Penelope's English Experiences: In Two Parts. Part First
HERE we are in London again, — Francesca, Salemina, and I. Salemina is a philanthropist of the Boston philanthropists, limited. I am an artist. Francesca is— It is very difficult to label Francesca. She is, at her present stage of development, just a nice girl; that is about all. The sense of humanity hasn’t dawned upon her yet. She is even unaware that personal responsibility for the universe has come into vogue, and so she is happy.
Francesca is short of twenty years old, Salemina short of forty, I short of thirty. Francesca is in love, Salemina never has been in love, I never shall be in love. Francesca is rich, Salemina is well-to-do, I am poor. There we are in a nutshell.
We are not only in London again, but we are again in Smith’s private hotel; one of those deliciously comfortable and ensnaring hostelries in Mayfair which one enters as a solvent human being, and which one leaves as a bankrupt, no matter what may be the number of ciphers on one’s letter of credit; since the greater one’s apparent supply of wealth, the greater the demand made upon it. I never stop long in London without determining to give up my art for a private hotel. There must be millions in it, but I fear I lack some of the essential qualifications for success. I never could have the heart, for example, to charge a struggling young genius eight shillings a week for two candles, and then eight shillings the next week for the same two candles, which the struggling young genius, by dint of vigorous economy, has managed to preserve to a decent height. No, I could never do it, not even if I were certain that she would squander the sixteen shillings in Bond Street fripperies instead of laying them up against the rainy day.
It is Salemina who always unsnarls the weekly bill. Francesca spends an evening or two with it, first of all, because, since she is so young, we think it good mental training for her. Not that she ever accomplishes any results worth mentioning. She makes three columns, headed respectively F., S., and P. Then she places in each the items in which we are all equal, such as rooms, attendance, and lights. Then come the extras, which are different for each person : more ale for one, more hot baths for another ; more carriages for one, more lemon squashes for another. (Francesca’s column is principally filled with carriages and lemon squashes. You would think she hired the first merely for the purpose of drinking the second.) When she has reached the point of dividing the whole bill into three parts, so that each person may know what is her share, she adds the three together, expecting, not unnaturally, to get the total amount of the bill. Not at all. She never comes within thirty shillings of the desired amount, and she is often three or four guineas to the good or to the bad. One of her difficulties lies in her inability to remember that in English money it makes a difference where you place a figure, whether in the pound, shilling, or pence column. Having been educated on the theory that a six is a six the world over, she charged me with sixty shillings’ worth of Apollinaris in one week. I pounced on the error, and found that she had jotted down each pint in the shilling instead of in the pence column.
After Francesca has broken ground on the bill in this way, Salemina, on the next leisure evening, draws a large armchair under the lamp and puts on her eyeglasses. We perch on either arm, and, after identifying our own extras, we leave her toiling like Cicero in his retirement at Tusculum. By midnight she has generally brought the account to a point where a half-hour’s fresh attention in the early morning will finish it. Not that she makes it come out right to a penny. She has been treasurer of the Boston Band of Benevolence, of the Saturday Morning Slöjd Circle, of the Club for the Reception of Russian Refugees, and of the Society for the Brooding of Buddhism ; but none of these organizations carries on its existence by means of pounds, shillings, and pence, or Salemina’s resignation would have been requested long ago. However, we are not disposed to be captious; we are too glad to get rid of the bill. If our united thirds make four or five shillings in excess, we divide them equally; if it comes the other way about, we make it up in the same manner; always meeting the sneers of masculine critics with Dr. Holmes’s remark that a faculty for numbers is a sort of detached-lever arrangement that can be put into a mighty poor watch.
Salemina is so English! I can’t think how she manages. She is, in fact, more than English; she is British. She discourses of methylated spirits as if she had never in her life heard it called “alcohol,” and all the English equivalents for Americanisms are ready for use on the tip of her tongue. She says “ conserv’t’ry " and “ observ’t’ry; ” she calls the chambermaid “Mairy,” which is infinitely softer, to be sure, than the American " Mary,” with its over-long ā ; she ejaculates, “ Quite so ! ” in all the pauses of conversation, and talks of smoke-rooms, and camisoles, and luggage-vans, and slipbodies, and trams, and mangling, and goffering. She also eats jam for breakfast as if she had been reared on it, when every one knows that the average American has to contract the jam habit by patient and continuous practice.
