual and perhaps unnecessary amount of imagination for her station, some native common-sense, but limited experience; she is somewhat vague and inconsistent in her theories of life, but I am sure there is vitality, and energy too, in her composition, although it has been temporarily drowned in the Atlantic Ocean. If she were a clock, I should think that some experimenter had taken out her original works, and substituted others to see how they would run. The clock has a New England case and strikes with a New England tone, but the works do not match it altogether. Of course I know that one does not ordinarily engage a lady's-maid because of these piquant peculiarities; but in our case the circumstances were extraordinary. I have explained them fully to Himself in my letters, and Francesca too has written pages of illuminating detail to Ronald Macdonald.
The similarity in the minds of men must sometimes come across them with a shock, unless indeed it appeals to their sense of humour. Himself in America, and the Rev. Mr. Macdonald in the north of Scotland, both answered, in course of time, that a lady's-maid should be engaged because is a lady's-maid and for no other reason.
Was ever anything duller than this, more conventional, more commonplace or didactic, less imaginative? Himself added, "You are a romantic idiot, and I love you more than tongue can tell." Francesca did not say what Ronald added; probably a part of this same sentence (owing to the aforesaid similarity of men's minds), reserving the rest for the frank intimacy of the connubial state.
Everything looked beautiful in the uncertain glory of the April day. The thistle-down clouds opened now and then to shake out a delicate, brilliant little shower that ceased in a trice, and the sun smiled through the light veil of rain, turning every falling drop to a jewel. It was as if the fairies were busy at aerial watering-pots, without any more serious purpose than to amuse themselves and make the earth beautiful; and we realised that Irish rain is as warm as an Irish welcome, and soft as an Irish smile.
Everything was bursting into new life, everything but the primroses, and their glory was departing. The yellow carpet seemed as bright as ever on the sunny hedgerow banks and on the fringe of the woods, but when we plucked some at a wayside station we saw that they were just past their golden prime. There was a grey-green hint of verdure in the sallows that stood against a dark background of firs, and the branches of the fruit-trees were tipped with pink, rosy-hued promises of May just threatening to break through their silvery April sheaths. Raindrops were still glistening on the fronds of the tender young ferns and on the great clumps of pale, delicately scented bog violets that we found in a marshy spot and brought in to Salemina, who was not in her usual spirits; who indeed seemed distinctly anxious.
She was enchanted with the changeful charm of the landscape, and found Mrs. Delany's Memoirs a book after her own heart, but ever and anon her eyes rested on Benella's pale face. Nothing could have been more doggedly conscientious and assiduous than our attentions to the Derelict. She had beef juice at Kildare, malted milk at Ballybrophy, tea at Dundrum; nevertheless, as we approached Limerick Junction we were obliged to hold a consultation. Salemina wished to alight from the train at the next station, take a three hours' rest, then jog on to any comfortable place for the night, and to Cork in the morning.
"I shall feel much more comfortable," she said, "if you go on and amuse yourselves as you like, leaving Benella to me for a day, or even for two or three days. I can't help feeling that the chief fault, or at least the chief responsibility, is mine. If I hadn't been born in Salem, or hadn't had the word painted on my trunk in such red letters she wouldn't have fainted on it, and I needn't have saved her life. It is too late to turn back now; it is saved, or partly saved, and I must persevere in saving it, at least until I find that it's not worth saving."
