Penelope's Postscripts by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Penelope in Devon
We are in Bristol after a week's coaching in Wales; the Jack Copleys, Tommy Schuyler, Mrs. Jack's younger brother, and Miss Van Tyck, Mrs. Jack's "Aunt Celia," who played a grim third in that tour of the English Cathedrals during which Jack Copley was ostensibly studying architecture but in reality courting Kitty Schuyler. Also there is Bertram Ferguson, whom we call "Atlas" because he carries the world on his shoulders, gazing more or less vaguely and absent-mindedly at all the persons and things in the universe not in need of immediate reformation.
We had journeyed by easy stages from Liverpool through Carnarvon, Llanberis, Penygwyrd, Bettws-y-Coed, Beddgelert, and Tan-y-Bulch. Arriving finally at Dolgelly, we sent the coach back to Carnarvon and took the train to Ross,--the gate of the Wye,--from whence we were to go down the river in boats. As to that, everybody knows Symond's Yat, Monmouth, Raglan Castle, Tintern Abbey, Chepstow; but at Bristol a brilliant idea took possession of Jack Copley's mind. Long after we were in bed o' nights the blessed man interviewed landlords and studied guidebooks that he might show us something beautiful next day, and above all, something out of the common route. Mrs. Jack didn't like common routes; she wanted her appetite titillated with new scenes.
At breakfast we saw the red-covered Baedeker beside our host's plate. This was his way of announcing that we were to "move on," like poor Jo in "Bleak House." He had already reached the marmalade stage, and while we discussed our bacon and eggs and reviled our coffee, he read us the following:-
"Clovelly lies in a narrow and richly-wooded combe descending abruptly to the sea." -
"Any place that descends to the sea abruptly or otherwise has my approval in advance," said Tommy.
"Be quiet, my boy."--"It consists of one main street, or rather a main staircase, with a few houses climbing on each side of the combe so far as the narrow space allows. The houses, each standing on a higher or lower level than its neighbour, are all whitewashed, with gay green doors and lattices." -
"Heavenly!" cried Mrs. Jack. "It sounds like an English Amalfi; let us take the first train."
- "And the general effect is curiously foreign; the views from the quaint little pier and, better still, from the sea, with the pier in the foreground, are also very striking. The foundations of the cottages at the lower end of the village are hewn out of the living rock."
"How does a living rock differ from other rocks--dead rocks?" Tommy asked facetiously. "I have always wanted to know; however, it sounds delightful, though I can't remember anything about Clovelly."
"Did you never read Dickens's 'Message from the Sea,' Thomas?" asked Miss Van Tyck. Aunt Celia always knows the number of the unemployed in New York and Chicago, the date when North Carolina was admitted to the Union, why black sheep eat less than white ones, the height of the highest mountain and the length of the longest river in the world, when the first potato was dug from American soil, when the battle of Bull Run was fought, who invented the first fire-escape, how woman suffrage has worked in Colorado and California, the number of trees felled by Mr. Gladstone, the principle of the Westinghouse brake and the Jacquard loom, the difference between peritonitis and appendicitis, the date of the introduction of postal-cards and oleomargarine, the price of mileage on African railways, the influence of Christianity in the Windward Islands, who wrote "There's Another, not a Sister," "At Midnight in his Guarded Tent," "A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever," and has taken in through the pores much other information likely to be of service on journeys where an encyclopaedia is not available.
If she could deliver this information without gibes at other people's ignorance she would, of course, be more agreeable; but it is only justice to say that a person is rarely instructive and agreeable at the same moment.
"It is settled, then, that we go to Clovelly," said Jack. "Bring me the ABC Guide, please" (this to the waiter who had just brought in the post).
"Quite settled, and we go at once," said Mrs. Jack, whose joy at arriving at a place is only equalled by her joy in leaving it. "Penelope, hand me my letters, please; if you were not my guest I should say I had never witnessed such an appetite. Tommy, what news from father? Atlas, how can you drink three cups of British coffee? Oh-h-h, how more than lucky, how heavenly, how providential! Egeria is coming!"
