Penelope's English Experiences
Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part 2 out of 2
At twelve-forty Lady Brighthelmston reminded Violet (who was a
h'orphan niece) that the beautiful being in the white uniform was
not the eldest son.
At twelve-fifty there arrived an elderly gentleman, before whom the
servants bowed low. Lord Brighthelmston went to fetch Patricia, who
chanced to be sitting out a dance with Terence. The three came out
on the balcony, which was deserted, in the near prospect of supper,
and the personage--whom we suspected to be Patricia's godfather--
took from his waistcoat pocket a string of pearls, and, clasping it
round her white throat, stooped gently and kissed her forehead.
Then at one o'clock came supper. Francesca and I had secretly
provided for that contingency, and curling up on a sofa we drew
toward us a little table which Dawson had spread with a galantine of
chicken, some cress sandwiches, and a jug of milk.
At one-thirty we were quite overcome with sleep, and retired to our
beds, where of course we speedily grew wakeful.
"It is giving a ball, not going to one, that is so exhausting!"
yawned Francesca. "How many times have I danced all night with half
the fatigue that I am feeling now!"
The sound of music came across the street through the closed door of
our sitting-room. Waltz after waltz, a polka, a galop, then waltzes
again, until our brains reeled with the rhythm. As if this were not
enough, when our windows at the back were opened wide we were quite
within reach of Lady Durden's small dance, where another Hungarian
band discoursed more waltzes and galops.
"Dancing, dancing everywhere, and not a turn for us!" grumbled
Francesca. "I simply cannot sleep, can you?"
"We must make a determined effort," I advised; "don't speak again,
and perhaps drowsiness will overtake us."
It finally did overtake Francesca, but I had too much to think
about--my own problems as well as Patricia's. After what seemed to
be hours of tossing I was helplessly drawn back into the sitting-
room, just to see if anything had happened, and if the affair was
ever likely to come to an end.
It was half-past two, and yes, the ball was decidedly 'thinning
The attendants in the lower hall, when they were not calling
carriages, yawned behind their hands, and stood first on one foot,
and then on the other.
Women in beautiful wraps, their heads flashing with jewels,
descended the staircase, and drove, or even walked, away into the
Lady Brighthelmston began to look tired, although all the world, as
it said good night, was telling her that it was one of the most
delightful balls of the season.
The English nosegay had lost its white flower, for Patricia was not
in the family group. I looked everywhere for the gleam of her
silvery scarf, everywhere for Terence, while, the waltz music having
ceased, the Spanish students played 'Love's Young Dream.'
I hummed the words as the sweet old tune, strummed by the tinkling
mandolins, vibrated clearly in the maze of other sounds:-
'Oh! the days have gone when Beauty bright
My heart's chain wove;
When my dream of life from morn till night
Was Love, still Love.
New hope may bloom and days may come,
Of milder, calmer beam,
But there's nothing half so sweet in life
As Love's Young Dream.'
At last, in a quiet spot under the oak-tree, the lately risen moon
found Patricia's diamond arrow and discovered her to me. The
Japanese lanterns had burned out; she was wrapped like a young nun,
in a cloud of white that made her eyelashes seem darker.
I looked once, because the moonbeam led me into it before I
realised; then I stole away from the window and into my own room,
closing the door softly behind me.
We had so far been looking only at conventionalities, preliminaries,
things that all (who had eyes to see) might see; but this was
different--quite, quite different.
They were as beautiful under the friendly shadow of their urban oak-
tree as were ever Romeo and Juliet on the balcony of the Capulets.
I may not tell you what I saw in my one quickly repented-of glance.
That would be vulgarising something that was already a little
profaned by my innocent participation.
I do not know whether Terence was heir, even ever so far removed, to
any title or estates, and I am sure Patricia did not care: he may
have been vulgarly rich or aristocratically poor. I only know that
they loved each other in the old yet ever new way, without any ifs
or ands or buts; that he worshipped, she honoured; he asked humbly,
she gave gladly.
How do I know? Ah! that's a 'Penelope secret,' as Francesca says.
Perhaps you doubt my intuitions altogether. Perhaps you believe in
your heart that it was an ordinary ball, where a lot of stupid
people arrived, danced, supped, and departed. Perhaps you do not
think his name was Terence or hers Patricia, and if you go so far as
that in blindness and incredulity I should not expect you to
translate properly what I saw last night under the oak-tree, the
night of the ball on the opposite side, when Patricia made her
Chapter XIV. Love and lavender.
How well I remember our last evening in Dovermarle Street!
At one of our open windows behind the potted ferns and blossoming
hydrangeas sat Salemina, Bertie Godolphin, Mrs. Beresford, the
Honourable Arthur, and Francesca; at another, as far off as
possible, sat Willie Beresford and I. Mrs. Beresford had sanctioned
a post-prandial cigar, for we were not going out till ten, to see,
for the second time, an act of John Hare's Pair of Spectacles.
They were talking and laughing at the other end of the room; Mr.
Beresford and I were rather quiet. (Why is it that the people with
whom one loves to be silent are also the very ones with whom one
loves to talk?)
The room was dim with the light of a single lamp; the rain had
ceased; the roar of Piccadilly came to us softened by distance. A
belated vendor of lavender came along the sidewalk, and as he
stopped under the windows the pungent fragrance of the flowers was
wafted up to us with his song.
'Who'll buy my pretty lavender?
Who'll buy my pretty lavender?
Sweet bloomin' lavender.'
The tune comes to me laden with odours. Is it not strange that the
fragrances of other days steal in upon the senses together with the
sights and sounds that gave them birth?
Presently a horse and cart drew up before an hotel, a little further
along, on the opposite side of the way. By the light of the street
lamp under which it stopped we could see that it held a piano and
two persons beside the driver. The man was masked, and wore a soft
felt hat and a velvet coat. He seated himself at the piano and
played a Chopin waltz with decided sentiment and brilliancy; then,
touching the keys idly for a moment or two, he struck a few chords
of prelude and turned towards the woman who sat beside him. She
rose, and, laying one hand on the corner of the instrument, began to
sing one of the season's favourites, 'The Song that reached my
Heart.' She also was masked, and even her figure was hidden by a
long dark cloak the hood of which was drawn over her head to meet
the mask. She sang so beautifully, with such style and such
feeling, it seemed incredible to hear her under circumstances like
these. She followed the ballad with Handel's 'Lascia ch'io pianga,'
which rang out into the quiet street with almost hopeless pathos.
When she descended from the cart to undertake the more prosaic
occupation of passing the hat beneath the windows, I could see that
she limped slightly, and that the hand with which she pushed back
the heavy dark hair under the hood was beautifully moulded. They
were all mystery that couple; not to be confounded for an instant
with the common herd of London street musicians. With what an air
of the drawing-room did he of the velvet coat help the singer into
the cart, and with what elegant abandon and ultra-dilettantism did
he light a cigarette, reseat himself at the piano, and weave Scots
ballads into a charming impromptu! I confess I wrapped my shilling
in a bit of paper and dropped it over the balcony with the wish that
I knew the tragedy behind this little street drama.
