Penelope's Postscripts by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Penelope at Home
"'Tis good when you have crossed the sea and back
Penelope, in the old sense, is no more! No mound of grass and daisies covers her; no shaft of granite or marble marks the place where she rests;--as a matter of fact she never does rest; she walks and runs and sits and stands, but her travelling days are over. For the present, in a word, the reason that she is no longer "Penelope," with dozens of portraits and three volumes of "Experiences" to her credit, is, that she is Mrs. William Hunt Beresford.
As for Himself, he is just as much William Hunt Beresford as ever he was, for marriage has not staled, nor fatherhood withered, his infinite variety. There may be, indeed, a difference, ever so slight; a new dignity, and an air of responsibility that harmonizes well with the inch of added girth at his waist-line and the grey thread or two that becomingly sprinkle his dark hair.
And where is Herself, the vanished Penelope, you ask; the companion of Salemina and Francesca; the traveller in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales; the wanderer in Switzerland and Italy? Well, if she is a thought less irresponsible, merry, and loquacious, she is happier and wiser. If her easel and her palette are not in daily evidence, neither are they altogether banished from the scene; and whatever measure of cunning Penelope's hand possessed in other days, Mrs. Beresford has contrived to preserve.
If she wields the duster occasionally, in alternation with the paint-brush and the pen, she has now a new choice of weapons; and as for models,--her friends, her neighbours, even her enemies and rivals, might admire her ingenuity, her thrift, and her positive genius in selecting types to paint! She never did paint anything beautifully but children, though her backgrounds have been praised, also the various young things that were a vital part of every composition. She could never draw a horse or a cow or an ox to her satisfaction, but a long-legged colt, or a newborn Bossy-calf were well within her powers. Her puppies and kittens and chickens and goslings were always admired by the public, and the fact that the mothers and fathers in the respective groups were never quite as convincing as their offspring,--this somehow escaped the notice of the critics.
Very well, then, what was Penelope inspired to do when she became Mrs. Beresford and left the Atlantic rolling between the beloved Salemina, Francesca, and herself? Why, having "crossed the sea and back" repeatedly, she found "the sit-fast acres" of the house of Beresford where she "left them" and where they had been sitting fast for more than a hundred years.
"Here is the proper place for us to live," she said to Himself, when they first viewed the dear delightful New England landscape over together. "Here is where your long roots are, and as my roots have been in half a hundred places they can be easily transplanted. You have a decent income to begin on; why not eke it out with apples and hay and corn and Jersey cows and Plymouth Rock cocks and hens, while I use the scenery for my pictures? There are backgrounds here for a thousand canvases, all within a mile of your ancestral doorstep."
"I don't know what you will do for models in this remote place," said Himself, putting his hands in his pockets and gazing dubiously at the abandoned farm-houses on the hillsides; the still green dooryards on the village street where no children were playing, and the quiet little brick school-house at the turn of the road, from which a dozen half-grown boys and girls issued decorously, looking at us like scared rabbits.
"I have an idea about models," said Mrs. Beresford.
And it turned out that she had, for all that was ten years ago, and Penelope the Painter, merged in Mrs. Beresford the mother, has the three loveliest models in all the countryside!
Children, of course, are common enough everywhere; not, perhaps, as common as they should be, but there are a good many clean, well- behaved, truthful, decently-featured little boys and girls who will, in course of time, become the bulwarks of the Republic, who are of no use as models. The public is not interested in, and will neither purchase nor hang on its walls anything but a winsome child, a beautiful child, a pathetic child, or a picturesquely ragged and dirty child. (The latter type is preferably a foreigner, as dirty American children are for some reason or other quite unsalable.)
All this is in explanation of the foregoing remarks about Mrs. Beresford's ingenuity, thrift, and genius in selecting types to paint. The ingenuity lay in the idea itself; the thrift, in securing models that should belong to the Beresford "sit-fast acres" and not have to be searched for and "hired in" by the day; and the genius, in producing nothing but enchanting, engrossing, adorable, eminently "paintable" children. They are just as obedient, interesting, grammatical, and virtuous as other people's offspring, yet they are so beautiful that it would be the height of selfishness not to let the world see them and turn green with envy.
When viewed by the casual public in a gallery, nobody of course believes that they are real until some kind friend says: "No, oh, no! not ideal heads at all; perfect likenesses; the children of Mr. and Mrs. Beresford; Penelope Hamilton, whose signature you see in the corner, IS Mrs. Beresford."