As for me, I get on charmingly with the English nobility and sufficiently well with the gentry, but the upper servants strike terror to my soul. There is something awe-inspiring to me about an English butler, particularly one in imposing livery. When I call upon Lady DeWolfe, I say to myself impressively, as I go up the steps: “You are as good as a butler, as well born and well bred as a butler, even more intelligent than a butler. Now, simply because he has an unapproachable haughtiness of demeanor, which you can respectfully admire, but can never hope to imitate, do not cower beneath the polar light of his eye ; assert yourself ; be a woman ; be an American citizen ! " All in vain. The moment the door opens I ask for Lady DeWolfe in so timid a tone that I know Parker thinks me the parlor maid’s sister who has rung the visitor’s bell by mistake. If my lady is within, I follow Parker to the drawing-room, my knees shaking under me at Ihe prospect of committing some solecism in his sight. Lady DeWolfe’s husband has been noble only four months, and Parker of course knows it, and perhaps affects even greater hauteur to divert the attention of the vulgar commoner from the newness of the title.
Dawson, our butler at Smith’s private hotel, wields the same blighting influence on our republican spirits, accustomed to the soft solicitations of the negro waiter or the comfortable indifference of the free-born American. We never indulge in ordinary frivolous conversation when Dawson is serving us at dinner. We “talk up” to him so far as we are able, and before we utter any remark we inquire mentally whether Dawson is likely to think it good form. But the other afternoon I had taken tea four times between five and seven o’clock, and went to the dinner table well stimulated and with something of my usual national nonchalance. Accordingly, I maintained throughout dinner a lofty height of aristocratic elegance that impressed even the impassive Dawson, towards whom it was solely directed. To the amazement and amusement of Salemina (who always takes my cheerful inanities at their face value), I gave an hypothetical account of my afternoon engagements, interlarding it so thickly with countesses and marchionesses and lords and honorables that though Dawson has passed soup to duchesses, and scarcely ever handed a plate to anything less than a baroness, he diluted the customary scorn of his glance, and made it two parts condescending approval as it rested on me, Penelope Hamilton, of the great American working class (unlimited).
Apropos of the servants, it seems to me that the British footman has relaxed a trifle since we were last here ; or is it possible that he reaches the height of his immobility at the height of the London season, and as it declines does he decline and become flesh ? At all events,
I have twice seen a footman change his weight from one leg to the other, as he stood at a shop entrance with his lady’s mantle over his arm ; twice have I seen one scratch his chin, and several times have I observed others, during this month of August, conduct themselves in many respects like animate objects with vital organs. Lest this incendiary statement be challenged, leveled as it is at an institution whose stability and order are but feebly represented by the eternal march of the stars in their courses, I hasten to explain that in none of these cases cited was it a powdered footman who (to use a Delsartean expression) withdrew will from his body and devitalized it before the public eye. I have observed that the powdered personage has much greater control over his muscles than the ordinary footman with human hair, and is infinitely his superior in rigidity.
I tremble to think of what the powdered footman may become when he unbends in the bosom of his family. When, in the privacy of his own apartments, the powder is washed off, the canary-seed pads removed from his aristocratic calves, and his scarlet and buff magnificence exchanged for a simple négligé, I should think he might be guilty of almost any indiscretion or violence. I for one would never consent to be the wife and children of a powdered footman, and receive him in his moments of reaction.
Is it to my credit, or to my eternal dishonor, that I once made a powdered footman smile, and that, too, when he was handing a buttered muffin to an earl’s daughter ?
It was while we were paying a visit at Marjorimallow Hall, Sir Owen and Lady Marjorimallow’s place in Surrey. This was to be our first appearance in an English country house, and we made elaborate preparations. Only our freshest toilets were packed, and these were arranged in our trunks with the sole view of impressing the lady’s maid who should unpack them. We each purchased dressing-cases and new toilet articles, Francesca’s being of sterling silver, Salemina’s of triple plate, and mine of celluloid, as befitted our several fortunes. Salemina read up on English politics ; Francesca practiced a new way of dressing her hair; I tuned my guitar and made up a portfolio of sketches. We counted, therefore, on representing American letters, beauty, and arts to that portion of the great English public staying at Marjorimallow Hall. (I must interject a parenthesis here to the effect that matters did not move precisely as we expected ; for at table, where most of our time was passed, Francesca had for a neighbor a scientist, who asked her plump whether the religion of the American Indian was or was not a pure theism ; Salemina’s partner objected to the word “politics ” in the mouth of a woman ; while my attendant squire adored a good bright-colored chromo, and called my guitar a banjo. But this is anticipating.)