Willie Beresford was in a royal mood that night. You know the mood,
in which the heart is so full, so full, it overruns the brim. He
bought the entire stock of the lavender seller, and threw a shilling
to the mysterious singer for every song she sung. He even offered
to give--himself--to me! And oh! I would have taken him as gladly
as ever the lavender boy took the half-crown, had I been quite,
quite sure of myself! A woman with a vocation ought to be still
surer than other women that it is the very jewel of love she is
setting in her heart, and not a sparkling imitation. I gave myself
wholly, or believed that I gave myself wholly, to art, or what I
believed to be art. And is there anything more sacred than art?--
Yes, one thing!
It happened something in this wise.
The singing had put us in a gentle mood, and after a long peroration
from Mr. Beresford, which I do not care to repeat, I said very
softly (blessing the Honourable Arthur's vociferous laughter at one
of Salemina's American jokes), "But I thought perhaps it was
Francesca. Are you quite sure?"
He intimated that if there were any fact in his repertory of which
he was particularly and absolutely sure it was this special fact.
"It is too sudden," I objected. "Plants that blossom on shipboard-"
"This plant was rooted in American earth, and you know it, Penelope.
If it chanced to blossom on the ship, it was because it had already
budded on the shore; it has borne transplanting to a foreign soil,
and it grows in beauty and strength every day: so no slurs, please,
concerning ocean-steamer hothouses."
"I cannot say yes, yet I dare not say no; it is too soon. I must go
off into the country quite by myself and think it over."
"But," urged Mr. Beresford, "you cannot think over a matter of this
kind by yourself. You'll continually be needing to refer to me for
data, don't you know, on which to base your conclusions. How can
you tell whether you're in love with me or not if- (No, I am not
shouting at all; it's your guilty conscience; I'm whispering.) How
can you tell whether you're in love with me, I repeat, unless you
keep me under constant examination?"
"That seems sensible, though I dare say it is full of sophistry; but
I have made up my mind to go into the country and paint while
Salemina and Francesca are on the Continent. One cannot think in
this whirl. A winter season in Washington followed by a summer
season in London,--one wants a breath of fresh air before beginning
another winter season somewhere else. Be a little patient, please.
I long for the calm that steals over me when I am absorbed in my
brushes and my oils."
"Work is all very well," said Mr. Beresford with determination, "but
I know your habits. You have a little way of taking your brush, and
with one savage sweep painting out a figure from your canvas. Now
if I am on the canvas of your heart,--I say 'if' tentatively and
modestly, as becomes me,--I've no intention of allowing you to paint
me out; therefore I wish to remain in the foreground, where I can
say 'Strike, but hear me,' if I discover any hostile tendencies in
your eye. But I am thankful for small favours (the 'no' you do not
quite dare say, for instance), and I'll talk it over with you to-
morrow, if the British gentry will give me an opportunity, and if
you'll deign to give me a moment alone in any other place than the
"I was alone with you to-day for a whole hour at least."
"Yes, first at the London and Westminster Bank, second in Trafalgar
Square, and third on the top of a 'bus, none of them congenial spots
to a man in my humour. Penelope, you are not dull, but you don't
seem to understand that I am head over-"
"What are you two people quarrelling about?" cried Salemina. "Come,
Penelope, get your wrap. Mrs. Beresford, isn't she charming in her
new Liberty gown? If that New York wit had seen her, he couldn't
have said, 'If that is Liberty, give me Death!' Yes, Francesca, you
must wear something over your shoulders. Whistle for two four-
wheelers, Dawson, please."
Part Second--In the country.
Chapter XV. Penelope dreams.
West Belvern, Holly House
I am here alone. Salemina has taken her little cloth bag and her
notebook and gone to inspect the educational and industrial methods
of Germany. If she can discover anything that they are not already
doing better in Boston, she will take it back with her, but her
state of mind regarding the outcome of the trip might be described
as one of incredulity tinged with hope. Francesca has accompanied
Salemina. Not that the inspection of systems is much in her line,
but she prefers it to a solitude a deux with me when I am in a
working mood, and she comforts herself with the anticipation that
the German army is very attractive. Willie Beresford has gone with
his mother to Aix-les-Bains, like the dutiful son that he is. They
say that a good son makes a good- But that subject is dismissed to
the background for the present, for we are in a state of armed
neutrality. He has agreed to wait until the autumn for a final
answer, and I have promised to furnish one by that time. Meanwhile,
we are to continue our acquaintance by post, which is a concession I
would never have allowed if I had had my wits about me.
After paying my last week's bill in Dovermarle Street, including
fees to several servants whom I knew by sight, and several others
whose acquaintance I made for the first time at the moment of
departure, I glanced at my ebbing letter of credit and felt a season
of economy setting in upon me with unusual severity; accordingly, I
made an experiment of coming third-class to Belvern. I handed the
guard a shilling, and he gave me a seat riding backwards in a
carriage with seven other women, all very frumpish, but highly
respectable. As he could not possibly have done any worse for me, I
take it that he considered the shilling a graceful tribute to his
personal charms, but as having no other bearing whatever. The seven
women stared at me throughout the journey. When one is really of
the same blood, and when one does not open one's lips or wave the
stars and stripes in any possible manner, how do they detect the
American? These women looked at me as if I were a highly
interesting anthropoidal ape. It was not because of my attire, for
I was carefully dressed down to a third-class level; yet when I
removed my plain Knox hat and leaned my head back against my
travelling-pillow, an electrical shudder of intense excitement ran
through the entire compartment. When I stooped to tie my shoe
another current was set in motion, and when I took Charles Reade's
White Lies from my portmanteau they glanced at one another as if to
say, 'Would that we could see in what language the book is written!'
As a travelling mystery I reached my highest point at Oxford, for
there I purchased a small basket of plums from a boy who handed them
in at the window of the carriage. After eating a few, I offered the
rest to a dowdy elderly woman on my left who was munching dry
biscuits from a paper bag. 'What next?' was the facial expression
of the entire company. My neighbour accepted the plums, but hid
them in her bag; plainly thinking them poisoned, and believing me to
be a foreign conspirator, conspiring against England through the
medium of her inoffensive person. In the course of the four-hours'
journey, I could account for the strange impression I was making
only upon the theory that it is unusual to comport oneself in a
first-class manner in a third-class carriage. All my companions
chanced to be third-class by birth as well as by ticket, and the
Englishwoman who is born third-class is sometimes deficient in
Upon arriving at Great Belvern (which must be pronounced 'Bevern') I
took a trap, had my luggage put on in front, and start on my quest
for lodgings in West Belvern, five miles distant. Several addresses
had been given me by Hilda Mellifica, who has spent much time in
this region, and who begged me to use her name. I told the driver
that I wished to find a clean, comfortable lodging, with the view
mentioned in the guide-book, and with a purple clematis over the
door, if possible. The last point astounded him to such a degree
that he had, I think, a serious idea of giving me into custody. (I
should not be so eccentrically spontaneous with these people, if
they did not feed my sense of humour by their amazement.)
We visited Holly House, Osborne, St. James, Victoria, and Albert
houses, Tank Villa, Poplar Villa, Rose, Brake, and Thorn Villas, as
well as Hawthorn, Gorse, Fern, Shrubbery, and Providence Cottages.
All had apartments, but many were taken, and many more had rooms
either dark and stuffy or without view. Holly House was my first
stopping-place. Why will a woman voluntarily call her place by a
name which she can never pronounce? It is my landlady's misfortune
that she is named 'Obbs, and mine that I am called 'Amilton, but
Mrs. 'Obbs must have rushed with eyes wide open on 'Olly 'Ouse. I
found sitting-room and bedroom at Holly House for two guineas a
week; everything, except roof, extra. This was more than, in my new
spirit of economy I desired to pay, but after exhausting my list I
was obliged to go back rather than sleep in the highroad. Mrs.
