Where a’ the sweets o’ spring an’ simmer grow:
Between twa birks, out o’er a little lin,
The water fa’s an’ maks a singan din;
A pool breast-deep, beneath as clear as glass,
Kisses, wi’ easy whirls, the bord’ring grass.”
THAT is what Peggy says to Jenny in Allan Ramsay’s poem, and if you substitute “ Crummylowe ” for “ Habbie’s Howe ” in the first line you will have a lovely picture of the Farm-Steadin’.
You come to it by turning the corner from the inn, first passing the cottage where the lady wishes to rent two rooms for fifteen shillings a week, but will not give much attendance, as sbe is slightly asthmatic, and the house is always as clean as it is this minute, and the view from the window looking out on Pettybaw Bay canna be surpassed at ony money. Then comes the little house where Will’am Beattie’s sister Mary died in May, and there wasna a bonnier woman in Fife. Next is the cottage with the pansy garden, where the lady in the widow’s cap takes five o’clock tea in the bay window, and a snug little supper at eight. She has for the first scones and marmalade, and her tea is in a small black teapot under a red cosy with a white muslin cover drawn over it. At eight she has more tea, and generally a kippered herring, or a bit of cold mutton left from the noon dinner. We note the changes in her bill of fare as we pass hastily by, and feel admitted quite into the family secrets. Beyond this bay window, which is so redolent of simple peace and comfort that we long to go in and sit down, is the cottage with the double white tulips, the cottage with the collie on the front steps, the doctor’s house with the yellow laburnum tree, and then the house where the Disagreeable Woman lives. She has a lovely baby, which, to begin with, is somewhat remarkable, as disagreeable women rarely have babies; or else, having had them, rapidly lose their disagreeableness, — so rapidly that one has not time to notice it. The Disagreeable Woman’s house is at the end of the row, and across the road is a wicket gate leading — Where did it lead ? — that was the very point. Along the left, as you lean wistfully over the gate, there runs a stone wall topped by a green hedge ; and on the right, first furrows of pale fawn, then below furrows of deeper brown, and mulberry and red ploughed earth stretching down to waving fields of green, and thence to the sea, gray, misty, opalescent, melting into the pearly white clouds, so that one cannot tell where sea ends and sky begins.
There is a path between the green hedge and the ploughed field, and it leads seductively to the farm-steadin’; or we felt that it might thus lead, if we dared unlatch the wicket gate. Seeing no sign “ Private Way,” “ Trespassers Not Allowed,” or other printed defiance to the stranger, we were considering the opening of the gate, when we observed two female figures coming toward us along the path, and paused until they should come through. It was the Disagreeable Woman (though we knew it not) and an elderly friend. We accosted the friend, feeling instinctively that she was framed of softer stuff, and asked her if the path were a private one. It was a question that had never met her ear before, and she was too dull or discreet to deal with it on the instant. To our amazement, she did not even manage to falter, “ I couldna say.”
“ Is the path private ? ” I repeated.
“ It is certainly the idea to keep it a little private,” said the Disagreeable Woman, coming into the conversation without being addressed. “ Where do you wish to go ? ”
“ Nowhere in particular. The walk looks so inviting we should like to see the end.”
“ It goes only to the Farm, and you can reach that by the highroad ; it is only a half-mile farther. Do you wish to call at the Farm ? ”
“ No, oh no; the path is so very pretty that ” —
“ Yes, I see ; well. I should call it rather private.”And with this she departed ; leaving us to stand on the outskirts of paradise, while she went into her house and stared at us from the window as she played with the lovely undeserved baby. But that was not the end of the matter.
We found ourselves there next day, Francesca and I, — Salemina was too proud, — drawn by an insatiable longing to view the beloved and forbidden scene. We did not dare to glance at the Disagreeable Woman’s windows, lest our courage should ooze away, so we opened the gate and stole through into the path.
It was a most lovely path; even if it had not been in a sense prohibited, it would still have been lovely, simply on its own merits. There were little gaps in the hedge and the wall through which we peered into a daisy-starred pasture, where a white bossy and a herd of flaxenhaired cows fed on the sweet green grass. The mellow ploughed earth on the right hand stretched down to the shore-line, and the plough-boy walked up and down the long, straight furrows whistling “ My Nannie’s awa’.” Pettybaw is so far removed from the music - halls that their cheap songs and strident echoes never reach its sylvan shades, and the herd-laddies and plough-boys still sweeten their labors with the old classic melodies.
We walked on and on, determined to come every day; and we settled that if we were accosted by any one, or if our innocent business were demanded, Francesca should ask, “ Does Mrs. Macstronachlacher live here, and has she any new-laid eggs ? ”
Soon the gates of the Farm appeared in sight. There was a cluster of buildings, with doves huddling and cooing on the red-tiled roofs, — dairy-houses, workmen’s cottages, splendid rows of substantial haystacks (towering yellow things with peaked tops) ; a little pond with ducks and geese chattering together as they paddled about, and for additional music the trickling of two tiny burns making “ a singan din ” as they wimpled through the bushes. A speckle-breasted thrush perched on a corner of the gray wall and poured his heart out. Overhead there was a chorus of rooks in the tall trees, but there was no sound of human voice save that of the plough-laddie whistling “ My Nannie’s awa’.”