When they are exhibited in the guise of, and under such titles as: "Young April," "In May Time," "Girl with Chickens," "Three of a Kind" (Billy with a kitten and a puppy tumbling over him), "Little Mothers" (Frances and Sally with their dolls), "When all the World is Young" (Billy, Frances, and Sally under the trees surrounded by a riot of young feathered things, with a lamb and a Jersey calf peeping over a fence in the background), then Himself stealthily visits the gallery. He stands somewhere near the pictures pulling his moustache nervously and listening to the comments of the bystanders. Not a word of his identity or paternity does he vouchsafe, but occasionally some acquaintance happens to draw near, perhaps to compliment or congratulate him. Then he has been heard to say vaingloriously: "Oh, no! they are not flattered; rather the reverse. My wife has an extraordinary faculty of catching likenesses, and of course she has a wonderful talent, but she agrees with me that she never quite succeeds in doing the children justice!"
Here we are, then, Himself and I, growing old with the country that gave us birth (God bless it!) and our children growing up with it, as they always should; for it must have occurred to the reader that I am Penelope, Hamilton that was, and also, and above all, that I am Mrs. William Hunt Beresford.
April 20, 19-
Himself and I have gone through the inevitable changes that life and love, marriage and parenthood, bring to all human creatures; but no one of the dear old group of friends has so developed as Francesca. Her last letter, posted in Scotland and delivered here seven days later, is like a breath of the purple heather and brings her vividly to mind.
In the old days when we first met she was gay, irresponsible, vivacious, and a decided flirt,--with symptoms of becoming a coquette. She was capricious and exacting; she had far too large an income for a young girl accountable to nobody; she was lovely to look upon, a product of cities and a trifle spoiled.
She danced through Europe with Salemina and me, taking in no more information than she could help, but charming everybody that she met. She was only fairly well educated, and such knowledge as she possessed was vague, uncertain, and never ready for instant use. In literature she knew Shakespeare, Balzac, Thackeray, Hawthorne, and Longfellow, but if you had asked her to place Homer, Schiller, Dante, Victor Hugo, James Fenimore Cooper, or Thoreau she couldn't have done it within a hundred years.
In history she had a bowing acquaintance with Napoleon, Washington, Wellington, Prince Charlie, Henry of Navarre, Paul Revere, and Stonewall Jackson, but as these gallant gentlemen stand on the printed page, so they stood shoulder to shoulder, elbowing one another in her pretty head, made prettier by a wealth of hair, Marcel-waved twice a week.
These facts were brought out once in examination, by one of Francesca's earliest lovers, who, at Salemina's request and my own, acted as her tutor during the spring before our first trip abroad, the general idea being to prepare her mind for foreign travel.
I suppose we were older and should have known better than to allow any man under sixty to tutor Francesca in the spring. Anyhow, the season worked its maddest pranks on the pedagogue. He fell in love with his pupil within a few days,--they were warm, delicious, budding days, for it was a very early, verdant, intoxicating spring that produced an unusual crop of romances in our vicinity. Unfortunately the tutor was a scholar at heart, as well as a potential lover, and he interested himself in making psychological investigations of Francesca's mind. She was perfectly willing, for she always regarded her ignorance as a huge joke, instead of viewing it with shame and embarrassment. What was more natural, when she drove, rode, walked, sailed, danced, and "sat out" to her heart's content, while more learned young ladies stayed within doors and went to bed at nine o'clock with no vanity-provoking memories to lull them to sleep? The fact that she might not be positive as to whether Dante or Milton wrote "Paradise Lost," or Palestrina antedated Berlioz, or the Mississippi River ran north and south or east and west,--these trifling uncertainties had never cost her an offer of marriage or the love of a girl friend; so she was perfectly frank and offered no opposition to the investigations of the unhappy but conscientious tutor, meeting his questions with the frankness of a child. Her attitude of mind was the more candid because she suspected the passion of the teacher and knew of no surer way to cure him than to let him know her mind for what it was.