Hobbs offered to deduct two shillings a week if I stayed until
Christmas, and said she should not charge me a penny for the linen.
Thanking her with tears of gratitude, I requested dinner. There was
no meat in the house, so I supped frugally off two boiled eggs, a
stodgy household loaf, and a mug of ale, after which I climbed the
stairs, and retired to my feather-bed in a rather depressed frame of
Visions of Salemina and Francesca driving under the linden-trees in
Berlin flitted across my troubled reveries, with glimpses of Willie
Beresford and his mother at Aix-les-Bains. At this distance, and in
the dead of night, my sacrifice in coming here seemed fruitless.
Why did I not allow myself to drift for ever on that pleasant sea
which has been lapping me in sweet and indolent content these many
weeks? Of what use to labour, to struggle, to deny myself, for an
art to which I can never be more than the humblest handmaiden? I
felt like crying out, as did once a braver woman's soul than mine,
'Let me be weak! I have been seeming to be strong so many years!'
The woman and the artist in me have always struggled for the
mastery. So far the artist has triumphed, and now all at once the
woman is uppermost. I should think the two ought to be able to live
peaceably in the same tenement; they do manage it in some cases; but
it seems a law of my being that I shall either be all one or all the
The question for me to ask myself now is, "Am I in love with loving
and with being loved, or am I in love with Willie Beresford?" How
many women have confounded the two, I wonder?
In this mood I fell asleep, and on a sudden I found myself in a dear
New England garden. The pillow slipped away, and my cheek pressed a
fragrant mound of mignonette, the self-same one on which I hid my
tear-stained face and sobbed my heart out in childish grief and
longing for the mother who would never hold me again. The moon came
up over the Belvern Hills and shone on my half-closed lids; but to
me it was a very different moon, the far-away moon of my childhood,
with a river rippling beneath its silver rays. And the wind that
rustled among the poplar branches outside my window was, in my
dream, stirring the pink petals of a blossoming apple-tree that used
to grow beside the bank of mignonette, wafting down sweet odours and
drinking in sweeter ones. And presently there stole in upon this
harmony of enchanting sounds and delicate fragrances, in which
childhood and womanhood, pleasure and pain, memory and anticipation,
seemed strangely intermingled, the faint music of a voice, growing
clearer and clearer as my ear became familiar with its cadences.
And what the dream voice said to me was something like this:-
'If thou wouldst have happiness, choose neither fame, which doth not
long abide, nor power, which stings the hand that wields it, nor
gold, which glitters but never glorifies; but choose thou Love, and
hold it for ever in thy heart of hearts; for Love is the purest and
the mightiest force in the universe, and once it is thine all other
gifts shall be added unto thee. Love that is passionate yet
reverent, tender yet strong, selfish in desiring all yet generous in
giving all; love of man for woman and woman for man, of parent for
child and friend for friend--when this is born in the soul, the
desert blossoms as the rose. Straightway new hopes and wishes,
sweet longings and pure ambitions, spring into being, like green
shoots that lift their tender heads in sunny places; and if the soil
be kind, they grow stronger and more beautiful as each glad day
laughs in the rosy skies. And by and by singing-birds come and
build their nests in the branches; and these are the pleasures of
life. And the birds sing not often, because of a serpent that
lurketh in the garden. And the name of the serpent is Satiety. He
maketh the heart to grow weary of what it once danced and leaped to
think upon, and the ear to wax dull to the melody of sounds that
once were sweet, and the eye blind to the beauty that once led
enchantment captive. And sometimes--we know not why, but we shall
know hereafter, for life is not completely happy since it is not
heaven, nor completely unhappy since it is the road thither--
sometimes the light of the sun is withdrawn for a moment, and that
which is fairest vanishes from the place that was enriched by its
presence. Yet the garden is never quite deserted. Modest flowers,
whose charms we had not noted when youth was bright and the world
seemed ours, now lift their heads in sheltered places and whisper
peace. The morning song of the birds is hushed, for the dawn breaks
less rosily in the eastern skies, but at twilight they still come
and nestle in the branches that were sunned in the smile of love and
watered with its happy tears. And over the grave of each buried
hope or joy stands an angel with strong comforting hands and patient
smile; and the name of the garden is Life, and the angel is Memory.'
Chapter XVI. The decay of Romance.
I have changed my Belvern, and there are so many others left to
choose from that I might live in a different Belvern each week.
North, South, East, and West Belvern, New Belvern, Old Belvern,
Great Belvern, Little Belvern, Belvern Link, Belvern Common, and
Belvern Wells. They are all nestled together in the velvet hollows
or on the wooded crowns of the matchless Belvern Hills, from which
they look down upon the fairest plains that ever blessed the eye.
One can see from their heights a score of market towns and villages,
three splendid cathedrals, each in a different county, the queenly
Severn winding like a silver thread among the trees, with soft-
flowing Avon and gentle Teme watering the verdant meadows through
which they pass. All these hills and dales were once the Royal
Forest, and afterwards the Royal Chase, of Belvern, covering nearly
seven thousand acres in three counties; and from the lonely height
of the Beacon no less than
'Twelve fair counties saw the blaze'
of signals, when the country was threatened by a Spanish invasion.
As for me, I mourn the decay of Romance with a great R; we have it
still among us, but we spell it with a smaller letter. It must be
so much more interesting to be threatened with an invasion,
especially a Spanish invasion, than with a strike, for instance.
The clashing of swords and the flashing of spears in the sunshine
are so much more dazzling and inspiring than a line of policemen
with clubs! Yes, I wish it were the age of chivalry again, and that
I were looking down from these hills into the Royal Chase. Of
course I know that there were wicked and selfish tyrants in those
days, before the free press, the jury system, and the folding-bed
had wrought their beneficent influences upon the common mind and
heart. Of course they would have sneered at Browning Societies and
improved tenements, and of course they did not care a penny whether
woman had the ballot or not, so long as man had the bottle; but I
would that the other moderns were enjoying the modern improvements,
and that I were gazing into the cool depths of those deep forests
where there were once good lairs for the wolf and wild boar. I
should like to hear the baying of the hounds and the mellow horns of
the huntsman. I should like to see the royal cavalcade emerging
from one of those wooded glades: monarch and baron bold, proud
prelate, abbot and prior, belted knight and ladye fair, sweeping in
gorgeous array under the arcades of the overshadowing trees, silver
spurs and jewelled trappings glittering in the sunlight, princely
forms bending low over the saddles of the court beauties. Why, oh
why, is it not possible to be picturesque and pious in the same
epoch? Why may not chivalry and charity go hand in hand? It amuses
me to imagine the amazement of the barons, bold and belted knights,
could they be resuscitated for a sufficient length of time to gaze
upon the hydropathic establishments which dot their ancient hunting-
grounds. It would have been very difficult to interest the age of
chivalry in hydropathy.
Such is the fascination of historic association that I am sure, if I
could drag my beloved but conscientious Salemina from some foreign
soup-kitchen which she is doubtless inspecting, I could make even
her mourn the vanished past with me this morning, on the Beacon's
towering head. For Salemina wearies of the age of charity
sometimes, as every one does who is trying to make it a beautiful
Chapter XVII. Short stops and long bills.
