Penelope's English Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part Second--In the country.
Chapter XXV. Et ego in Arcadia vixit.
I essayed another nap after this exciting episode. I heard the gate open once or twice, but a single stray customer, after my hungry and generous horde, did not stir my curiosity, and I sank into a refreshing slumber, dreaming that Willie Beresford and I kept an English inn, and that I was the barmaid. This blissful vision had been of all too short duration when I was awakened by Mrs. Bobby's apologetic voice.
"It is too bad to disturb you, miss, but I've got to go and patch up the fence, and smooth over the matter of the turnips with Mrs. Gooch, who is that snorty I don't know 'ow ever I can pacify her. There is nothing for you to do, miss, only if you'll kindly keep an eye on the customer at the yew-tree table. He's been here for 'alf an hour, miss, and I think more than likely he's a foreigner, by his actions, or may be he's not quite right in his 'ead, though 'armless. He has taken four cups of tea, miss, and Billy saw him turn two of them into the 'olly'ocks. He has been feeding bread- and-butter to the dog, and now the baby is on his knee, playing with his fine gold watch. He gave me a 'alf-a-crown and refused to take a penny change; but why does he stop so long, miss? I can't help worriting over the silver cream-jug that was my mother's."
Mrs. Bobby disappeared. I rose lazily, and approached the window to keep my promised eye on the mysterious customer. I lifted back the purple clematis to get a better view.
It was Willie Beresford! He looked up at my ejaculation of surprise, and, dropping the baby as if it had been a parcel, strode under the window.
I(gasping). "How did you come here?"
He. "By the usual methods, dear."
I. "You shouldn't have come without asking. Where are all your fine promises? What shall I do with you? Do you know there isn't an hotel within four miles?"
He. "That is nothing; it was four hundred miles that I couldn't endure. But give me a less grudging welcome than this, though I am like a starving dog that will snatch any morsel thrown to him! It is really autumn, Penelope, or it will be in a few days. Say you are a little glad to see me."
(The sight of him so near, after my weeks of loneliness, gave me a feeling so sudden, so sweet, and so vivid that it seemed to smite me first on the eyes, and then in the heart; and at the first note of his convincing voice Doubt picked up her trailing skirts and fled for ever.)
I. "Yes, if you must know it, I am glad to see you; so glad, indeed, that nothing in the world seems to matter so long as you are here."
He (striding a little nearer, and looking about involuntarily for a ladder). "Penelope, do you know the penalty of saying such sweet things to me?"
I. "Perhaps it is because I know the penalty that I'm committing the offence. Besides, I feel safe in saying anything in this second-story window."
He. "Don't pride yourself on your safety unless you wish to see me transformed into a nineteenth-century Romeo, to the detriment of Mrs. Bobby's creepers. I can look at you for ever, dear, in your pink gown and your purple frame, unless I can do better. Won't you come down?"
I. "I like it very much up here."
He. "You would like it very much down here, after a little. So you didn't 'paint me out,' after all?"
I. "No; on the contrary, I painted you in, to every twig and flower, every hill and meadow, every sunrise and every sunset."
He. "You must come down! The distance between Belvern and Aix when I was not sure that you loved me was nothing compared to having you in a second story when I know that you do. Come down, Pen! Pretty Pen!"
I. "Suppose we compromise. My sitting-room is just below; will you walk in and look at my sketches until I come? You needn't ring; the bell is overgrown with honeysuckle and there is no one to answer it; it might almost be an American hotel, but it is Arcadia!"
He. "It is Paradise; and alas! here comes the serpent!"
I. "It isn't a serpent; it is the kindest landlady in England.-- Mrs. Bobby, this gentleman is a dear friend of mine from America. Mr. Beresford, this is Mrs. Bobby, the most comfortable hostess in the world, and the owner of the cottage, the canaries, the tea- tables, and the baby.--The reason Mr. Beresford was so thirsty, Mrs. Bobby, was that he has walked here from Great Belvern, so we must give him some supper before he returns."
Mrs. B. "Certainly, miss, he shall have the best in the 'ouse, you can depend upon that."
He. "Don't let me interfere with your usual arrangements. I am not hungry--for food; I shall do very well until I get back to the hotel."
I. "Indeed you will not, sir! Billy shall pull some tomatoes and lettuce, Tommy shall milk the cow, and Mrs. Bobby shall make you a savory omelet that Delmonico might envy. Hark! Is that our fowl cackling? It is,--at half-past six! She heard me mention omelet and she must be calling, 'Now I lay me down to sleep.'"
. . . .
But all that is many days ago, and there are no more experiences to relate at present. We are making history very fast, Willie Beresford and I, but much of it is sacred history, and so I cannot chronicle it for any one's amusement.
Mrs. Beresford is here, or at least she is in Great Belvern, a few miles distant. I am not painting, these latter days. I have turned the artist side of my nature to the wall just for a bit, and the woman side is having full play. I do not know what the world will think about it, if it stops to think at all, but I feel as if I were 'right side out' for the first time in my life; and when I take up my brushes again, I shall have a new world within from which to paint,--yes, and a new world without.
Good-bye, dear Belvern! Autumn and winter may come into my life, but whenever I think of you it will be summer-time in my heart. I shall hear the tinkle of the belled sheep on the hillsides; inhale the fragrance of the flowering vine that climbed in at my cottage window; relive in memory the days when Love and I first walked together, hand in hand. Dear days of happy idleness; of dreaming dreams and seeing visions; of morning walks over the hills; of 'bread-and-cheese and kisses' at noon, with kind Mrs. Bobby hovering like a plump guardian angel over the simple feast; afternoon tea under the friendly shades of the yew-tree, and parting at the wicket-gate. I can see him pass the clock-tower, the little greengrocer shop, the old stocks, the green pump; then he is at the turn of the road where the stone wall and the hawthorn hedge will presently hide him from my view. I fly up to my window, push back the vines, catch his last wave of the hand. I would call him back, if I dared; but it would be no easier to let him go the second time, and there is always to-morrow. Thank God for to-morrow! And if there should be no to-morrow? Then thank God for to-day! And so good-bye again, dear Belvern! It was in the lap of your lovely hills that Penelope first knew das irdische Gluck; that she first loved, first lived; forgot how to be artist, in remembering how to be woman.