When the staggering record of her ignorance on seven subjects was set down in a green-covered blank book, she awaited the result not only with resignation, but with positive hope; a hope that proved to be ill-founded, for curiously enough the tutor was still in love with her. Salemina was surprised, but I was not. Of course I had to know anatomy in order to paint, but there is more in it than that. In painting the outsides of people I assure you that I learned to guess more of what was inside them than their bony structures! I sketched the tutor while he was examining Francesca and I knew that there were no abysmal depths of ignorance that could appall him where she was concerned. He couldn't explain the situation at all, himself. If there was anything that he admired and respected in woman, it was a well-stored, logical mind, and three months' tutoring of Francesca had shown him that her mental machinery was of an obsolete pattern and that it was not even in good working order. He could not believe himself influenced (so he confessed to me) by such trivial things as curling lashes, pink ears, waving hair (he had never heard of Marcel), or mere beauties of colour and line and form. He said he was not so sure about Francesca's eyes. Eyes like hers, he remarked in confidence, were not beneath the notice of any man, be he President of Harvard University or Master of Balliol College, for they seemed to promise something never once revealed in the green examination book.
"You are quite right," I answered him; "the green book is not all there is of Miss Monroe, but whatever there is is plainly not for you"; and he humbly agreed with my dictum.
Is it not strange that a man will talk to one woman about the charms of another for days upon days without ever realizing that she may possibly be born for some other purpose than listening to him? For an hour or two, of course, any sympathetic or generous- minded person can be interested in the confidences of a lover; but at the end of weeks or months, during which time he has never once regarded his listener as a human being of the feminine gender, with eyes, nose, and hair in no way inferior to those of his beloved,-- at the end of that time he should be shaken, smitten, waked from his dreams, and told in ringing tones that in a tolerably large universe there are probably two women worth looking at, the one about whom he is talking, and the one to whom he is talking!
May 12, 19-
To go on about Francesca, she always had a quick intelligence, a sense of humour, a heart, and a conscience; four things not to be despised in the equipment of a woman. The wit she used lavishly for the delight of the world at large; the heart had not (in the tutor's time) found anything or anybody on which to spend itself; the conscience certainly was not working overtime at the same period, but I always knew that it was there and would be an excellent reliable organ when once aroused.
Of course there is no reason why the Reverend Ronald MacDonald, of the Established Church of Scotland, should have been the instrument chosen to set all the wheels of Francesca's being in motion, but so it was; and a great clatter and confusion they made in our Edinburgh household when the machinery started! If Ronald was handsome he was also a splendid fellow; if he was a preacher he was also a man; and no member of the laity could have been more ardently and satisfactorily in love than he. It was the ardour that worked the miracle; and when Francesca was once warmed through to the core, she began to grow. Her modest fortune helped things a little at the beginning of their married life, for it not only made existence easier, but enabled them to be of more service in the straggling, struggling country parishes where they found themselves at first.
Francesca's beautiful American clothes shocked Ronald's congregations now and then, and it was felt that, though possible, it was not very probable, that the grace of God could live with such hats and shoes, such gloves and jewels as hers. But by the time Ronald was called from his Argyllshire church to St. Giles's Cathedral in Edinburgh there was a better understanding of young Mrs. MacDonald's raiment and its relation to natural and revealed religion. It appeared now that a clergyman's wife, by strict attention to parochial duties; by being the mother of three children all perfectly well behaved in church; by subscribing generously to all worthy charities; by never conducting herself as light-mindedly as her eyes and conversation seemed to portend,--it appeared that a woman COULD live down her clothes! It was a Bishop, I think, who argued in Francesca's behalf that godliness did not necessarily dwell in frieze and stout leather and that it might flourish in lace and chiffon. Salemina and I used to call Ronald and Francesca the antinomic pair. Antinomics, one finds by consulting the authorities, are apparently contradictory poles, which, however, do not really contradict, but are only correlatives, the existence of one making the existence of the other necessary, explaining each other and giving each other a real standing and equilibrium.
May 7, 19-
What immeasurable leagues of distance lie between Salemina, Francesca, and me! Not only leagues of space divide us, but the difference in environment, circumstances, and responsibilities that give reality to space; yet we have bridged the gulf successfully by a particular sort of three-sided correspondence, almost impersonal enough to be published, yet revealing all the little details of daily life one to the other.
When we three found that we should be inevitably separated for some years, we adopted the habit of a "loose-leaf diary." The pages are perforated with large circular holes and put together in such a way that one can remove any leaf without injuring the book. We write down, as the spirit moves us, the more interesting happenings of the day, and once in a fortnight, perhaps, we slip a half-dozen selected pages into an envelope and the packet starts on its round between America, Scotland, and Ireland. In this way we have kept up with each other without any apparent severing of intimate friendship, and a farmhouse in New England, a manse in Scotland, and the Irish home of a Trinity College professor and his lady are brought into frequent contact.