The manner of my changing from West to North Belvern was this. When
I had been two days at Holly House, I reflected that my sitting-room
faced the wrong way for the view, and that my bedroom was dark and
not large enough to swing a cat in. Not that there was the remotest
necessity of my swinging cats in it, but the figure of speech is
always useful. Neither did I care to occupy myself with the
perennial inspection and purchase of raw edibles, when I wished to
live in an ideal world and paint a great picture. Mrs. Hobbs would
come to my bedside in the morning and ask me if I would like to buy
a fowl. When I looked upon the fowl, limp in death, with its
headless neck hanging dejectedly over the edge of the plate, its
giblets and kidneys lying in immodest confusion on the outside of
itself, and its liver 'tucked under its wing, poor thing,' I never
wanted to buy it. But one morning, in taking my walk, I chanced
upon an idyllic spot: the front of the whitewashed cottage
embowered in flowers, bird-cages built into these bowers, a little
notice saying 'Canaries for Sale,' and an English rose of a baby
sitting in the path stringing hollyhock buds. There was no
apartment sign, but I walked in, ostensibly to buy some flowers. I
met Mrs. Bobby, loved her at first sight, the passion was
reciprocal, and I wheedled her into giving me her own sitting-room
and the bedroom above it. It only remained now for me to break my
projected change of residence to my present landlady, and this I
distinctly dreaded. Of course Mrs. Hobbs said, when I timidly
mentioned the subject, that she wished she had known I was leaving
an hour before, for she had just refused a lady and her husband,
most desirable persons, who looked as if they would be permanent.
Can it be that lodgers radiate the permanent or transitory quality,
quite unknown to themselves?
I was very much embarrassed, as she threatened to become tearful;
and as I was determined never to give up Mrs. Bobby, I said
desperately, "I must leave you, Mrs. Hobbs, I must indeed; but as
you seem to feel so badly about it, I'll go out and find you another
lodger in my place."
The fact is, I had seen, not long before, a lady going in and out of
houses, as I had done on the night of my arrival, and it occurred to
me that I might pursue her, and persuade her to take my place in
Holly House and buy the headless fowl. I walked for nearly an hour
before I was rewarded with a glimpse of my victim's grey dress
whisking round the corner of Pump Street. I approached, and, with a
smile that was intended to be a justification in itself, I explained
my somewhat unusual mission. She was rather unreceptive at first;
she thought evidently that I was to have a percentage on her, if I
succeeded in capturing her alive and delivering her to Mrs. Hobbs;
but she was very weary and discouraged, and finally fell in with my
plans. She accompanied me home, was introduced to Mrs. Hobbs, and
engaged my rooms from the following day. As she had a sister, she
promised to be a more lucrative incumbent than I; she enjoyed
ordering food in a raw state, did not care for views, and thought
purple clematis vines only a shelter for insects: so every one was
satisfied, and I most of all when I wrestled with Mrs. Hobb's
itemised bill for two nights and one day. Her weekly account must
be rolled on a cylinder, I should think, like the list of Don Juan's
amours, for the bill of my brief residence beneath her roof was
quite three feet in length, each of the following items being set
down every twenty-four hours:-
Cut off joint.
The total was seventeen shillings and sixpence, and as Mrs. Hobbs
wrote upon it, in her neat English hand, 'Received payment, with
respectful thanks,' she carefully blotted the wet ink, and remarked
casually that service was not included in 'attendance,' but that she
would leave the amount to me.
Chapter XVIII. I meet Mrs. Bobby.
Mrs. Bobby and I were born for each other, though we have been a
long time in coming together. She is the pink of neatness and
cheeriness, and she has a broad, comfortable bosom on which one
might lay a motherless head, if one felt lonely in a stranger land.
I never look at her without remembering what the poet Samuel Rogers
said of Lady Parke: 'She is so good that when she goes to heaven
she will find no difference save that her ankles will be thinner and
her head better dressed.'
No raw fowls visit my bedside here; food comes as I wish it to come
when I am painting, like manna from heaven. Mrs. Bobby brings me
three times a day something to eat, and though it is always whatever
she likes, I always agree in her choice, and send the blue dishes
away empty. She asked me this morning if I enjoyed my 'h'egg,' and
remarked that she had only one fowl, but it laid an egg for me every
morning, so I might know it was 'fresh as fresh.' It is certainly
convenient: the fowl lays the egg from seven to seven-thirty, I eat
it from eight to eight-thirty; no haste, no waste. Never before
have I seen such heavenly harmony between supply and demand. Never
before have I been in such visible and unbroken connection with the
source of my food. If I should ever desire two eggs, or if the fowl
should turn sulky or indolent, I suppose Mrs. Bobby would have to go
half a mile to the nearest shop, but as yet everything has worked to
a charm. The cow is milked into my pitcher in the morning, and the
fowl lays her egg almost literally in my egg-cup. One of the little
Bobbies pulls a kidney bean or a tomato or digs a potato for my
dinner, about half an hour before it is served. There is a sheep in
the garden, but I hardly think it supplies the chops; those, at
least, are not raised on the premises.
One grievance I did have at first, but Mrs. Bobby removed the thorn
from the princess' pillow as soon as it was mentioned. Our next-
door neighbour had a kennel of homesick, discontented, and sleepless
puppies of various breeds, that were in the habit of howling all
night until Mrs. Bobby expostulated with Mrs. Gooch in my behalf.
She told me that she found Mrs. Gooch very snorty, very snorty
indeed, because the pups were an 'obby of her 'usbants; whereupon
Mrs. Bobby responded that if Mrs. Gooch's 'usbant 'ad to 'ave an
'obby, it was a shame it 'ad to be 'owling pups to keep h'innocent
people awake o' nights. The puppies were removed, but I almost felt
guilty at finding fault with a dog in this country. It is a matter
of constant surprise to me, and it always give me a warm glow in the
region of the heart, to see the supremacy of the dog in England. He
is respected, admired, loved, and considered, as he deserves to be
everywhere, but as he frequently is not. He is admitted on all
excursions; he is taken into the country for his health; he is a
factor in all the master' plans; in short, the English dog is a
member of the family, in good and regular standing.
My interior surroundings are all charming. My little sitting-room,
out of which I turned Mrs. Bobby, is bright with potted ferns and
flowering plants, and on its walls, besides the photographs of a
large and unusually plain family, I have two works of art which
inspire me anew every time I gaze at them: the first a scriptural
subject, treated by an enthusiastic but inexperienced hand, 'Susanne
dans le Bain, surprise par les Deux Vieillards'; the second, 'The
White Witch of Worcester on her Way to the Stake at High Cross.'
The unfortunate lady in the latter picture is attired in a white
lawn wrapper with angel sleeves, and is followed by an abbess with
prayer-book, and eight surpliced choir-boys with candles. I have
been long enough in England to understand the significance of the
candles. Doubtless the White Witch had paid four shillings a week
for each of them in her prison lodging, and she naturally wished to
burn them to the end.