"Egeria?" we cried with one rapturous voice.
"Read your letter carefully, Kitty," said Jack; "you will probably find that she wishes she might come, but finds it impossible."
"Or that she certainly would come if she had anything to wear," drawled Tommy.
"Or that she could come perfectly well if it were a few days later," quoth I.
Mrs. Jack stared at us superciliously, and lifting an absurd watch from her antique chatelaine, observed calmly, "Egeria will be at this hotel in one hour and fifteen minutes; I telegraphed her the night before last, and this letter is her reply."
"Who is Egeria?" asked Atlas, looking up from his own letters. "She sounds like a character in a book."
Mrs. Jack: "You begin, Penelope."
Penelope: "No, I'd rather finish; then I can put in everything that you omit."
Atlas: "Is there so much to tell?"
Tommy: "Rather. Begin with her hair, Penelope."
Mrs. Jack: "No; I'll do that! Don't rattle your knives and forks, shut up your Baedeker, Jackie, and listen while I quote what a certain poet wrote of Egeria when she last visited us:-
"'She has a knot of russet hair:
"'O first of women who has laid
Jack: "She has beautiful hair, but as an architect I shouldn't think of mentioning it first. Details should follow, not precede, general characteristics. Her hair is an exquisite detail; so, you might say, is her nose, her foot, her voice; but viewed as a captivating whole, Egeria might be described epigrammatically as an animated lodestone. When a man approaches her he feels his iron- work gently and gradually drawn out of him."
Atlas looked distinctly incredulous at this statement, which was reinforced by the affirmative nods of the whole party.
Penelope: "A man cannot talk to Egeria an hour without wishing the assistance of the Society for First Aid to the Injured. She is a kind of feminine fly-paper; the men are attracted by the sweetness, and in trying to absorb a little of it, they stick fast."
Tommy: "Egeria is worth from two to two and a half times more than any girl alive; I would as lief talk to her as listen to myself."
Atlas: "Great Jove, what a concession! I wish I could find a woman--an unmarried woman (with a low bow to Mrs. Jack)--that would produce that effect upon me. So you all like her?"
Aunt Celia: "She is not what I consider a well-informed girl."
Penelope: "Now don't carp, Miss Van Tyck. You love her as much as we all do. 'Like her,' indeed! I detest the phrase. Werther said when asked how he liked Charlotte, 'What sort of creature must he be who merely liked her; whose whole heart and senses were not entirely absorbed by her! Some one asked me lately how I 'liked' Ossian."
Atlas: "Don't introduce Ossian, Werther and Charlotte into this delightful breakfast chat, I beseech you; the most tiresome trio that ever lived. If they were travelling with us, how they would jar! Ossian would tear the scenery in tatters with his apostrophes, Werther would make love to Mrs. Jack, and Charlotte couldn't cut an English household loaf with a hatchet. Keep to Egeria,--though if one cannot stop at liking her, she is a dangerous subject."
Jack: "Don't imagine from these panegyrics that, to the casual observer, Egeria is anything more than a nice girl. The deadly qualities that were mentioned only appeal to the sympathetic eye (which you have not), and the susceptible heart (which is not yours), and after long acquaintance (which you can't have, for she stays only a week). Tommy, you can meet the charmer at the station; your sister will pack up, and I'll pay the bills and make arrangements for the journey."
Jack Copley (when left alone with his spouse): "Kitty, I wonder, why you invited Egeria to travel in the same party with Atlas."
Mrs. Jack (fencing): "Pooh! Atlas is safe anywhere."
Jack: "He is a man."
Mrs. Jack: "No; he is a reformer."
Jack: "Even reformers fall in love."
Mrs. Jack: "Not unless they can find a woman to reform. Egeria is too nearly perfect to attract Atlas; besides, what does it matter, anyway?"
Jack: "It matters a good deal if it makes him unhappy; he is too good a fellow."