Inspired by Francesca's last budget, full of all sorts of revealing details of her daily life, I said to Himself at breakfast: "I am not going to paint this morning, nor am I going to 'keep house'; I propose to write in my loose-leaf diary, and what is more I propose to write about marriage!"
When I mentioned to Himself the subject I intended to treat, he looked up in alarm.
"Don't, I beg of you, Penelope," he said. "If you do it the other two will follow suit. Women cannot discuss marriage without dragging in husbands, and MacDonald, La Touche, and I won't have a leg to stand upon. The trouble with these 'loose leaves' that you three keep for ever in circulation is, that the cleverer they are the more publicity they get. Francesca probably reads your screeds at her Christian Endeavour meetings just as you cull extracts from Salemina's for your Current Events Club. In a word, the loosened leaf leads to the loosened tongue, and that's rather epigrammatic for a farmer at breakfast time."
"I am not going to write about husbands," I said, "least of all my own, but about marriage as an institution; the part it plays in the evolution of human beings."
"Nevertheless, everything you say about it will reflect upon me," argued Himself. "The only husband a woman knows is her own husband, and everything she thinks about marriage is gathered from her own experience."
"Your attitude is not only timid, it is positively cowardly!" I exclaimed. "You are an excellent husband as husbands go, and I don't consider that I have retrograded mentally or spiritually during our ten years of life together. It is true nothing has been said in private or public about any improvement in me due to your influence, but perhaps that is because the idea has got about that your head is easily turned by flattery.--Anyway, I shall be entirely impersonal in what I write. I shall say I believe in marriage because I cannot think of any better arrangement; also that I believe in marrying men because there is nothing else TO marry. I shall also quote that feminist lecturer who said that the bitter business of every woman in the world is to convert a trap into a home. Of course I laughed inwardly, but my shoulders didn't shake for two minutes as yours did. They were far more eloquent than any loose leaf from a diary; for they showed every other man in the audience that you didn't consider that YOU had to set any 'traps' for ME!"
Himself leaned back in his chair and gave way to unbridled mirth. When he could control his speech, he wiped the tears from his eyes and said offensively:-
"Well, I didn't; did I?"
"No," I replied, flinging the tea-cosy at his head, missing it, and breaking the oleander on the plant-shelf ten feet distant.
"You wouldn't be unmarried for the world!" said Himself. "You couldn't paint every day, you know you couldn't; and where could you find anything so beautiful to paint as your own children unless you painted me; and it just occurs to me that you never paid me the compliment of asking me to sit for you."
"I can't paint men," I objected. "They are too massive and rugged and ugly. Their noses are big and hard and their bones show through everywhere excepting when they are fat and then they are disgusting. Their eyes don't shine, their hair is never beautiful, they have no dimples in their hands and elbows; you can't see their mouths because of their moustaches, and generally it's no loss; and their clothes are stiff and conventional with no colour, nor any flowing lines to paint."
"I know where you keep your 'properties,' and I'll make myself a mass of colour and flowing lines if you'll try me," Himself said meekly.
"No, dear," I responded amiably. "You are very nice, but you are not a costume man, and I shudder to think what you would make of yourself if I allowed you to visit my property-room. If I ever have to paint you (not for pleasure, but as a punishment), you shall wear your everyday corduroys and I'll surround you with the children; then you know perfectly well that the public will never notice you at all." Whereupon I went to my studio built on the top of the long rambling New England shed and loved what I painted yesterday so much that I went on with it, finding that I had said to Himself almost all that I had in mind to say, about marriage as an institution.
June 15, 19-.
We were finishing luncheon on the veranda with all out of doors to give us appetite. It was Buttercup Sunday, a yellow June one that had been preceded by Pussy Willow Sunday, Dandelion Sunday, Apple Blossom, Wild Iris, and Lilac Sunday, to be followed by Daisy and Black-Eyed Susan and White Clematis and Goldenrod and Wild Aster and Autumn Leaf Sundays.
Francie was walking over the green-sward with a bowl and spoon, just as our Scottish men friends used to do with oat-meal at breakfast time. The Sally-baby was blowing bubbles in her milk, and Himself and I were discussing a book lately received from London.