"Poor darling!" said Francesca sympathisingly. "I'll look in Murray and find a nice interesting place. You can put Benella to bed in the Southern Hotel at Limerick Junction, and perhaps you can then drive within sight of the Round Tower of Cashel. Then you can take up the afternoon train and go to--let me see--how would you like Buttevant? (Boutez en avant, you know, the 'Push forward' motto of the Barrymores.) It's delightful, Penelope," she continued; "we'd better get off, too. It is a garrison town, and there is a military hotel. Then in the vicinity is Kilcolman, where Spenser wrote the Faerie Queene: so there is the beginning of your literary pilgrimage the very first day, without any plotting or planning. The little river Aubeg, which flows by Kilcolman Castle, Spenser called the Mulla, and referred to it as 'Mulla mine, whose waves I whilom taught to weep.' That, by the way, is no more than our Jane Grieve could have done for the rivers of Scotland. What do you say? and won't you be a 'prood woman the day' when you sign the hotel register 'Miss Peabody and maid, Salem, Mass., U.S.A'"
I thought most favourably of Buttevant, but on prudently inquiring the guard's opinion, he said it was not a comfortable place for an invalid lady, and that Mallow was much more the thing. At Limerick Junction, then, we all alighted, and in the ten minutes' wait saw Benella escorted up the hotel stairway by a sympathetic head waiter.
Detached from Salemina's fostering care and prudent espionage, separated, above all, from the depressing Miss Dusenberry, we planned every conceivable folly in the way of guidebook expeditions. The exhilarating sense of being married, and therefore properly equipped to undertake any sort of excursion with perfect propriety, gave added zest to the affair in my eyes. Sleeping at Cork in an Imperial Hotel was far too usual a proceeding,--we scorned it. As the very apex of boldness and reckless defiance of common-sense, we let our heavy luggage go on to the capital of Munster, and, taking our handbags, entered a railway carriage standing on a side track, and were speedily on our way,--we knew not whither, and cared less. We discovered all too soon that we were going to Waterford, the Star of the Suir,-
'The gentle Shure, that making way By sweet Clonmell, adorns rich Waterford';
and we were charmed at first sight with its quaint bridge spanning the silvery river. It was only five o'clock, and we walked about the fine old ninth-century town, called by the Cavaliers the Urbs Intacta, because it was the one place in Ireland which successfully resisted the all-conquering Cromwell. Francesca sent a telegram at once to
MISS PEABODY AND MAID, Great Southern Hotel, Limerick Junction. Came to Waterford instead Cork. Strongbow landed here 1771, defeating Danes and Irish. Youghal to-morrow, pronounced Yawl. Address, Green Park, Miss Murphy's. How's Derelict? FRANELOPE.
It was absurd, of course, but an absurdity that can be achieved at the cost of eighteen-pence is well worth the money.
Nobody but a Baedeker or a Murray could write an account of our doings the next two days. Feeling that we might at any hour be recalled to Benella's bedside, we took a childlike pleasure in crowding as much as possible into the time. This zeal was responsible for our leaving the Urbs Intacta, and pushing on to pass the night in something smaller and more idyllic.
I dissuaded Francesca from seeking a lodging in Ballybricken by informing her that it was the heart of the bacon industry, and the home of the best-known body of pig-buyers in Ireland; but her mind was fixed upon Kills and Ballies. On asking our jarvey the meaning of Bally as a prefix, he answered reflectively: "I don't think there's annything onderhanded in the manin', melady; I think it means bally jist."
The name of the place where we did go shall never be divulged, lest a curious public follow in our footsteps; and if perchance it have not our youth, vigour, and appetite for adventure, it might die there in the principal hotel, unwept, unhonoured, and unsung. The house is said to be three hundred and seventy-five years old, but we are convinced that this is a wicked understatement of its antiquity. It must have been built since the Deluge, else it would at least have had one general spring cleaning in the course of its existence. Cromwell had been there too, and in the confusion of his departure they must have forgotten to sweep under the beds. We entered our rooms at ten in the evening, having dismissed our car, knowing well that there was no other place to stop the night. We gave the jarvey twice his fare to avoid altercation, 'but divil a penny less would he take,' although it was he who had recommended the place as a cosy hotel. "It looks like a small little house, melady, but 'tis large inside, and it has a power o' beds in it." We each generously insisted on taking the dirtiest bedroom (they had both been last occupied by the Cromwellian soldiers, we agreed), but relinquished the idea, because the more we compared them the more impossible it was to decide which was the dirtiest. There were no locks on the doors. "And sure what matther for that, Miss? Nobody has a right (i.e. business) to be comin' in here but meself," said the aged woman who showed us to our rooms.