Three days before our departure, I remarked at the breakfast table, Dawson being absent: “My dear girls, you are aware that we have ordered fried eggs, scrambled eggs, and poached eggs ever since we came to Dovermarle Street, simply because we cannot eat boiled eggs from the shell, English fashion, and cannot break them into a glass, American fashion, on account of the effect upon Dawson. Now there will certainly be boiled eggs at Marjorimallow Hall, and we cannot refuse them morning after morning ; it will be cowardly (which is unpleasant), and it will be remarked (which is worse). Eating them from a glass, in a baronial hall, with the remains of a drawbridge in the grounds, is equally impossible; if we do that, Lady Marjorimallow will be having our luggage examined, to see if we carry war whoops and wigwams about with us. No, it is clearly necessary that we master the gentle art of eating eggs tidily and prettily from the shell. I have seen Englishwomen — very dull ones, too — do it without apparent effort: I have even seen an English infant do it, and that without soiling her apron, or ‘ messing her pinafore,’ as Salemina would say. I propose, therefore, that we order soft-boiled eggs daily; that we send Dawson from the room directly breakfast is served ; and that then and there we have a class for opening eggs, lowest grade, object method. Any person who cuts the shell badly, or permits the egg to leak over the rim, or allows yellow dabs on the plate, or upsets the cup, or stains her fingers, shall be fined ‘tuppence ’ and locked into her bedroom for five minutes.”
The first morning we were all in the bedroom together, and, there being no innocent person to collect fines, the wildest civil disorder prevailed.
On the second day Salemina and I improved slightly, but Francesca had passed a sleepless night, and her hand trembled (the love-letter mail had come in from America). We were obliged to tell her, as we collected ‘tuppence” twice on the same egg, that she must either remain at home, or take an oilcloth apron to Marjorimallow Hall.
But “ease is the lovely result of forgotten toil.” On the third morning success crowned our efforts. Salemina smiled, and I told an anecdote, during the operation. Accordingly, when eggs were brought to the breakfast table at Marjorimallow Hall, we were only slightly nervous. Francesca was at the far end of the long table, and I do not know how she fared, but from various Anglicisms that Salemina dropped, as she chatted with the Queen’s Counsel on her left, I could see that her nerve was steady and circulation free. We exchanged glances (there was the mistake !), and with a hollow laugh she struck her egg a nervous blow with a knife. Her egg-cup slipped and lurched ; a top fraction of the egg flew in the direction of the Q. C., and the remaining portion oozed, in yellow confusion, rapidly into her plate. Alas for that past mistress of elegant dignity, Salemina ! If I had been at her Majesty’s table, I should have smiled, even if I had gone to the Tower the next moment: but as it was, I became hysterical. My neighbor, a portly member of Parliament, looked amazed, Salemina grew scarlet, the situation was charged with danger; and, rapidly viewing the various exits, I chose the humorous one, and told as picturesquely as possible the whole story of our school of egg-opening in Dovermarle Street, the highly arduous and encouraging rehearsals conducted there, and the stupendous failure incident to our first public appearance. Sir Owen led the good-natured laughter and applause ; lords and ladies, Q. C.’s and M. P.’s, joined in with a will: poor Salemina raised her drooping head, opened and ate a second egg with the repose of a Vere de Vere — and the footman smiled !
I do not see why we hear that the Englishman is deficient in a sense of humor. His jokes may not be a matter of daily food to him, as they are to the American : he may not love whimsicality with the same passion, nor inhale the aroma of a witticism with as keen a relish ; but he likes fun whenever he sees it, and he sees it as often as most people.
It may be that we find the Englishman more receptive to our bits of feminine nonsense just now, simply because this is the day of the American woman in London, and, having been assured that she is an entertaining personage, young John Bull is willing to take it for granted so long as she does n’t want to marry him, and even this pleasure he will allow her on occasion.
The longer I live, the more I feel it an absurdity to label nations with national traits, and then endeavor to make individuals conform to the required standard. It is possible, I suppose, to draw certain broad distinctions, though even these are subject to change ; but the habit of generalizing from one particular, that mainstay of the cheap and obvious essayist, has rooted many fictions in the public mind. Nothing, for instance, can blot from my memory the profound, searching, and exhaustive analysis of a great nation which I learned in my small geography when I was a child, namely, " The French are a gay and polite people, fond of dancing and light wines.”