Suddenly I saw Billy, who had wandered from the table, sitting on the steps bending over a tiny bird's egg in his open hand. I knew that he must have taken it from some low-hung nest, but taken it in innocence, for he looked at it with solicitude as an object of tender and fragile beauty. He had never given a thought to the mother's days of patient brooding, nor that he was robbing the summer world of one bird's flight and one bird's song.
"Did you hear the whippoorwills singing last night, Daddy?" I asked.
"I did, indeed, and long before sunrise this morning. There must be a new family in our orchard, I think; but then we have coaxed hundreds of birds our way this spring by our little houses, our crumbs, and our drinking dishes."
"Yes, we have never had so many since we came here to live. Look at that little brown bird flying about in the tall apple-tree, Francie; she seems to be in trouble."
"P'r'haps it's Mrs. Smiff's wenomous cat," exclaimed Francie, running to look for a particularly voracious animal that lived across the fields, but had been known to enter our bird-Eden.
"Hear this, Daddy; isn't it pretty?" I said, taking up the "Life of Dorothy Grey."
Billy pricked up his ears, for he can never see a book opened without running to join the circle, so eager he is not to lose a precious word.
"The wren sang early this morning" (I read slowly). "We talked about it at breakfast and how many people there were who would not be aware of it; and E. said, 'Fancy, if God came in and said: "Did you notice my wren?" and they were obliged to say they had not known it was there!'"
Billy rose quietly and stole away behind the trees, returning in a few moments, empty-handed, to stand by my side.
"Does God know how many eggs there are in a bird's nest, mother?" he asked.
"People have so many different ideas about what God sees and takes note of, that it's hard to say, sonny. Of course you remember that the Bible says not one sparrow falls to the ground but He knows it."
"The mother bird can't count her eggs, can she, mother?"
"Oh! Billy, you do ask the hardest questions; ones that I can never answer by Yes and No! She broods her eggs all day and all night and never lets them get cold, so she must know, at any rate, that they are going to BE birds, don't you think? And of course she wouldn't want to lose one; that's the reason she's so faithful!"
"Well!" said Billy, after a long pause, "I don't care quite so much about the mother, because sometimes there are five eggs in a weeny, weeny nest that never could hold five little ones without their scrunching each other and being uncomfortable. But if God should come in and say: 'Did you take my egg, that was going to be a bird?' I just couldn't bear it!"
June 15, 19-.
Another foreign mail is in and the village postmistress has sent an impassioned request that I steam off the stamps for her boy's album, enriched during my residence here by specimens from eleven different countries. ("Mis' Beresford beats the Wanderin' Jew all holler if so be she's be'n to all them places, an' come back alive!"--so she says to Himself.) Among the letters there is a budget of loose leaves from Salemina's diary, Salemina, who is now Mrs. Gerald La Touche, wife of Professor La Touche, of Trinity College, Dublin, and stepmother to Jackeen and Broona La Touche.
It is midsummer, College is not in session, and they are at Rosnaree House, their place in County Meath.
Salemina is the one of our trio who continues to move in grand society. She it is who dines at the Viceregal Lodge and Dublin Castle. She it is who goes with her distinguished husband for week-ends with the Master of the Horse, the Lord Chancellor, and the Dean of the Chapel Royal. Francesca, it is true, makes her annual bow to the Lord High Commissioner at Holyrood Palace and dines there frequently during Assembly Week; and as Ronald numbers one Duke, two Earls, and several Countesses and Dowager Countesses in his parish, there are awe-inspiring visiting cards to be found in the silver salver on her hall table,--but Salemina in Ireland literally lives with the great, of all classes and conditions! She is in the heart of the Irish Theatre and the Modern Poetry movements,--and when she is not hobnobbing with playwrights and poets she is consorting with the Irish nobility and gentry.