Mrs. Jack: "I've lived twenty-five years and I have never seen a man's unhappiness last more than six months, and I have never seen a woman make a wound in a man's heart that another woman couldn't heal. The modern young man is as tough as--well, I can't think of anything tough enough to compare him to. I've always thought it a pity that the material of which men's hearts is made couldn't be utilized for manufacturing purposes; think of its value for hinges, or for the toes of little boys' boots, or the heels of their stockings!"
Jack: "I should think you had just been jilted, my dear; how has Atlas offended you?"
Mrs. Jack: "He hasn't offended me; I love him, but I think he is too absent-minded lately."
Jack: "And is Egeria invited to join us in order that she may bring his mind forcibly back to the present?"
Mrs. Jack: "Not at all; I consider Atlas as safe as a--as a church, or a dictionary, or a guide-post, or anything; he is too much interested in tenement-house reform to fall in love with a woman."
Jack: "I think a sensible woman wouldn't be out of place in Atlas' schemes for the regeneration of humanity."
Mrs. Jack: "No; but Egeria isn't a--yes, she is, too; I can't deny it, but I don't believe she knows anything about the sweating system, and she adores Ossian and Fiona Macleod, so she probably won't appeal to Atlas in his present state, which, to my mind, is unnecessarily intense. The service of humanity renders a young man perfectly callous to feminine charms. It's the proverbial safety of numbers, I suppose, for it's always the individual that leads a man into temptation, if you notice, never the universal;--Woman, not women. I have studied Atlas profoundly, and he is nearly as blind as a bat. He paid no attention to my new travelling-dress last week, and yesterday I wore four rings on my middle finger and two on each thumb all day long, just to see if I could catch his eye and hold his attention. I couldn't."
Jack: "That may all be; a man may be blind to the charms of all women but one (and precious lucky if he is), but he is particularly keen where the one is concerned."
Mrs. Jack: "Atlas isn't keen about anything but the sweating system. You needn't worry about him; your favourite Stevenson says that a wet rag goes safely by the fire, and if a man is blind, he cannot expect to be much impressed by romantic scenery. Atlas momentarily a wet rag and temporarily blind. He told me on Wednesday that he intended to leave all his money to one of those long-named regenerating societies--I can't remember which."
Jack: "And it was on Wednesday you sent for Egeria. I see."
Mrs. Jack (haughtily): "Then you see a figment of your own imagination; there is nothing else to see. There! I've packed everything that belongs to me, while you've been smoking and gazing at that railway guide. When do we start?"
Jack: "11.59. We arrive in Bideford at 4.40, and have a twelve- mile drive to Clovelly. I will telegraph for a conveyance to the inn and for five bedrooms and a sitting-room."
Mrs. Jack: "I hope that Egeria's train will be on time, and I hope that it will rain so that I can wear my five-guinea mackintosh. It poured every day when I was economizing and doing without it."
Jack: "I never could see the value of economy that ended in extra extravagance."
Mrs. Jack: "Very likely; there are hosts of things you never can see, Jackie. But there she is, stepping out of a hansom, the darling! What a sweet gown! She's infinitely more interesting than the sweating system."
We thought we were a merry party before Egeria joined us, but she certainly introduced a new element of interest. I could not help thinking of it as we were flying about the Bristol station, just before entering the first-class carriage engaged by our host. Tommy had bought us rosebuds at a penny each; Atlas had a bundle of illustrated papers under his arm--The Sketch, Black and White, The Queen, The Lady's Pictorial, and half a dozen others. The guard was pasting an "engaged" placard on the carriage window and piling up six luncheon-baskets in the corner on the cushions, and speedily we were off.