One young Englishman whom I have met lately errs on the side of over-appreciation. He laughs before, during, and after every remark I make, unless it be a simple request for food or drink. This is an acquaintance of Willie Beresford, the Honorable Arthur Ponsonby, who was the “ whip ” on our coach drive to Dorking, — dear, delightful, adorable Dorking, of hen celebrity.
Salemina insisted on my taking the box seat, in the hope that the Honorable Arthur would amuse me. She little knew him ! He sapped me of all my ideas, and gave me none in exchange. Anything so unspeakably heavy I never encountered. It is very difficult for a woman who does n’t know a nigh horse from an off one, nor the wheelers from the headers (or is it the fronters ?), to find subjects of conversation with a gentleman who spends three fourths of his existence on a coach. It was the more difficult for me because I could not decide whether Willie Beresford was cross because I was devoting myself to the whip, or because Francesca had remained at home with a headache. This state of affairs continued for about fifteen miles, when it suddenly dawned upon the Honorable Arthur that, however mistaken my motive, I was trying to be agreeable. This conception acted on the honest and amiable soul like magic. I gradually became comprehensible, and finally he gave himself up to the theory that, though eccentric, I was harmless and amusing, so we got on famously, — so famously that Willie Beresford grew ridiculously gloomy, and I decided that it could n’t be Francesca’s headache.
“ I don’t understand your business signs in England,” I said to the Honorable Arthur, “ this ‘ Company, Limited,’ and that ‘Company, Limited.’ That one, of course, is quite plain ” (pointing to the front of a building on the village street), “‘Goat’s Milk Company, Limited : ’ I suppose they have but one or two goats, and necessarily the milk must be limited.”
Salemina says that this was not in the least funny, that it was absolutely flat; but it had quite the opposite effect upon the Honorable Arthur. He had no command over himself or his horses for some minutes; and at intervals during the afternoon the full felicity of the idea would steal upon him, and the smile of reminiscence would flit across his ruddy face.
The next day, at the Eton and Harrow games at Lord’s cricket ground, he presented three flowers of British aristocracy to our party, and asked me each time to tell the goat story, which he had previously told himself, and probably murdered in the telling. Not content with this arrant flattery, he begged to be allowed to recount some of my international episodes to a literary friend who writes for Punch. I demurred decidedly, but Salemina said that perhaps I ought to be willing to lower myself a trifle for the sake of elevating Punch ! This home thrust so delighted the Honorable Arthur that it remained his favorite joke for days, and the poor overworked goat was permitted to enjoy that oblivion from which Salemina insists it should never have emerged.
The Honorable Arthur, Salemina, and I took a stroll in Hyde Park one Sunday afternoon, not for the purpose of joining the fashionable throng of “pretty people ” at Stanhope Gate, but to mingle with the common herd in its special precincts, — precincts not set apart, indeed, by any legal formula, but by a natural law of classification which seems to be inherent in the universe. It was a curious and motley crowd, a little dull, perhaps, but orderly, well behaved, and self-respecting, with here and there part of the flotsam and jetsam of a great city, a ragged, sodden, hopeless wretch wending his way about with the rest, thankful for any diversion.
Under the trees, each in the centre of his group, large or small according to his magnetism and eloquence, stood the park “ shouter,” airing his special grievance, playing his special part, preaching his special creed, pleading his special cause, —anything, probably, for the sake of shouting. We were plainly dressed, and did not attract observation as we joined the outside circle of one of these groups after another. It was as interesting to watch the listeners as the speakers. I wished I might paint the sea of faces, eager, anxious, stolid, attentive, happy and unhappy : histories written on many of them : others blank, unmarked by any thought or aspiration. I stole a sidelong look at the Honorable Arthur. He is an Englishman first, and a man afterwards (I prefer it the other way), but he does not realize it; he thinks he is just like all other good fellows, but he is mistaken. He and Willie Beresford speak the same language, but they are as different as Malay and Esquimaux. He is an extreme type, but he is very likable and very well worth looking at, with his long coat, his silk hat, and the white Malmaison in his buttonhole. He is always so radiantly, fascinatingly clean, the Honorable Arthur, simple, frank, direct, sensible, and he bores me almost to tears.
The first orator was edifying his hearers with an explanation of the drama of The Corsican Brothers, and his eloquence, unlike that of the other speakers, was largely inspired by the hope of pennies. It was a novel idea, and his interpretation was rendered very amusing to us by the wholly original Yorkshire accent which he gave to the French personages and places in the play.