I cannot help thinking that she would still be Miss Peabody, of Salem, Massachusetts, had it not been for my generous and helpful offices, and those of Francesca! Never were two lovers, parted in youth in America and miraculously reunited in middle age in Ireland, more recalcitrant in declaring their mutual affection than Dr. La Touche and Salemina! Nothing in the world divided them but imaginary barriers. He was not rich, but he had a comfortable salary and a dignified and honourable position among men. He had two children, but they were charming, and therefore so much to the good. Salemina was absolutely "foot loose" and tied down to no duties in America, so no one could blame her for marrying an Irishman. She had never loved any one else, and Dr. La Touche might have had that information for the asking; but he was such a bat for blindness, adder for deafness, and lamb for meekness that because she refused him once, when she was the only comfort of an aged mother and father, he concluded that she would refuse him again, though she was now alone in the world. His late wife, a poor, flighty, frivolous invalid, the kind of woman who always entangles a sad, vague, absent-minded scholar, had died six years before, and never were there two children so in need of a mother as Jackeen and Broona, a couple of affectionate, hot-headed, bewitching, ragged, tousled Irish darlings. I would cheerfully have married Dr. Gerald myself, just for the sake of his neglected babies, but I dislike changes and I had already espoused Himself.
However, a summer in Ireland, undertaken with no such great stakes in mind as Salemina's marriage, made possible a chance meeting of the two old friends. This was followed by several others, devised by us with incendiary motives, and without Salemina's knowledge. There was also the unconscious plea of the children working a daily spell; there was the past, with its memories, tugging at both their hearts; and above all there was a steady, dogged, copious stream of mental suggestion emanating from Francesca and me, so that, in course of time, our middle-aged couple did succeed in confessing to each other that a separate future was impossible for them.
They never would have encountered each other had it not been for us; never, never would have become engaged; and as for the wedding, we forcibly led them to the altar, saying that we must leave Ireland and the ceremony could not be delayed.
Not that we are the recipients of any gratitude for all this! Rather the reverse! They constantly allude to their marriage as made in Heaven, although there probably never was another union where creatures of earth so toiled and slaved to assist the celestial powers.
I wonder why middle-aged and elderly lovers make such an appeal to me! Is it because I have lived much in New England, where "ladies- in-waiting" are all too common,--where the wistful bride-groom has an invalid mother to support, or a barren farm out of which he cannot wring a living, or a malignant father who cherishes a bitter grudge against his son's chosen bride and all her kindred,--where the woman herself is compassed about with obstacles, dragging out a pinched and colourless existence year after year?
And when at length the two waiting ones succeed in triumphing over circumstances, they often come together wearily, soberly, with half the joy pressed out of life. Young lovers have no fears! That the future holds any terrors, difficulties, bugbears of any sort they never seem to imagine, and so they are delightful and amusing to watch in their gay and sometimes irresponsible and selfish courtships; but they never tug at my heart-strings as their elders do, when the great, the long-delayed moment comes.
Francesca and I, in common with Salemina's other friends, thought that she would never marry. She had been asked often enough in her youth, but she was not the sort of woman who falls in love at forty. What we did not know was that she had fallen in love with Gerald La Touche at five-and-twenty and had never fallen out,-- keeping her feelings to herself during the years that he was espoused to another, very unsuitable lady. Our own sentimental experiences, however, had sharpened our eyes, and we divined at once that Dr. La Touche, a scholar of fifty, shy, reserved, self- distrustful, and oh! so in need of anchor and harbour,--that he was the only husband in the world for Salemina; and that he, after giving all that he had and was to an unappreciative woman, would be unspeakably blessed in the wife of our choosing.
I remember so well something that he said to me once as we sat at twilight on the bank of the lake near Devorgilla. The others were rowing toward us bringing the baskets for a tea picnic, and we, who had come in the first boat, were talking quietly together about intimate things. He told me that a frail old scholar, a brother professor, used to go back from the college to his house every night bowed down with weariness and pain and care, and that he used to say to his wife as he sank into his seat by the fire: "Oh! praise me, my wife, praise me!"
My eyes filled and I turned away to hide the tears when Dr. Gerald continued absently: "As for me, Mistress Beresford, when I go home at night I take my only companion from the mantelshelf and leaning back in my old armchair say, 'Praise me, my pipe, praise me!'"
And Salemina Peabody was in the boat coming toward us, looking as serenely lovely in a grey tweed and broad white hat as any good sweet woman of forty could look, while he gazed at her "through a glass darkly" as if she were practically non-existent, or had nothing whatever to do with the case.
I concealed rebellious opinions of blind bats, deaf adders, meek lambs, and obstinate pigs, but said very gently and impersonally: "I hope you won't always allow your pipe to be your only companion;--you, with your children, your name and position, your home and yourself to give--to somebody!"
But he only answered: "You exaggerate, my dear madam; there is not enough left in me or of me to offer to any woman!"