We turned our backs on this darling solitude, and retraced our steps lingeringly. As we neared the wicket gate again we stood upon a bit of jutting rock and peered over the wall, sniffing the hawthorn buds ecstatically. The white bossy drew closer, treading softly on his daisy carpet; the cows looked up at us wonderingly as they leisurely chewed their cuds ; a man in corduroy breeches came from a corner of the pasture, and with a sharp, narrow hoe rooted out a thistle or two that had found their way into this sweet feeding - ground. Suddenly we heard the swish of a dress behind us, and turned, conscience-stricken, though we had in nothing sinned.
“ Does Mrs. Macstronachlacher live here ? ” stammered Francesca like a parrot.
It was an idiotic time and place for the question. We had certainly arranged that she should ask it, but something must be left to the judgment in such cases. Francesca was hanging over a stone wall regarding a herd of cows in a pasture, and there was no possible shelter for a Mrs. Macstronachlacher within a quarter of a mile. What made the remark more unfortunate was the fact that, though she had on a different dress and bonnet, the person interrogated was the Disagreeable Woman; but Francesca is particularly slow in discerning resemblances. She would have gone on mechanically asking for new-laid eggs, had I not caught her eye and held it sternly. The foe looked at us suspiciously for a moment (Francesca’s hats are not easily forgotten), and then vanished up the path, to tell the people at Crummylowe, I suppose, that their grounds were infested by marauding strangers whose curiosity was manifestly the outgrowth of a republican government.
As she disappeared in one direction, we walked slowly in the other ; and just as we reached the corner of the pasture where two stone walls meet, and where a group of oaks gives grateful shade, we heard children’s voices.
“ No, no ! ” cried somebody : “ it must be still higher at this end, for the tower, — this is where the king will sit. Help me with this heavy one, Rafe. Dandie, mind your foot. Why don’t you be making the flag for the ship ? — and do keep the Wrig away from us till we finish building! ”
Wi’ their face into their hand,
Before they see Sir Patrick Spens
Come sailing to the strand.”
We put our toes into the crevices of the wall and peeped stealthily over the top. Two boys of eight or ten years, with two younger children, were busily engaged in building a castle. A great pile of stones had been hauled to the spot, evidently for the purpose of mending the wall, and these were serving as rich material for sport. The oldest of the company, a bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked boy in an Eton jacket and broad white collar, was obviously commander-in-chief; and the next in size, whom he called Rafe, was a laddie of eight, in kilts. These two looked as if they might be scions of the aristocracy, while Dandie and the Wrig were fat little yokels of another sort. The miniature castle must have been the work of several mornings, and was worthy of the respectful but silent admiration with which we gazed upon it; but as the last stone was placed in the tower, the master builder looked up and spied our interested eyes peering at him over the wall. We were properly abashed and ducked our heads discreetly at once, but were reassured by hearing him run rapidly toward us, calling, “ Stop, if you please ! Have you anything on just now, — are you busy ? ”
We answered that we were quite at leisure.
“ Then would you mind coming in to help us play Sir Patrick Spens ? There are n’t enough of us to do it nicely.”
This confidence was touching, and luckily it was not in the least misplaced. Playing Sir Patrick Spens was exactly in our line, little as he suspected it.
“ Come and help ? ” I said. “ Simply delighted! Do come, Frances. How can we get over the wall ? ”
“ I ’ll show you the good broken place ! ” cried Sir Apple - Cheek ; and following his directions we scrambled through, while Rafe took off his Highland bonnet ceremoniously and handed us down to earth.
“ Hurrah ! now it will be something like fun ! Do you know Sir Patrick Spens ? ”
“ Every word of it. Don’t you want us to pass an examination before you allow us in the game? ”
“ No,” he answered gravely ; “ it’s a great help, of course, to know it, but it is n’t necessary. I keep the words in my pocket to prompt Dandie, and the Wrig can only say two lines, she’s so little.” (Here he produced some tattered leaves torn from a book of ballads.) “ We’ve done it many a time, but this is a new Dunfermline Castle, and we are trying the play in a different way. Rafe is the king, and Dandie is the ‘ eldern knight,’ — you remember him ? ”
“ Certainly; he sat at the king’s right knee.”
“ Yes, yes, that’s the one! Then Rafe is Sir Patrick part of the time, and I the other part, because everybody likes to be him ; but there’s nobody left for the ‘lords o’ Noroway’ or the sailors, and the Wrig is the only maiden to sit on the shore, and she always forgets to comb her hair and weep at the right time.”