One has no need, though, of pictures on the walls here, for the
universe seems unrolled at one's very feet. As I look out of my
window the last thing before I go to sleep, I see the lights of
Great Belvern, the dim shadows of the distant cathedral towers, the
quaint priory seven centuries old, and just the outline of Holly
Bush Hill, a sacred seat of magic science when the Druids
investigated the secrets of the stars, and sought, by auspices and
sacrifices, to forecast the future and to penetrate the designs of
It makes me feel very new, very undeveloped, to look out of that
window. If I were an Englishwoman, say the fifty-fifth duchess of
something, I could easily glow with pride to think that I was part
and parcel of such antiquity; the fortunate heiress not only of land
and titles, but of historic associations. But as I am an American
with a very recent background, I blow out my candle with the feeling
that it is rather grand to be making history for somebody else to
Chapter XIX. The heart of the artist.
I am almost too comfortable with Mrs. Bobby. In fact I wished to be
just a little miserable in Belvern, so that I could paint with a
frenzy. Sometimes, when I have been in a state of almost despairing
loneliness and gloom, the colours have glowed on my canvas and the
lines have shaped themselves under my hand independent of my own
volition. Now, tucked away in a corner of my consciousness is the
knowledge that I need never be lonely again unless I choose. When I
yield myself fully to the sweet enchantment of this thought, I feel
myself in the mood to paint sunshine, flowers, and happy children's
faces; yet I am sadly lacking in concentration, all the same. The
fact is, I am no artist in the true sense of the word. My hope
flies ever in front of my best success, and that momentary success
does not deceive me in the very least. I know exactly how much, or
rather how little, I am worth; that I lack the imagination, the
industry, the training, the ambition, to achieve any lasting
results. I have the artistic temperament in so far that it is
impossible for me to work merely for money or popularity, or indeed
for anything less than the desire to express the best that is in me
without fear or favour. It would never occur to me to trade on
present approval and dash off unworthy stuff while I have command of
the market. I am quite above all that, but I am distinctly below
that other mental and spiritual level where art is enough; where
pleasure does not signify; where one shuts oneself up and produces
from sheer necessity; where one is compelled by relentless law;
where sacrifice does not count; where ideas throng the brain and
plead for release in expression; where effort is joy, and the
prospect of doing something enduring lures the soul on to new and
ever new endeavour: so I shall never be rich or famous.
What shall I paint to-day? Shall it be the bit of garden underneath
my window, with the tangle of pinks and roses, and the cabbages
growing appetisingly beside the sweet-williams, the woodbine
climbing over the brown stone wall, the wicket-gate, and the cherry-
tree with its fruit hanging red against the whitewashed cottage?
Ah, if I could only paint it so truly that you could hear the drowsy
hum of the bees among the thyme, and smell the scented hay-meadows
in the distance, and feel that it is midsummer in England! That
would indeed be truth, and that would be art. Shall I paint the
Bobby baby as he stoops to pick the cowslips and the flax, his head
as yellow and his eyes as blue as the flowers themselves; or that
bank opposite the gate, with its gorse bushes in golden bloom, its
mountain-ash hung with scarlet berries, its tufts of harebells
blossoming in the crevices of rock, and the quaint low clock-tower
at the foot? Can I not paint all these in the full glow of summer-
time in my secret heart whenever I open the door a bit and admit its
life-giving warmth and beauty? I think I can, if I can only quit
I wonder how the great artists worked, and under what circumstances
they threw aside the implements of their craft, impatient of all but
the throb of life itself? Could Raphael paint Madonnas the week of
his betrothal? Did Thackeray write a chapter the day his daughter
was born? Did Plato philosophise freely when he was in love? Were
there interruptions in the world's great revolutions, histories,
dramas, reforms, poems, and marbles when their creators fell for a
brief moment under the spell of the little blind tyrant who makes
slaves of us all? It must have been so. Your chronometer heart, on
whose pulsations you can reckon as on the procession of the
equinoxes, never gave anything to the world unless it were a system
of diet, or something quite uncoloured and unglorified by the
Chapter XX. A canticle to Jane.
There are many donkeys owned in these nooks among the hills, and
some of the thriftier families keep donkey-chairs (or 'cheers,' as
they call them) to let to the casual summer visitor. This vehicle
is a regular Bath chair, into which the donkey is harnessed. Some
of them have a tiny driver's seat, where a small lad sits beating
and berating the donkey for the incumbent, generally a decrepit
dowager from London. Other chairs are minus this absurd coachman's
perch, and in this sort I take my daily drives. I hire the
miniature chariot from an old woman who dwells at the top of Gorse
Hill, and who charges one and fourpence the hour, It is a little
more when she fetches the donkey to the door, or when the weather is
wet or the day is very warm, or there is an unusual breeze blowing,
or I wish to go round the hills; but under ordinary circumstances,
which may at any time occur, but which never do, one and four the
hour. It is only a shilling, if you have the boy to drive you; but,
of course, if you drive yourself, you throw the boy out of
employment, and have to pay extra.
It was in this fashion and on these elastic terms that I first met
you, Jane, and this chapter shall be sacred to you! Jane the long-
eared, Jane the iron-jawed, Jane the stubborn, Jane donkeyer than
other donkeys,--in a word, MULIER! It may be that Jane has made her
bow to the public before this. If she has ever come into close
relation with man or woman possessed of the instinct of self-
expression, then this is certainly not her first appearance in
print, for no human being could know Jane and fail to mention her.
Pause, Jane,--this you will do gladly, I am sure, since pausing is
the one accomplishment to which you lend yourself with special
energy,--pause, Jane, while I sing a canticle to your character.
Jane is a tiny--person, I was about to say, for she has so strong an
individuality that I can scarcely think of her as less than human--
Jane is a tiny, solemn creature, looking all docility and decorum,
with long hair of a subdued tan colour, very much worn off in
patches, I fear, by the offending toe of man.
I am a member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals, and I hope that I am as tender-hearted as most women;
nevertheless, I can understand how a man of weak principle and
violent temper, or a man possessed of a desire to get to a
particular spot not favoured by Jane, or by a wish to reach any spot
by a certain hour,--I can understand how such a man, carried away by
helpless wrath, might possibly ruffle Jane's sad-coloured hair with
the toe of his boot.
Jane is small, yet mighty. She is multum in parvo; she is the rock
of Gibraltar in animate form; she is cosmic obstinacy on four legs.
When following out the devices and desires of her own heart, or
resisting the devices and desires of yours, she can put a pressure
of five hundred tons on the bit. She is further fortified by the
possession of legs which have iron rods concealed in them, these
iron rods terminating in stout grip-hooks, with which she takes hold
on mother earth with an expression that seems to say,-
'This rock shall fly
From its firm base as soon as I.'
When I start out in the afternoon, Mrs. Bobby frequently asks me
where I am going. I always answer that I have not made up my mind,
though what I really mean to say is that Jane has not made up her
mind. She never makes up her mind until after I have made up mine,
lest by some unhappy accident she might choose the very excursion
that I desire myself.
Chapter XXI. I remember, I remember.
For example, I wish to visit St. Bridget's Well, concerning which
there are some quaint old verses in a village history:-
'Out of thy famous hille,
There daylie springyeth,
A water passynge stille,
That alwayes bringyeth
Grete comfort to all them
That are diseased men,
And makes them well again
To prayse the Lord.
'Hast thou a wound to heale,
The wyche doth greve thee;
Come thenn unto this welle;
It will relieve thee;
Nolie me tangeries,
And other maladies,
Have there theyr remedies,
Prays'd be the Lord.'