And I could do nothing but make his tea graciously and hand it to him, wondering that he was able to see the cup or the bread-and- butter sandwich that I put into his modest, ungrateful hand.
However, it is all a thing of the past, that dim, sweet, grey romance that had its rightful background in a country of subdued colourings, of pensive sweetness, of gentle greenery, where there is an eternal wistfulness in the face of the natural world, speaking of the springs of hidden tears.
Their union is a perfect success, and I echo the Boots of the inn at Devorgilla when he said: "An' sure it's the doctor that's the satisfied man an' the luck is on him as well as on e'er a man alive! As for her ladyship, she's one o' the blessings o' the wurruld an' 't would be an o'jus pity to spile two houses wid 'em."
July 12, 19-.
We were all out in the orchard sunning ourselves on the little haycocks that the "hired man" had piled up here and there under the trees.
"It is not really so beautiful as Italy," I said to Himself, gazing up at the newly set fruit on the apple boughs and then across the close-cut hay field to the level pasture, with its rocks and cow paths, its blueberry bushes and sweet fern, its clumps of young sumachs, till my eyes fell upon the deep green of the distant pines. "I can't bear to say it, because it seems disloyal, but I almost believe I think so."
"It is not as picturesque," Himself agreed grudgingly, his eye following mine from point to point; "and why do we love it so?"
"There is nothing delicious and luxuriant about it," I went on critically, "yet it has a delicate, ethereal, austere, straight- forward Puritanical loveliness of its own; but, no, it is not as beautiful as Italy or Ireland, and it isn't as tidy as England. If you keep away from the big manufacturing towns and their outskirts you may go by motor or railway through shire after shire in England and never see anything unkempt, down-at-the-heel, out-at-elbows, or ill-cared-for; no broken-down fences or stone walls; no heaps of rubbish or felled trees by the wayside; no unpainted or tottering buildings--"
"You see plenty of ruins," interrupted Himself in a tone that promised argument.
"Yes, but ruins are different; they are finished; they are not tottering, they HAVE tottered! Our country is too big, I suppose, to be 'tidy,' but how I should like to take just one of the United States and clear it up, back yards and all, from border line to border line!"
"You are talking like a housewife now, not like an artist," said Himself reprovingly.
"Well, I am both, I hope, and I don't intend that any one shall know where the one begins or the other leaves off, either! And if any foreigner should remark that America is unfinished or untidy I shall deny it!"
"Fie! Penelope! You who used to be a citizen of the world!"
"So I am still, so far as a roving foot and a knowledge of three languages can make me; but you remember that the soul 'retains the characteristic of its race and the heart is true to its own country, even to its own parish.'"
"When shall we be going to the other countries, mother?" asked Billy. "When shall we see our aunt in Scotland and our aunt in Ireland?" (Poor lambs! Since the death of their Grandmother Beresford they do not possess a real relation in the world!)
"It will not be very long, Billy," I said. "We don't want to go until we can leave the perambulator behind. The Sally-baby toddles now, but she must be able to walk on the English downs and the Highland heather."
"And the Irish bogs," interpolated Billy, who has a fancy for detail.
"Well, the Irish bogs are not always easy travelling," I answered, "but the Sally-baby will soon be old enough to feel the spring of the Irish turf under her feet."
"What will the chickens and ducklings and pigeons do while we are gone?" asked Francie.
"An' the lammies?" piped the Sally-baby, who has all the qualities of Mary in the immortal lyric.
"Oh! we won't leave home until the spring has come and all the young things are born. The grass will be green, the dandelions will have their puff-balls on, the apple blossoms will be over, and Daddy will get a kind man to take care of everything for us. It will be May time and we will sail in a big ship over to the aunts and uncles in Scotland and Ireland and I shall show them my children--"
"And we shall play 'hide-and-go-coop' with their children," interrupted Francie joyously.
"They will never have heard of that game, but you will all play together!" And here I leaned back on the warm haycock and blinked my eyes a bit in moist anticipation of happiness to come. "There will be eight-year-old Ronald MacDonald to climb and ride and sail with our Billy; and there will be little Penelope who is named for me, and will be Francie's playmate; and the new little boy baby--"
"Proba'ly Aunt Francie's new boy baby will grow up and marry our girl one," suggested Billy.
"He has my consent to the alliance in advance," said Himself, "but I dare say your mother has arranged it all in her own mind and my advice will not be needed."