An Irishman in black clerical garb held the next group together. He was in some trouble, owing to a pig-headed and quarrelsome Scotchman in the front rank, who objected to each statement that fell from his lips, thus interfering seriously with the effect of his peroration. If the Irishman had been more convincing, I suppose the crowd would have silenced the scoffer, for they always manage these little matters of discipline for themselves; but the Scotchman’s points were too well taken, so trenchant, in fact, at times that a voice would cry. “Coom up, Sandy, an ’ave it all yer own w’y, boy ! The discussion continued as long as we were within hearing distance, for the Irishman, though amiable and ignorant, was firm, the “ onconquered Scot” was on his native heath of argument, and the little knot of listeners were willing to give them both a hearing.
Under the next tree a fluent cockney lad of sixteen or eighteen years was declaiming his bitter experiences with the Salvation Army. He had been sheltered in one of its beds which was not to his taste, and it had found employment for him which he had to walk twenty-two miles to get, and which was not to his liking when he did get it. A meeting of the Salvation Army at a little distance rendered his speech more interesting, as its points were repeated and denied as fast as made.
Of course there were religious groups, and temperance groups, and groups devoted to the tearing down or raising up of most things except the government; for on that day there were no Anarchist and Socialist shouters, as is ordinarily the case.
As we strolled down one of the broad roads under the shade of the noble trees, we saw the sun setting in a red-gold haze ; a glory of vivid color made indescribably tender and opalescent by the kind of luminous mist that veils it; a wholly English sunset, and an altogether lovely one. And quite away from the other knots of people there leaned against a bit of wire fence a poor old man surrounded by half a dozen children and one tired woman with a nursing baby. He had a tattered book, which seemed to be the story of the Gospels, and his little flock sat on the greensward at his feet as he read. It may be that he, too, had been a shouter in his lustier manhood, and had held a larger audience together by the power of his belief ; but now he was helpless to attract any but the children. Whether it was the pathos of his white hairs, his garb of shreds and patches, or the mild benignity of his eye that moved me I know not, but among all the Sunday shouters in Hyde Park it seemed to me that that quavering voice of the past spoke with the truest note.
The English Park Lover, loving his love on a green bench in Kensington Gardens or Regent’s Park, or indeed in any spot where there is a green bench, so long as it is within full view of the passer-by, — this English public Lover, male or female, is a most interesting study, for we have not his exact prototype in America. He is thoroughly respectable, I should think, my urban Colin. He does not have the air of a gay deceiver roving from flower to flower, stealing honey as he goes ; he looks, on the contrary, as if it were his intention to lead Phœbe to the altar on his first halfholiday ; there is a dead calm in his actions which bespeaks no other course. If Colin were a Don Juan, surely he would be a trifle more ardent, for there is no tropical fervor in his matter-of-fact caresses. He does not embrace Phœbe in the park, apparently, because he adores her to madness ; because her smile is like fire in his veins, melting down all his defenses ; because the intoxication of her nearness is irresistible ; because, in fine, he cannot wait until he finds a more secluded spot: nay, verily, he embraces her because — tell me, ye amorous fruiterers, poulterers, soldiers, haberdashers (limited), what is your reason ? for it does not appear to the casual eye. Stormy weather does not vex the calm of the Park Lover, for “ the rains of Marly do not wet ” when one is in love. By a clever manipulation of four arms and four hands they can manage an umbrella and enfold each other at the same time, though a feminine mackintosh is well known to be ill adapted to the purpose, and a continuous drizzle would dampen almost any other lover in the universe.
The park embrace, as nearly as I can analyze it, seems to be one part instinct, one part duty, one part custom, and one part reflex action. I have purposely omitted pleasure (which, in the analysis of the ordinary embrace, reduces all the other ingredients to an almost invisible fraction), because I fail to find it; but I am willing to believe that in some rudimentary form it does exist, because man attends to no purely unpleasant matter with such praiseworthy assiduity. Anything more fixedly stolid than the. Park Lover when he passes his arm round his chosen one and takes her crimson hand in his, I have never seen ; unless indeed it be the fixed stolidity of the chosen one herself. There is a kind of superb finish and completeness about their indifference to the public gaze which removes it from ordinary immodesty, and gives it a certain scientific value. I had not at first the assurance even to glance at them as I passed by, blushing myself to the roots of my hair, though the offenders themselves never changed color. Many a time have I walked out of my way or lowered my parasol, for fear of invading their Sunday Eden ; but a spirit of inquiry awoke in me at last, and I began to make psychological investigations, with a view to finding out at what point embarrassment would appear in the Park Lover. I experimented (it was a most arduous and unpleasant task) with upwards of two hundred couples, and it is interesting to record that self-consciousness was not apparent in a single instance. It was not merely that they failed to resent my stopping in the path directly opposite them, or my glaring most offensively at their intertwined persons, nor that they even allowed me to sit upon their green bench and witness their chaste salutes, but that they did fail to perceive me at all! Does not this bovine simplicity, this claimance of absolute privacy in the midst of a curious crowd, approach sublimity ?