It is a sincere tribute to the intrinsic charm of Egeria's character that Mrs. Jack and I admire her so unreservedly, for she is for ever being hurled at us as an example in cases where men are too stupid to see that there is no fault in us, nor any special virtue in her. For instance, Jack tells Kitty that she could walk with less fatigue if she wore sensible shoes like Egeria's. Now, Egeria's foot is very nearly as lovely as Trilby's in the story, and much prettier than Trilby's in the pictures; consequently, she wears a hideous, broad-toed, low-heeled boot, and looks trim and neat in it. Her hair is another contested point: she dresses it in five minutes in the morning, walks or drives in the rain and wind for a few hours, rides in the afternoon, bathes in the surf, lies in a hammock, and, if circumstances demand, the creature can smooth it with her hands and walk in to dinner! Kitty and I, on the contrary, rise a half-hour earlier to curl or wave; our spirit- lamps leak into our dressing-bags, and our beauty is decidedly damaged by damp or hot weather. Most women's hair is a mere covering to the scalp, growing out of the head, or pinned on, as the case may be. Egeria's is a glory like Eve's; it is expressive, breathing a hundred delicate suggestions of herself; not tortured into frizzles, or fringes, or artificial shapes, but winding its lustrous lengths about her head, just high enough to show the beautiful nape of her neck, "where this way and that the little lighter-coloured irreclaimable curls run truant from the knot,-- curls, half curls, root curls, vine ringlets, wedding-rings, fledgling feathers, tufts of down, blown wisps,--all these wave, or fall, or stray, loose and downward in the form of small, silken paws, hardly any of them thicker than a crayon shading, cunninger than long, round locks of gold to trick the heart."
At one o'clock we lifted the covers of our luncheon-baskets.
"Aren't they the tidiest, most self-respecting, satisfying things!" exclaimed Egeria, as she took out her plate, and knife, and fork, opened her Japanese napkin, set in dainty order the cold fowl and ham, the pat of butter, crusty roll, bunch of lettuce, mustard and salt, the corkscrew, and, finally, the bottle of ale. "I cannot bear to be unpatriotic, but compare this with the ten minutes for refreshments at an American lunch-counter, its baked beans, and pies, and its cream cakes and doughnuts under glass covers. I don't believe English people are as good as we are; they can't be; they're too comfortable. I wonder if the little discomforts of living in America, the dissatisfaction and incompetency of servants, and all the other problems, will work out for the nation a more exceeding weight of glory, or whether they will simply ruin the national temper."
"It's wicked to be too luxurious, Egeria," said Tommy, with a sly look at Atlas. "It's the hair shirt, not the pearl-studded bosom, that induces virtue."
"Is it?" she asked innocently, letting her clear gaze follow Tommy's. "You don't believe, Mr. Atlas, that modest people like you, and me, and Tommy, and the Copleys, incur danger in being too comfortable; the trouble lies in the fact that the other half is too uncomfortable, does it not? But I am just beginning to think of these things," she added soberly.
"Egeria," said Mrs. Jack sternly, "you may think about them as much as you like; I have no control over your mental processes, but if you mention single tax, or tenement-house reform, or Socialism, or altruism, or communism, or the sweating system, you will be dropped at Bideford. Atlas is only travelling with us because he needs complete moral and intellectual rest. I hope, oh, how I hope, that there isn't a social problem in Clovelly! It seems as if there couldn't be, in a village of a single street and that a stone staircase."
"There will be," I said, "if nothing more than the problem of supply and demand; of catching and selling herrings."
We had time at Bideford to go into a quaint little shop for tea before starting on our twelve-mile drive; time also to be dragged by Tommy to Bideford Bridge, that played so important a part in Kingsley's "Westward Ho!" We did not approach Clovelly finally through the beautiful Hobby Drive, laid out in former years by one of the Hamlyn ladies of Clovelly Court, but by the turnpike road, which, however, was not uninteresting. It had been market-day at Bideford and there were many market carts and "jingoes" on the road, with perhaps a heap of yellow straw inside and a man and a rosy boy on the seat. The roadway was prettily bordered with broom, wild honeysuckle, fox-glove, and single roses, and there was a certain charming post-office called the Fairy Cross, in a garden of blooming fuchsias, where Egeria almost insisted upon living and officiating as postmistress.
All at once our driver checked his horses on the brink of a hill, apparently leading nowhere in particular.
"What is it?" asked Mrs. Jack, who is always expecting accidents.
"Clovelly!" we repeated automatically, gazing about us on every side for a roof, a chimney, or a sign of habitation.
"You'll find it, mum, as you walk down-along."