"I have not arranged anything," I retorted; "or if I have it was nothing more than a thought of young Ronald or Jack La Touche in-- another quarter,"--this with discreetly veiled emphasis.
"What is another quarter, mother?" inquired Francie, whose mental agility is somewhat embarrassing.
"Oh, why,--well,--it is any other place than the one you are talking about. Do you see?"
"Not so very well, but p'r'aps I will in a minute."
"Hope springs eternal!" quoted Francie's father.
"And then, as I was saying before being interrupted by the entire family, we will go and visit the Irish cousins, Jackeen and Broona, who belong to Aunt Salemina and Uncle Gerald, and the Sally-baby will be the centre of attraction because she is her Aunt Salemina's godchild--"
"But we are all God's children," insisted Billy.
"Of course we are."
"What's the difference between a god-child and a God's child?"
"The bottle of chloroform is in the medicine closet, my poor dear; shall I run and get it?" murmured Himself sotto voce.
"Every child is a child of God," I began helplessly, "and when she is somebody's godchild she--oh! lend me your handkerchief, Billy!"
"Is it the nose-bleed, mother?" he asked, bending over me solicitously.
"No, oh, no! it's nothing at all, dear. Perhaps the hay was going to make me sneeze. What was I saying?"
"About the god--"
"Oh, yes! I remember! (Ka-choo!) We will take the Irish cousins and the Scotch cousins and go all together to see the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. We'll go to Bushey Park and see the chestnuts in bloom, and will dine at Number 10, Dovermarle Street-- "
"I shall not go there, Billy," said Himself. "It was at Number 10, Dovermarle Street that your mother told me she wouldn't marry me; or at least that she'd have to do a lot of thinking before she'd say Yes; so she left London and went to North Malvern."
"Couldn't she think in London?" (This was Billy.)
"Didn't she always want to be married to you?" (This was Francie.)
"Didn't she like US?" (Still Francie.)
"You were never mentioned,--not one of you!"
"That seems rather queer!" remarked Billy, giving me a reproachful look.
"So we'll leave the Irish and Scotch uncles and aunts behind and go to North Malvern just by ourselves. It was there that your mother concluded that she WOULD marry me, and I rather like the place."
"Mother loves it, too; she talks to me about it when she puts me to bed." (Francie again.)
"No doubt; but you'll find your mother's heart scattered all over the Continent of Europe. One bit will be clinging to a pink thorn in England; another will be in the Highlands somewhere,--wherever the heather's in bloom; another will be hanging on the Irish gorse bushes where they are yellowest; and another will be hidden under the seat of a Venetian gondola."
"Don't listen to Daddy's nonsense, children! He thinks mother throws her heart about recklessly while he loves only one thing at a time."
"Four things!" expostulated Himself, gallantly viewing our little group at large.
"Strictly speaking, we are not four things, we are only four parts of one thing;--counting you in, and I really suppose you ought to be counted in, we are five parts of one thing."
"Shall we come home again from the other countries?" asked Billy.
"Of course, sonny! The little Beresfords must come back and grow up with their own country."
"Am I a little Beresford, mother?" asked Francie, looking wistfully at her brother as belonging to the superior sex and the eldest besides.
"And is the Sally-baby one too?"
Himself laughed unrestrainedly at this.
"She is," he said, "but you are more than half mother, with your unexpectednesses."
"I love to be more than half mother!" cried Francie, casting herself violently about my neck and imbedding me in the haycock.
"Thank you, dear, but pull me up now. It's supper-time."
Billy picked up the books and the rug and made preparations for the brief journey to the house. I put my hair in order and smoothed my skirts.
"Will there be supper like ours in the other countries, mother?" he asked. "And if we go in May time, when do we come back again?"
Himself rose from the ground with a luxurious stretch of his arms, looking with joy and pride at our home fields bathed in the afternoon midsummer sun. He took the Sally-baby's outstretched hands and lifted her, crowing, to his shoulder.
"Help sister over the stubble, my son.--We'll come away from the other countries whenever mother says: 'Come, children, it's time for supper.'"
"We'll be back for Thanksgiving," I assured Billy, holding him by one hand and Francie by the other, as we walked toward the farmhouse. "We won't live in the other countries, because Daddy's 'sit-fast acres' are here in New England."
"But whenever and wherever we five are together, especially wherever mother is, it will always be home," said Himself thankfully, under his breath.