Among all my English experiences, none occupies so important a place as my forced meeting with the Duke of Cimicifugas. (There can be no harm in my telling the incident, so long as I do not give the right names, which are very well known to fame.) The Duchess of Cimicifugas, who is charming, unaffected, and lovable, so report says, has among her chosen friends an untitled woman whom we will call Mrs. Apis Mellifica. I met her only daughter, Hilda, in America, and we became quite intimate. It seems that Mrs. Apis Mellifica, who has an income of £20,000 a year, often exchanges presents with the duchess, and at this time she had brought with her from the Continent some rare old tapestries with which to adorn a new morning-room at Cimicifugas House. These tapestries were to be hung during the absence of the duchess in Homburg, and were to greet her as a birthday surprise on her return. Hilda Mellifica, who is one of the most talented amateur artists in London, and who has exquisite taste in all matters of decoration, was to go down to the ducal residence to inspect the work, and she obtained permission from Lady Veratrum (the confidential companion of the duchess) to bring me with her. I started on this journey to the country with all possible delight, little surmising the agonies that lay in store for me in the mercifully hidden future.
The tapestries were perfect, and Lady Veratrum was most amiable and affable, though the blue blood of the Belladonnas courses in her veins, and her great-grandfather was the celebrated Earl of Rhus Tox, who rendered such notable service to his sovereign. We roamed through the splendid apartments, inspected the superb picture gallery, where scores of dead - and - gone Cimicifugases (most of them very plain) were glorified by the art of Van Dyck, Sir Joshua, or Gainsborough, and admired the priceless collections of marbles and cameos and bronzes.
It was about four o’clock when we were conducted to a magnificent apartment for a brief rest, as we were to return to London at half past six. As Lady Veratrum left us, she remarked casually, “His Grace will join us at tea.”
The door closed, and at the same moment I fell upon the brocaded satin state bed and tore off my hat and gloves like one distraught.
“ Hilda,” I gasped, “you brought me here, and you must rescue me, for I will never meet a duke alive ! ”
“ Nonsense, Penelope, don t be absurd,” she replied. “ I have never happened to see him myself, and I am a trifle nervous, but it cannot be very terrible, I should think.
“ Not to you, perhaps, but to me impossible,” I said. “ I thought he was in Homburg, or I would never have entered this place. Does one call him ‘ your Grace ’ or ‘ your Royal Highness ’ ? ”
Just at this moment Lady Veratrum sent a haughty maid to ask us if we would meet her under the trees in the park which surrounds the house. I hailed this as a welcome reprieve to the dreaded function of tea with the Duke, and made up my mind, while descending the marble staircase, that I would slip away and lose myself accidentally in the grounds, appearing only in time for the London train. This happy mode of issue from my difficulties lent a springiness to my step, as we followed a waxwork footman over the velvet sward to a nook under a group of copper beeehes. But there, to my horror, stood a charmingly appointed teatable glittering with silver and Royal Worcester, with several liveried servants bringing cakes and muffins and berries to Lady Veratrum. who sat behind the steaming urn. I started to retreat, when there appeared, walking towards us, a simple man, with nothing in the least extraordinary about him.
“ That cannot be the Duke of Cimicifugas,” thought I, “ a man in a corduroy jacket, without a sign of a suite ; probably it is a Banished Duke come from the Forest of Arden for a buttered muffin.”