"How charming!" cried Egeria, who loves the picturesque. "Towns are generally so obtrusive; isn't it nice to know that Clovelly is here and that all we have to do is to walk 'down-along' and find it? Come, Tommy. Ho, for the stone staircase!"
We who were left behind discovered by more questioning that one cannot drive into Clovelly; that although an American president or an English chancellor might, as a great favour, be escorted down on a donkey's back, or carried down in a sedan chair if he chanced to have one about his person, the ordinary mortal must walk to the door of the New Inn, his luggage being dragged "down-along" on sledges and brought "up-along" on donkeys. In a word, Clovelly is not built like unto other towns; it seems to have been flung up from the sea into a narrow rift between wooded hills, and to have clung there these eight hundred years of its existence. It has held fast, but it has not expanded, for the very good reason that it completely fills the hollow in the cliffs, the houses clinging like limpets to the rocks on either side, so that it would be a costly and difficult piece of engineering indeed to build any extensions or additions.
We picked our way "down-along" until we caught the first glimpse of white-washed cottages covered with creepers, their doors hospitably open, their windows filled with blooming geraniums and fuchsias. All at once, as we began to descend the winding, rocky pathway, we saw that it pitched headlong into the bluest sea in the world. No wonder the painters have loved it! Shall we ever forget that first vision! There were a couple of donkeys coming "up-along" laden, one with coals, the other with bread-baskets; a fisherman was mending his nets in front of his door; others were lounging "down to quay pool" to prepare for their evening drift-fishing. A little further on, at a certain abrupt turning called the "lookout," where visitors stop to breathe and villagers to gossip, one could catch a glimpse of the beach and "Crazed Kate's Cottage," the drying-ground for nets, the lifeboat house, the pier, and the breakwater.
We were all enchanted when we arrived at the door of the inn.
"Devonshire for me! I shall live here!" cried Mrs. Jack. "I said that a few times in Wales, but I retract it. You had better live here, too, Atlas; there aren't any problems in Clovelly."
"I am sure of that," he assented smilingly. "I noticed dozens of live snails in the rocks of the street as we came down; snails cannot live in combination with problems."
"Then I am a snail," answered Mrs. Jack cheerfully; "for that is exactly my temperament."
We found that we could not get room enough for all at the tiny inn, but this only exhilarated Egeria and Tommy. They disappeared and came back triumphant ten minutes later.
"We got lodgings without any difficulty," said Egeria. "Tommy's isn't half bad; we saw a small boy who had been taking a box 'down- along' on a sledge, and he referred us to a nice place where they took Tommy in; but you should see my lodging--it is ideal. I noticed the prettiest yellow-haired girl knitting in a doorway. 'There isn't room for me at the inn,' I said; 'could you let me sleep here?' She asked her mother, and her mother said 'Yes,' and there was never anything so romantic as my vine-embowered window. Juliet would have jumped at it."
"She would have jumped out of it, if Romeo had been below," said Mrs. Jack, "but there are no Romeos nowadays; they are all busy settling the relations of labour and capital."
The New Inn proved some years ago to be too small for its would-be visitors. An addition couldn't be built because there wasn't any room; but the landlady succeeded in getting a house across the way. Here there are bedrooms, a sort of quiet tap-room of very great respectability, and the kitchens. As the dining-room is in house number one, the matter of serving dinner might seem to be attended with difficulty, but it is not apparent. The maids run across the narrow street with platters and dishes surmounted by great Britannia covers, and in rainy weather they give the soup or joint the additional protection of a large cotton umbrella. The walls of every room in the inn are covered with old china, much of it pretty, and some of it valuable, though the finest pieces are not hung, but are placed in glass cabinets. One cannot see an inch of wall space anywhere in bedrooms, dining- or sitting-rooms for the huge delft platters, whole sets of the old green dragon pattern, quaint perforated baskets, pitchers and mugs of British lustre, with queer dogs, and cats, and peacocks, and clocks of china. The massing of colour is picturesque and brilliant, and the whole effect decidedly unique. The landlady's father and grandfather had been Bideford sea-captains and had brought here these and other treasures from foreign parts. As Clovelly is a village of seafolk and fisher-folk, the houses are full of curiosities, mostly from the Mediterranean. Egeria had no china in her room, but she had huge branches of coral, shells of all sizes and hues, and an immense coloured print of the bay of Naples. Tommy's landlady was volcanic in her tastes, and his walls were lined with pictures of Vesuvius in all stages of eruption. My room, a wee, triangular box of a thing, was on the first floor of the inn. It opened hospitably on a bit of garden and street by a large glass door that wouldn't shut, so that a cat or a dog spent the night by my bed- side now and then, and many a donkey tried to do the same, but was evicted.