St. Bridget's Well is a beautiful spot, and my desire to see it is a
perfectly laudable one. In strict justice, it is really no concern
of Jane whether my wishes are laudable or not; but it only makes the
case more flagrant when she interferes with the reasonable plans of
a reasonable being. Never since the day we first met have I
harboured a thought that I wished to conceal from Jane (would that
she could say as much!); nevertheless she treats me as if I were a
monster of caprice. As I said before, I wish to visit St. Bridget's
Well, but Jane absolutely refuses to take me there. After we pass
Belvern churchyard we approach two roads: the one to the right
leads to the Holy Well; the one to the left leads to Shady Dell
Farm, where Jane lived when she was a girl. At the critical moment
I pull the right rein with all my force. In vain: Jane is always
overcome by sentiment when she sees that left-hand road. She bears
to the left like a whirlwind, and nothing can stop her mad career
until she is again amid the scenes so dear to her recollection, the
beloved pastures where the mother still lives at whose feet she
brayed in early youth!
Now this is all very pretty and touching. Her action has, in truth,
its springs in a most commendable sentiment that I should be the
last to underrate. Shady Dell Farm is interesting, too, for once,
if one can swallow one's wrath and dudgeon at being taken there
against one's will; and one feels that Jane's parents and Jane's
early surroundings must be worth a single visit, if they could
produce a donkey of such unusual capacity. Still, she must know, if
she knows anything, that a person does not come from America and pay
one and fourpence the hour (or thereabouts) merely in order to visit
the home of her girlhood, which is neither mentioned in Baedeker nor
set down in the local guide-books as a feature of interest.
Whether, in addition to her affection for Shady Dell Farm, she has
an objection to St. Bridget's Well, and thus is strengthened by a
double motive, I do not know. She may consider it a relic of popish
superstition; she may be a Protestant donkey; she is a Dissenter,--
there's no doubt about that.
But, you ask, have you tried various methods of bringing her to
terms and gaining your own desires? Certainly. I have coaxed,
beaten, prodded, prayed. I have tried leading her past the Shady
Dell turn; she walks all over my feet, and then starts for home, I
running behind until I can catch up with her. I have offered her
one and tenpence the hour; she remained firm. One morning I had a
happy inspiration; I determined on conquering Jane by a subterfuge.
I said to myself: "I am going to start for St. Bridget's Well, as
usual; several yards before we reach the two roads, I shall begin
pulling, not the right, but the left rein. Jane will lift her ears
suddenly, and say to herself: 'What! has this girl fallen in love
with my birthplace at last, and does she now prefer it to St.
Bridget's Well? Then she shall not have it!' Whereupon Jane will
race madly down the right-hand road for the first time, I pulling
steadily at the left rein to keep up appearances, and I shall at
last realise my wishes."
This was my inspiration. Would you believe that it failed utterly?
It should have succeeded, and would with an ordinary donkey, but
Jane saw through it. She obeyed my pull on the left rein, and went
to Shady Dell Farm as usual.
Another of Jane's eccentricities is a violent aversion to
perambulators. As Belvern is a fine, healthy, growing country, with
steadily increasing population, the roads are naturally alive with
perambulators; or at least alive with the babies inside the
perambulators. These are the more alarming to the timid eye in that
many of them are double-barrelled, so to speak, and are loaded to
the muzzle with babies; for not only do Belvern babies frequently
appear as twins, but there are often two youngsters of a
perambulator age in the same family at the same time. To weave that
donkey and that Bath 'cheer' through the narrow streets of the
various Belverns without putting to death any babies, and without
engendering the outspoken condemnation of the screaming mothers and
nurserymaids, is a task for a Jehu. Of course Jane makes it more
difficult by lunging into one perambulator in avoiding another, but
she prefers even that risk to the degradation of treading the path I
wish her to tread.
I often wish that for one brief moment I might remove the lid of
Jane's brain and examine her mental processes. She would not
exasperate me so deeply if I could be certain of her springs of
action. Is she old, is she rheumatic, is she lazy, is she hungry?
Sometimes I think she means well, and is only ignorant and dull; but
this hypothesis grows less and less tenable as I know her better.
Sometimes I conclude that she does not understand me; that the
difference in nationality may trouble her. If an Englishman cannot
understand an American woman all at once, why should an English
donkey? Perhaps it takes an American donkey to comprehend an
American woman. Yet I cannot bring myself to drive any other
donkey; I am always hoping to impress myself on her imagination, and
conquer her will through her fancy. Meanwhile, I like to feel
myself in the grasp of a nature stronger than my own, and so I hold
to Jane, and buy a photograph of St. Bridget's Well!
Chapter XXII. Comfort Cottage.
It was about two o'clock in the afternoon, and I suddenly heard a
strange sound, that of our fowl cackling. Yesterday I heard her
tell-tale note about noon, and the day before just as I was eating
my breakfast. I knew that it would be so! The serpent has entered
Eden. That fowl has laid before eight in the morning for three
weeks without interruption, and she has now entered upon a career of
wild and reckless uncertainty which compels me to eat eggs from
twelve to twenty-four hours old, just as if I were in London.
Alas for the rarity
Under the sun!
A hen, being of the feminine gender, underestimates the majesty of
order and system; she resents any approach to the unimaginative
monotony of the machine. Probably the Confederated Fowl Union has
been meddling with our little paradise where Labour and Capital have
dwelt in heavenly unity until now. Nothing can be done about it, of
course; even if it were possible to communicate with the fowl, she
would say, I suppose, that she would lay when she was ready, and not
before; at least, that is what an American hen would say.
Just as I was brooding over these mysteries and trying to hatch out
some conclusions, Mrs. Bobby knocked at the door, and, coming in,
curtsied very low before saying, "It's about namin' the 'ouse,
"Oh yes. Pray don't stand, Mrs. Bobby; take a chair. I am not very
busy; I am only painting prickles on my gorse bushes, so we will
talk it over."
I shall not attempt to give you Mrs. Bobby's dialect in reporting my
various interviews with her, for the spelling of it is quite beyond
my powers. Pray remove all the h's wherever they occur, and insert
them where they do not; but there will be, over and beyond this, an
intonation quite impossible to render.
Mrs. Bobby bought her place only a few months ago, for she lived in
Cheltenham before Mr. Bobby died. The last incumbent had probably
been of Welsh extraction, for the cottage had been named 'Dan-y-
cefn.' Mrs. Bobby declared, however, that she wouldn't have a
heathenish name posted on her house, and expect her friends to
pronounce it when she couldn't pronounce it herself. She seemed
grieved when at first I could not see the absolute necessity of
naming the cottage at all, telling her that in America we named only
grand places. She was struck dumb with amazement at this piece of
information, and failed to conceive of the confusion that must ensue
in villages where streets were scarcely named or houses numbered. I
confess it had never occurred to me that our manner of doing was
highly inconvenient, if not impossible, and I approached the subject
of the name with more interest and more modesty.
"Well, Mrs. Bobby," I began, "it is to be Cottage; we've decided
that, have we not? It is to be Cottage, not House, Lodge, Mansion,
or Villa. We cannot name it after any flower that blows, because
they are all taken. Have all the trees been used?"
"Thank you, miss, yes, miss, all but h'ash-tree, and we 'ave no
"Very good, we must follow another plan. Family names seem to be
chosen, such as Gower House, Marston Villa, and the like. 'Bobby
Cottage' is not pretty. What was your maiden name, Mrs. Bobby?"