But it was the Duke of Cimicifugas, and no other. Hilda was presented first, while I tried to fire my courage by thinking of the Puritan Fathers, and Plymouth Rock, and the Boston Tea-Party, and the battle of Bunker Hill. Then my turn came, and hastily forming myself upon Ada Rehan in The Taming of the Shrew, whose counterfeit presentment suddenly appeared to me as in a vision,
I murmured some words which might have been anything. Then we talked, — at least the Duke and Lady Veratrum talked. Hilda said a few blameless words, such as befitted an untitled English virgin in the presence of the nobility; while I maintained the probationary silence required by Socrates of his first year’s pupils. My idea was to observe this first duke without uttering a word, to talk with the second (if I should ever meet a second), to chat with the third, and to secure the fourth for Francesca to take home to America with her. Of course I know that dukes are very dear, but she could afford any reasonable sum, if she found one whom she fancied ; the principal obstacle in the path is that tiresome American lawyer with whom she considers herself in love. I have never gone beyond that first experience, however, for dukes in England are as rare as snakes in Ireland. I can’t think why they allow them to die out so, — the dukes, not the snakes. If a country is to have an aristocracy, let there be enough of it, say I, and make it imposing at the top, where it shows most.
Francesca wishes to get some old hallmarked silver for her home tea tray, and she is absorbed at present in answering advertisements of people who have second-hand pieces for sale, and who offer to bring them on approval. The other day, when Willie Beresford and I came in from Westminster Abbey, we thought Francesca must be giving a “ small and early ; ” but it transpired that all the silver-sellers had called at the same hour, and it took the united strength of Dawson and Mr. Beresford, together with my diplomacy, to rescue the poor child from their clutches. She came out alive, but her safety was purchased at the cost of a George IV. cream jug, an Elizabethan sugar bowl, and a Boadicea tea caddy, which were, I doubt not, manufactured in Wardour Street towards the close of the nineteenth century.
Salemina came in just then, cold and tired. (Tower and National Gallery the same day. It’s so much more work to go to the Tower nowadays than it used to be !) It was drizzling, so we had a cosy fire, slipped into our tea-gowns, and ordered tea and thin bread and butter, a basket of strawberries with their frills on, and a jug of Devonshire cream. Willie Beresford asked if he might stay ; otherwise, he said, he should have to sit at a cold marble table on the corner of Bond Street and Piccadilly, and take his tea in bachelor solitude.
“ Yes,” I said severely. “ we will allow you to stay ; though, as you are coming to dinner, I should think you would have to go away some time, if only in order that you might get ready to come back. You ‘ve been here since breakfast time.”
“ Quite so,” he answered calmly, “ and my only error in judgment was that I did n’t take an earlier breakfast, in order to begin my day here sooner. One has to snatch a moment when he can, nowadays ; for these rooms are so infested with British swells that a base-born American stands very little chance ! ”
Now I should like to know if Willie Beresford is in love with Francesca. What shall I do — that is, what shall we do — if he is, when she is in love with somebody else ? To be sure, she may want one lover for foreign and another for domestic service. He is too old for her, but that is always the way. “ When Alcides, having gone through all the fatigues of life, took a bride in Olympus, he ought to have selected Minerva, but he chose Hebe.”
I wo"nder why so many people call him Willie ” Beresford, at his age. Perhaps it is because his mother sets the example; but from her lips it does not seem amiss. I suppose when she looks at him she recalls the past, and is ever seeing the little child in the strong man, mother fashion. It is very beautiful, that feeling; and when a girl surprises it in any mother’s eyes it makes her heart beat faster, as in the presence of something sacred, which she can understand only because she is a woman, and experience is foreshadowed in intuition.
The Honorable Arthur had sent us a dozen London dailies and weeklies, and we fell into an idle discussion of their contents over the teacups. I had found an “ exchange column ” which was as interesting as it was novel, and I told Francesca it seemed to me that if we managed wisely we could rid ourselves of all our useless belongings, and gradually amass a collection of the English articles we most desired. “ Here is an opportunity, for instance,” I said, and I read aloud, —
“ ‘S. G., of Kensington, will post Woman three days old regularly for a box of cut flowers.’ ”
“ Rather young,” said Mr. Beresford,
“ or I’d answer that advertisement myself.”
I wanted to tell him I did n’t suppose that he could find anything too young for his taste, but I did n’t dare.
“ Salemina adores cats,” I went on.
“ How is this, Sally, dear ? —
“‘A handsome orange male Persian cat, also a tabby, immense coat, brushesand frills, is offered in exchange for an electro-plated revolving covered dish or an Allen’s Vapor Bath.‘ ”
“ I should like the cat, but alas ! I have no covered dish,” sighed Salemina.
“ Buy one,” suggested Mr. Beresford.
“ Even then you ‘d be getting a bargain. Do you understand that you receive the male orange cat for the dish, and the frilled tabby for the bath, or do you get both in exchange for either of these articles? Read on, Miss Hamilton.”