Oh, the Clovelly mornings! the sunshine, the salt air, the savour of the boats and the nets, the limestone cliffs of Gallantry Bower rising steep and white at the head of the village street, with the brilliant sea at the foot; the walks down by the quay pool (not key pool, you understand, but quaay puul in the vernacular), the sails in a good old herring-boat called the Lorna Doone, for we are in Blackmore's country here.
We began our first day early in the morning, and met at nine- o'clock breakfast in the coffee-room. Egeria came in glowing. She reminds me of a phrase in a certain novel, where the heroine is described as always dressing (seemingly) to suit the season and the sky. Clad in sea-green linen with a white collar, and belt, she was the very spirit of a Clovelly morning. She had risen at six, and in company with Phoebe, daughter of her house (the yellow- haired lassie mentioned previously), had prowled up and down North Hill, a transverse place or short street much celebrated by painters. They had met a certain bold fisher-lad named Jem, evidently Phoebe's favourite swain, and explored the short passage where Fish Street is built over, nicknamed Temple Bar.
Atlas came in shortly after and laid a nosegay at Egeria's plate.
"My humble burnt-offering, your ladyship," he said.
Tommy: "She has lots of offerings, but she generally prefers to burn 'em herself. When Egeria's swains talk about her, it is always 'ut vidi,' how I saw, succeeded by 'ut perii,' how I sudden lost my brains."
Egeria: "YOU don't indulge in burnt-offerings" (laughing, with slightly heightened colour); "but how you do burn incense! You speak as if the skeletons of my rejected suitors were hanging on imaginary lines all over the earth's surface."
Tommy: "They are not hanging on 'imaginary' lines."
Mrs. Jack: "Turn your thoughts from Egeria's victims, you frivolous people, and let me tell you that I've been 'up-along' this morning and found--what do you think?--a library: a circulating library maintained by the Clovelly Court people. It is embowered in roses and jasmine, and there is a bird's nest hanging just outside one of the open windows next to a shelf of Dickens and Scott. Never before have young families of birds been born and brought up with similar advantages. The snails were in the path just as we saw them yesterday evening, Atlas; not one has moved, not one has died! Oh, I certainly must come and live here. The librarian is a dear old lady; if she ever dies, I am coming to take her place. You will be postmistress at the Fairy Cross then, Egeria, and we'll visit each other. And I've brought Dickens' 'Message from the Sea' for you, and Kingsley's 'Westward Ho!' for Tommy, and 'The Wages of Sin' for Atlas, and 'Hypatia' for Egeria, 'Lorna Doone' for Jack, and Charles Kingsley's sermons for myself. We will read aloud every evening."
"I won't," said Tommy succinctly. "I've been down by the quay pool, and I've got acquainted with a lot of A1 chaps that have agreed to take me drift-fishing every night, and they are going to put out the Clovelly lifeboat for exercise this week, and if the weather is fine, Bill Marks is going to take Atlas and me to Lundy Island. You don't catch me round the evening lamp very much in Clovelly."
"Don't be too slangy, Tommy, and who on earth is Bill Marks?" asked Jack.