"Buggins, thank you, miss. 'Elizabeth Buggins, Licensed to sell
Poultry,' was my name and title when I met Mr. Bobby."
"I'm sorry, but 'Buggins Cottage' is still more impossible than
'Bobby Cottage.' Now here's another idea: where were you born,
"In Snitterfield, thank you, miss."
"Dear, dear! how unserviceable!"
"Thank you, miss."
"Where was Mr. Bobby born?"
"He never mentioned, miss."
(Mr. Bobby must have been expansive, for they were married twenty
"There is always Victoria or Albert," I said tentatively, as I wiped
"Yes, miss, but with all respect to her Majesty, them names give me
a turn when I see them on the gates, I am that sick of them."
"True. Can we call it anything that will suggest its situation? Is
there a Hill Crest?"
"Yes, miss, there is 'Ill Crest, 'Ill Top, 'Ill View, 'Ill Side,
'Ill End, H'under 'Ill, 'Ill Bank, and 'Ill Terrace."
"I should think that would do for Hill."
"Thank you, miss. 'Ow would 'The 'Edge' do, miss?"
"But we have no hedge." (She shall not have anything with an h in
it, if I can help it.)
"No, miss, but I thought I might set out a bit, if worst come to
"And wait three or four years before people would know why the
cottage was named? Oh no, Mrs. Bobby."
"Thank you, miss."
"We might have something quite out of the common, like 'Providence
Cottage,' down the bank. I don't know why Mrs. Jones calls it
Providence Cottage, unless she thinks it's a providence that she has
one at all; or because, as it's just on the edge of the hill, she
thinks it's a providence that it hasn't blown off. How would you
like 'Peace' or 'Rest' Cottage?"
"Begging your pardon, miss, it's neither peace nor rest I gets in it
these days, with a twenty-five pound debt 'anging over me, and three
children to feed and clothe."
"I fear we are not very clever, Mrs. Bobby, or we should hit upon
the right thing with less trouble. I know what I will do: I will
go down in the road and look at the place for a long time from the
outside, and try to think what it suggests to me."
"Thank you, miss; and I'm sure I'm grateful for all the trouble you
are taking with my small affairs."
Down I went, and leaned over the wicket-gate, gazing at the unnamed
cottage. The brick pathway was scrubbed as clean as a penny, and
the stone step and the floor of the little kitchen as well. The
garden was a maze of fragrant bloom, with never a weed in sight.
The fowl cackled cheerily still, adding insult to injury, the pet
sheep munched grass contentedly, and the canaries sang in their
cages under the vines. Mrs. Bobby settled herself on the porch with
a pan of peas in her neat gingham lap, and all at once I cried:-
"'Comfort Cottage'! It is the very essence of comfort, Mrs. Bobby,
even if there is not absolute peace or rest. Let me paint the
signboard for you this very day."
Mrs. Bobby was most complacent over the name. She had the greatest
confidence in my judgment, and the characterisation pleased her
housewifely pride, so much so that she flushed with pleasure as she
said that if she 'ad 'er 'ealth she thought she could keep the place
looking so that the passers-by would easily h'understand the name.
Chapter XXIII. Tea served here.
It was some days after the naming of the cottage that Mrs. Bobby
admitted me into her financial secrets, and explained the
difficulties that threatened her peace of mind. She still has
twenty-five pounds to pay before Comfort Cottage is really her own.
With her cow and her vegetable garden, to say nothing of her
procrastinating fowl, she manages to eke out a frugal existence, now
that her eldest son is in a blacksmith's shop at Worcester, and is
sending her part of his weekly savings. But it has been a poor
season for canaries, and a still poorer one for lodgers; for people
in these degenerate days prefer to be nearer the hotels and the mild
gaieties of the larger settlements. It is all very well so long as
I remain with her, and she wishes fervently that that may be for
ever; for never, she says, eloquently, never in all her Cheltenham
and Belvern experience, has she encountered such a jewel of a lodger
as her dear Miss 'Amilton, so little trouble, and always a bit of
praise for her plain cooking, and a pleasant word for the children,
to whom most lodgers object, and such an interest in the cow and the
fowl and the garden and the canaries, and such kindness in painting
the name of the cottage, so that it is the finest thing in the
village, and nobody can get past the 'ouse without stopping to gape
at it! But when her American lodger leaves her, she asks,--and who
is she that can expect to keep a beautiful young lady who will be
naming her own cottage and painting signboards for herself before
long, likely?--but when her American lodger is gone, how is she,
Mrs. Bobby, to put by a few shillings a month towards the debt on
the cottage? These are some of the problems she presents to me. I
have turned them over and over in my mind as I have worked, and even
asked Willie Beresford in my weekly letter what he could suggest.
Of course he could not suggest anything: men never can; although he
offered to come there and lodge for a month at twenty-five pounds a
week. All at once, one morning, a happy idea struck me, and I ran
down to Mrs. Bobby, who was weeding the onion-bed in the back
"Mrs. Bobby," I said, sitting down comfortably on the edge of the
lettuce-frame, "I am sure I know how you can earn many a shilling
during the summer and autumn months, and you must begin the
experiment while I am here to advise you. I want you to serve five-
o'clock tea in your garden."
"But, miss, thanking you kindly, nobody would think of stoppin' 'ere
for a cup of tea once in a twelvemonth."
"You never know what people will do until you try them. People will
do almost anything, Mrs. Bobby, if you only put it into their heads,
and this is the way we shall make our suggestion to the public. I
will paint a second signboard to hang below 'Comfort Cottage.' It
will be much more beautiful than the other, for it shall have a
steaming kettle on it, and a cup and saucer, and the words 'Tea
Served Here' underneath, the letters all intertwined with tea-
plants. I don't know how tea-plants look, but then neither does the
public. You will set one round table on the porch, so that if it
threatens rain, as it sometimes does, you know, in England, people
will not be afraid to sit down; and the other you will put under the
yew-tree near the gate. The tables must be immaculate; no spotted,
rumpled cloths and chipped cups at Comfort Cottage, which is to be a
strictly first-class tea station. You will put vases of flowers on
the tables, and you will not mix red, yellow, purple, and blue ones
in the same vase-"
"It's the way the good Lord mixes 'em in the fields," interjected
Mrs. Bobby piously.
"Very likely; but you will permit me to remark that the good Lord
can manage things successfully which we poor humans cannot. You
will set out your cream-jug that was presented to Mrs. Martha
Buggins by her friends and neighbours as a token of respect in 1823,
and the bowl that was presented to Mr. Bobby as a sword and shooting
prize in 1860, and all your pretty little odds and ends. You will
get everything ready in the kitchen, so that customers won't have to
wait long; but you will not prepare much in advance, so that
there'll be nothing wasted."
"It sounds beautiful in your mouth, miss, and it surely wouldn't be
any 'arm to make a trial of it."
"Of course it won't. There is no inn here where nice people will
stop (who would ever think of asking for tea at the Retired
Soldier?), and the moment they see our sign, in walking or driving
past, that moment they will be consumed with thirst. You do not
begin to appreciate our advantages as a tea station. In the first
place, there is a watering-trough not far from the gate, and drivers
very often stop to water their horses; then we have the lovely
garden which everybody admires; and if everything else fails, there
is the baby. Put that faded pink flannel slip on Jem, showing his
tanned arms and legs as usual, tie up his sleeves with blue bows as
you did last Sunday, put my white tennis-cap on the back of his
yellow curls, turn him loose in the hollyhocks, and await results.