“ Very well, here is one for Francesca : “‘A harmonium with seven stops is offered in exchange for a really good Plymouth cockerel hatched in May.‘”
“ I should want to know when the harmonium was hatched,” said Francesca prudently. “Now you cannot usurp the platform entirely, my dear Pen. Listen to an English marriage notice from the Times. It chances to be the longest one to-day, but there were others just as jointed in yesterday’s issue.
“ ‘On the 17th instant, at Emmanuel Church (Countess of Padelford’s connection), Weston-super-Mare, by the Rev. Canon Vernon, B. D., Rector of St. Edmund the King and Martyr, Suffolk Street, uncle of the bride, assisted by the Rev. Otho Pelham, M. A., Vicar of All Saints, Upper Norwood, Dr. Philosophial Konrad Rasch, of Koetzsenbroda, Saxony, to Evelyn Whitaker Rake, widow of the late Richard Balaclava Rake, Barrister-at-law of the Inner Temple and Bombay, and third surviving daughter of George Frederic Goldspink, C. B., of Craig House, Sydenham Hill, Commissioner of her Majesty’s Customs, and formerly of the War Office.’ ”
By the time this was finished we were all quite exhausted, but we revived like magic when Salemina read us her contribution : —
“‘A NAME ENSHRINED IN LITERATURE AND RENOWNED IN COMMERCE, — Miss Willard, Waddington, Middlesex. Deal with her whenever you possibly can. When you want to purchase, ask her for anything under the .canopy of heaven, from jewels, bijouterie, and curios to rare books and high-class articles of utility. When you want to sell, consign only to her, from choice gems to mundane objects. All transactions embodying the germs of small profits are welcome. Don’t readily forget this or her name and address, — Clara (Miss) Willard (the Lady Trader), Waddington, Middlesex. Immaculate promptitude and scrupulous liberality observed. Intellect appeals to intellect in this advertisement.’ ”
Just here Dawson entered, evidently to lay the dinner-cloth, but, seeing that we had a visitor, he took the tea-tray and retired discreetly.
“ It is five and thirty minutes past six, Mr. Beresford,” I said. “ Should you think you could get to the Metropole and array yourself and return in less than an hour ? Because, even if you can, remember that we ladies have elaborate toilets in prospect, — toilets intended for the complete prostration of the British gentry. Francesca has a yellow gown which will drive Bertie Godolphin to madness. Salemina has laid out a soft, dovelike gray and steel combination, directed towards the Church of England ; for you may not know that Sally has a vicar in her train, Mr. Beresford, and he will probably speak to-night. As for me ” — Before these shocking personalities were finished Salemina and Francesca had fled to their rooms, and Mr. Beresford took up my broken sentence and said, “As for you, Miss Hamilton, whatever gown you wear, you are sure to make one man speak, if you care about it; but I suppose you would not listen to him unless he were English ; ” and with that shot he departed.
I really think I shall have to give up the Francesca hypothesis.
I shall never forget that evening in Dovermarle Street. Our large sitting-room has three long French windows, whose outside balconies are filled with potted ferns and blossoming hydrangeas. At one of these open windows sat Salemina, little Bertie Godolphin, Mrs. Beresford, the Honorable 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 until 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 vender 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? Sweet lavender,Who’ll buy my pretty lavender?
Sweet bloomin’ laven -der?
Presently a horse and cart drew up before a hotel, a little farther 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 favorites,—The Song that touched 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 Händel’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-dilettanteism did he light a cigarette, reseat himself at the piano, and weave Scotch 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.
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 Honorable 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 favors (the ‘ no ’ you do not quite dare to say, for instance), and I ’ll talk it over with you to-morrow, if the Englishmen will give me an opportunity, and if you ‘ll deign to give me a moment alone in any other place than the Royal Academy,”
“ 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 humor. Penelope, you are not dull, but you don’t seem to understand that I am ” —
“ What are you two people quarreling about?” cried Salemina. “Come, Penelope, get your wrap. Mrs. Beresford, is n’t she charming in her new Liberty gown ? If that New York wit had seen her, he could n’t have said, ‘ If that is Liberty, give me Death! ’ Yes, Francesca, you must wear something over your shoulders. Whistle for two fourwheelers, Dawson, please.”
That was my last London experience, for I went into exile a few days later, determined to find out whether I was a woman wholly in love with a man, or an artist wholly in love with her art.
Kate Douglas Wiggin.