"He's our particular friend, Tommy's and mine," answered Atlas, seeing that Tommy was momentarily occupied with bacon and eggs. "He told us more yarns than we ever before heard spun in the same length of time. He is seventy-seven, and says he was a teetotaler until he was sixty-nine, but has been trying to make up time ever since. From his condition last evening, I should say he was likely to do it. He was so mellow, I asked him how he could manage to walk down the staircase. 'Oh, I can walk down neat enough,' he said, 'when I'm in good sailing trim, as I am now, feeling just good enough, but not too good, your honour; but when I'm half seas over or three sheets in the wind, I roll down, your honour!' He spends three shillings a week for his food and the same for his 'rummidge.' He was thrilling when he got on the subject of the awful wreck just outside this harbour, 'the fourth of October, seventy-one years ago, two-and-thirty men drowned, your honour, and half of 'em from Clovelly parish. And I was one of the three men saved in another storm twenty-four years agone, when two-and-twenty men were drowned; that's what it means to plough the great salt field that is never sown, your honour.' When he found we'd been in Scotland, he was very anxious to know if we could talk 'Garlic,' said he'd always wanted to know what it sounded like."
Somehow, in the days that followed, Tommy was always with his particular friends, the fishermen, on the beach, at the Red Lion, or in the shop of a certain boat-builder, learning the use of the calking-iron. Mr. and Mrs. Jack, Aunt Celia, and I unexpectedly found ourselves a quartette for hours together, while Egeria and Atlas walked in the churchyard, in the beautiful grounds of Clovelly Court, or in the deer park, where one finds as perfect a union of marine and woodland scenery as any in England.
Atlas may have taken her there because he could discuss single tax more eloquently when he was walking over the entailed estates of the English landed gentry, but I suspect that single tax had taken off its hat, and bowing profoundly to Egeria, had said, "After you, Madam!" and retired to its proper place in the universe; for not even the most blatant economist would affirm that any other problem can be so important as that which confronts a man when he enters that land of Beulah, which is upon the borders of Heaven and within sight of the City of Love.
Atlas was young, warm of heart, high of mind, and generous of soul. All the necessary chords, therefore, were in him, ready to be set in vibration. No one could do this more cunningly than Egeria; the only question was whether love would "run out to meet love," as it should, "with open arms."
We simply waited to see. Mrs. Jack, with that fine lack of logic that distinguished her, disclaimed all responsibility. "He is awake, at least," she said, "and that is a great comfort; and now and then he observes a few very plain facts, mostly relating to Egeria, it is true. If it does come to anything, I hope he won't ask her to live in a college settlement the year round, though I haven't the slightest doubt that she would like it. If there were ever two beings created expressly for each other, it is these two, and for that reason I have my doubts about the matter. Almost all marriages are made between two people who haven't the least thing in common, so far as outsiders can judge. Egeria and Atlas are almost too well suited for marriage."
The progress of the affair had thus far certainly been astonishingly rapid, but it might mean nothing. Egeria's mind and heart were so easy of access up to a certain point that the traveller sometimes overestimated the distance covered and the distance still to cover. Atlas quoted something about her at the end of the very first day, that described her charmingly: "Ordinarily, the sweetest ladies will make us pass through cold mist and cross a stile or two, or a broken bridge, before the formalities are cleared away, to grant us rights of citizenship. She is like those frank lands where we have not to hand out a passport at the frontier and wait for dubious inspection." But the description is incomplete. Egeria, indeed, made no one wait at the frontier for a dubious inspection of his passport; but once in the new domain, while he would be cordially welcomed to parks, gardens, lakes, and pleasure grounds, he would find unexpected difficulty in entering the queen's private apartments, a fact that occasioned surprise to some of the travellers.
We all took the greatest interest, too, in the romance of Phoebe and Jem, for the course of true love did not run at all smooth for this young couple. Jack wrote a ballad about her, and Egeria made a tune to it, and sang it to the tinkling, old-fashioned piano of an evening:-
"Have you e'er seen the street of Clovelly?
"Have you e'er seen the lass of Clovelly?
"There's a good honest lad in Clovelly,
"Have you e'er seen the church at Clovelly?