Did I not open the gate the moment I saw him, though there was no
apartment sign in the window?"
Mrs. Bobby was overcome by the magic of my arguments, and as there
were positively no attendant risks, we decided on an early opening.
The very next day after the hanging of the second sign, I
superintended the arrangements myself. It was a nice thirsty
afternoon, and as I filled the flower-vases I felt such a desire for
custom and such a love of trade animating me that I was positively
ashamed. At three o'clock I went upstairs and threw myself on the
bed for a nap, for I had been sketching on the hills since early
morning. It may have been an hour later when I heard the sound of
voices and the stopping of a heavy vehicle before the house. I
stole to the front window, and, peeping under the shelter of the
vines, saw a char-a-bancs, on the way from Great Belvern to the
Beacon. It held three gentlemen, two ladies, and four children, and
everything had worked precisely as I intended. The driver had seen
the watering-trough, the gentlemen had seen the tea-sign, the
children had seen the flowers and the canaries, and the ladies had
seen the baby. I went to the back window to call an encouraging
word to Mrs. Bobby, but to my horror I saw that worthy woman
disappearing at the extreme end of the lane in full chase of our
cow, that had broken down the fence, and was now at large with some
of our neighbour's turnip-tops hanging from her mouth.
Chapter XXIV. An unlicensed victualler.
Ruin stared us in the face. Were our cherished plans to be
frustrated by a marauding cow, who little realised that she was
imperilling her own means of existence? Were we to turn away three,
five, nine thirsty customers at one fell swoop? Never! None of
these people ever saw me before, nor would ever see me again. What
was to prevent my serving them with tea? I had on a pink cotton
gown,--that was well enough; I hastily buttoned on a clean painting
apron, and seizing a freshly laundered cushion cover lying on the
bureau, a square of lace and embroidery, I pinned it on my hair for
a cap while descending the stairs. Everything was right in the
kitchen, for Mrs. Bobby had flown in the midst of her preparations.
The loaf, the bread-knife, the butter, the marmalade, all stood on
the table, and the kettle was boiling. I set the tea to draw, and
then dashed to the door, bowed appetisingly to the visitors, showed
them to the tables with a winning smile (which was to be extra),
seated the children maternally on the steps and laid napkins before
them, dashed back to the kitchen, cut the thin bread-and-butter, and
brought it with the marmalade, asked my customers if they desired
cream, and told them it was extra, went back and brought a tray with
tea, boiling water, milk, and cream. Lowering my voice to an
English sweetness, and dropping a few h's ostentatiously as I
answered questions, I poured five cups of tea, and four mugs for the
children, and cut more bread-and-butter, for they were all eating
like wolves. They praised the butter. I told them it was a
specialty of the house. They requested muffins. With a smile of
heavenly sweetness tinged with regret, I replied that Saturday was
our muffin day; Saturday, muffins; Tuesday, crumpets; Thursday,
scones; and Friday, tea-cakes. This inspiration sprang into being
full grown, like Pallas from the brain of Zeus. While they were
regretting that they had come on a plain bread-and-butter day, I
retired to the kitchen and made out a bill for presentation to the
oldest man of the party.
Nine teas . . . . 3 6
Cream . . . . 3
Bread-and-butter . . 1 0
Marmalade . . . . 6
Feeling five and threepence to be an absurdly small charge for five
adult and four infant teas, I destroyed this immediately, and made
out another, putting each item fourpence more, and the bread-and-
butter at one-and-six. I also introduced ninepence for extra teas
for the children, who had had two mugs apiece, very weak. This
brought the total to six shillings and tenpence, and I was beset by
a horrible temptation to add a shilling or two for candles; there
was one young man among the three who looked as if he would have
understood the joke.
The father of the family looked at the bill, and remarked
quizzically, "Bond Street prices, eh?"
"Bond Street service," said I, curtsying demurely.
He paid it without flinching, and gave me sixpence for myself. I
was very much afraid he would chuck me under the chin; they are
always chucking barmaids under the chin in old English novels, but I
have never seen it done in real life. As they strolled down to the
gate, the second gentleman gave me another sixpence, and the nice
young fellow gave me a shilling; he certainly had read the old
English novels and remembered them, so I kept with the children.
One of the ladies then asked if we sold flowers.
"Certainly," I replied.
"What do you ask for roses?"
"Fourpence apiece for the fine ones," I answered glibly, hoping it
was enough, "thrippence for the small ones; sixpence for a bunch of
sweet peas, tuppence apiece for buttonhole carnations."
Each of the ladies took some roses and mignonette, and the
gentlemen, who did not care for carnations in the least, weakened
when I approached modestly to pin them in their coats, a la barmaid.
At this moment one of the children began to tease for a canary.
"Have you one for sale?" inquired the fond mother.
"Certainly, madam." (I was prepared to sell the cottage by this
"What do you ask for them?"
Rapid calculation on my part, excessively difficult without pencil
and paper. A canary is three to five dollars in America,--that is,
from twelve shilling to a pound; then at a venture, "From ten
shillings to a guinea, madam, according to the quality of the bird."
"Would you like one for your birthday, Margaret, and do you think
you can feed it and take quite good care of it?"
"Oh yes, mamma!"
"Have you a cage?" to me inquiringly.
"Certainly, madam; it is not a new one, but I shall only charge you
a shilling for it." (Impromptu plan: not knowing whether Mrs. Bobby
had any cages, or if so where she kept them, to remove the canary in
Mrs. Bobby's chamber from the small wooden cage it inhabited, close
the windows, and leave it at large in the room; then bring out the
cage and sell it to the lady.)
"Very well, then, please select me a good singer for about twelve
shillings; a very yellow one, please."
I did so. I had no difficulty about the colour; but as the birds
all stopped singing when I put my hand into the cages, I was
somewhat at a loss to choose a really fine performer. I did my
best, with the result that it turned out to be the mother of several
fine families, but no vocalist, and the generous young man brought
it back for an exchange some days afterwards; not only that, but he
came three times during the next week and nearly ruined his nervous
system with tea.
The party finally mounted the char-a-bancs, just as I was about to
offer the baby for twenty-five pounds, and dirt cheap at that.
Meanwhile I gave the driver a cup of lukewarm tea, for which I
refused absolutely to accept any remuneration.
I had cleared the tables before Mrs. Bobby returned, flushed and
panting, with the guilty cow. Never shall I forget that good dame's
astonishment, her mild deprecations, her smiles--nay, her tears--as
she inspected my truly English account and received the silver.
Nine teas . . . . 3 6
Cream . . . . 7
Bread-and-butter . . 1 6
Extra teas. . . . 9
Marmalade . . . . 6
Three tips. . . . 2 0
Four roses and mignonette. 1 8
Three carnations . . 6
Canary . . . . 12 0
Cage . . . . 1 0
I told her I regretted deeply putting down the marmalade so low as
sixpence; but as they had not touched it, it did not matter so much,
as the entire outlay for the entertainment had been only about a
shilling. On that modest investment, I considered one pound three
shillings a very fair sum to be earned by an inexperienced 'licensed
victualler' like myself, particularly as I am English only by
adoption, and not by birth.
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Back to Full Books