When the nights were cool or damp we crowded into Mrs. Jack's tiny china-laden sitting-room, and had a blaze in the grate with a bit of driftwood burning blue and green and violet on top of the coals. Tommy sometimes smelled of herring to such a degree that we were obliged to keep the door open; but his society was so precious that we endured the odours.
But there were other evenings out of doors, when we sat in a sheltered corner down on the pier, watching the line of limestone cliffs running westward to the revolving light at Hartland Point that sent us alternate flashes of ruby and white across the water. Clovelly lamps made glittering disks in the quay pool, shining there side by side with the reflected star-beams. We could hear the regular swish-swash of the waves on the rocks, and to the eastward the dripping of a stream that came tumbling over the cliff.
Such was our last evening in Clovelly; a very quiet one, for the charm of the place lay upon us and we were loath to leave it. It was warm and balmy, and the moonlight lay upon the beach. Egeria leaned against the parapet, the serge of her dress showing white against the background of rock. The hood of her dark blue yachting-cape was slipping off her head, and her eyes were as deep and clear as crystal pools.
Presently she began to sing,--first, "The Sands o' Dee," then,--
"Three fishers went sailing out into the west,
Egeria is one of the few women who can sing well without an accompaniment. She has a thrilling voice, and what with the scene, the hour, and the pathos of Kingsley's verses, tears rushed into my eyes, and Bill Marks' words came back to me--"Two-and-twenty men drowned; that's what it means to plough the great salt field that is never sown."
Atlas gazed at her with eyes that no longer cared to keep their secret. Mrs. Jack was still uncertain; for me, I was sure. Love had rushed past him like a galloping horseman, and shooting an arrow almost without aim, had struck him full in the heart, that citadel that had withstood a dozen deliberate sieges.
It was midnight, and our few belongings were packed. Egeria had come to the Inn to sleep, and stole into my room to warm her toes before the blaze in my grate, for I was chilly and had ordered a sixpenny fire. When I say that she came in to warm her toes, I am asking you to accept her statement, not mine; it is my opinion that she came in for no other purpose than to tell me something that was in her mind and heart pleading for utterance.
I didn't help her by leading up to the subject, because I thought her fib so flagrant and unnecessary; accordingly, we talked over a multitude of things,--Phoebe and Jem and their hard-hearted parents, our visit to Cardiff and Ilfracombe, Bill Marks and his wife, the service at the church, and finally her walk with Atlas in the churchyard.
"We went inside," said Egeria, "and I copied the inscription on the bronze tablet that Atlas liked so much on Sunday: 'Her grateful and affectionate husband's last and proudest wish will be that whenever Divine Providence shall call him hence, his name may be engraved on the same tablet that is sacred in perpetuating as much virtue and goodness as could adorn human nature.'" Then she went on, with apparent lack of sequence: "Penelope, don't you think it is always perfectly safe to obey a Scriptural command, because I have done it?"
"Did you find it in the Old or the New Testament?"
"I should say that if you found some remarks about breaking the bones of your enemy, and have twisted it out of its connection, it would be particularly bad advice to follow."
"It is nothing of that sort."
"What is it, then?"
She took out a tortoise-shell dagger just here, and gave her head an absent-minded shake so that her lustrous coil of hair uncoiled itself and fell on her shoulders in a ruddy spiral. It was a sight to induce covetousness, but one couldn't be envious of Egeria. She charmed one by her lack of consciousness.
"The happy lot
quoted I, as I gave her head an insinuating pat. "Come, Egeria, stand and deliver! What is the Scriptural command, that having first obeyed, you ask my advice about afterwards?"
"Have you a Bible?"
"You might not think it, but I have, and it is here on my table."
"Then I am going into my room, to lock the door, and call the verse through the keyhole. But you must promise not to say a word to me till to-morrow morning."
I was not in a position to dictate terms, so I promised. The door closed, the bolt shot into the socket, and Egeria's voice came so faintly through the keyhole that I had to stoop to catch the words:-
I flew to my Bible. Genesis--Exodus--Leviticus--Numbers-- Deuteronomy--Deut-er-on-omy--Ten--Nineteen -
"Love ye therefore the stranger--"