The forgetful and placid Wrig (I afterwards learned that this is a Scots word for the youngest bird in the nest) was seated on the grass, with her fat hands full of pink thyme and white wild woodruff. The sun shone on her curly flaxen head. She wore a dark blue cotton frock with white dots, and a shortsleeved pinafore ; and though she was utterly useless from a dramatic point of view, she was the sweetest little Scotch dumpling I ever looked upon. She had been tried and found wanting in most of the principal parts of the ballad, but when left out of the performance altogether she was wont to scream so lustily that all Crummylowe rushed to her assistance.
“ Now let us practice a bit to see if we know what we are going to do,” said Sir Apple-Cheek. “ Rafe, you can be Sir Patrick this time. The reason why we all like to be Sir Patrick,” he explained, turning to me, “ is that the lords o’ Noroway say to him, —
And a’ our Queenis fee ; ’
and then he answers, —
Fu’ loudly do ye lee ! ’
and a lot of splendid things like that. Well, I ’ll be the king,” and accordingly he began : —
Drinking the bluid-red wine.
‘ O whaur will I get a skeely skipper
To sail this new ship o’ mine ? ’ ”
A dead silence ensued, whereupon the king said testily, “Now, Dandie, you never remember you ’re the eldern knight; go on ! ”
Thus reminded, Dandie recited : —
Sat at the King’s right knee,
‘ Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor
That ever sailed the sea.’ ”
“Now I ’ll write my letter,” said the king, who was endeavoring to make himself comfortable in his somewhat contracted tower.
And sealed it with his hand ;
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens,
Was walking on the strand.
Read the letter out loud, Rafe, and then you ’ll remember what to do.”
To Noroway on the faem !
The King’s daughter of Noroway
’T is thou maun bring her hame,’ ”
“ Now do the next part! ”
“ I can’t; I’m going to chuck up that next part. I wish you ’d do Sir Pat until it comes to ‘Ye lee ! ye lee ! ’ ”
“ No, that won’t do, Rafe. We have to mix up everybody else, but it ’s too bad to spoil Sir Patrick.”
“ Well, I ’ll give him to you, then, and be the king. I don’t mind so much now that we’ve got such a good tower ; and why can’t I stay up there even after the ship sets sail, and look out over the sea with a telescope ? That’s the way Elizabeth did the time she was king.”
“ You can stay up till you have to come down and be a dead Scots lord, I ’m not going to lie there as I did last time, with nobody but the Wrig for a Scots lord, and her forgetting to be dead ! ”
Sir Apple - Cheek then essayed the hard part “ chucked up ” by Rafe. It was rather difficult, I confess, as the first four lines were in pantomime and required great versatility : —
Fu’ loud, loud laughéd he;
The neist word that Sir Patrick read,
The tear blinded his e’e.”
These conflicting emotions successfully simulated, Sir Patrick resumed : —
And tauld the King o’ me, —
To send us out, at this time o’ the year,
To sail upon the sea ? ’ ”
Then the king stood up in the unstable tower and shouted his own orders : —
Our ship maun sail the faem ;
The King’s daughter o’ Noroway
’T is we maun fetch her hame.’”
“ Can’t we rig the ship a little better ? ” demanded our stage manager at this juncture. “ It is n’t half as good as the tower.”
Ten minutes’ hard work, in which we assisted, produced something a trifle more nautical and seaworthy than the first ship. The ground with a few boards spread upon it was the deck. Tarpaulin sheets were arranged on sticks to represent sails, and we located the vessel so cleverly that two slender trees shot out of the middle of it and served as the tall topmasts.
“ Now let us make believe that we ’ve hoisted our sails on ‘ Mononday morn ’ and been in Noroway ‘ weeks but only twae,’ ” said our leading man ; “ and your time has come now.” turning to us.
We felt indeed that it had ; but plucking up sufficient courage for the lords o’ Noroway, we cried accusingly : —
And a’ our Queenis fee ! ’ ”
Oh, but Sir Apple-Cheek was glorious as he roared virtuously : —
Fu’ loudly do ye lee !
As gane my men and me,
An’ I brocht a half-fou o’ gude red gowd
Out ower the sea wi’ me.
This day I ’se leave the shore;
And never spend my King’s monie
’Mong Noroway dogs no more.
Our gude ship sails the morn.’
Now you be the sailors, please ! ”
Glad to be anything but Noroway dogs, we recited obediently : —
I fear a deadly storm !
I fear we ’ll come to harm.’ ”
We added much to the effect of this stanza by flinging ourselves on the turf and embracing Sir Patrick’s knees, at which touch of melodrama he was enchanted.
Then came a storm so terrible that I can hardly trust myself to describe its fury. The entire corps dramatique personated the elements, and tore the gallant ship in twain, while Sir Patrick shouted in the teeth of the gale,—
To tak’ my helm in hand,
Till I get up to the tall topmast
To see if I can spy land ? ’ ”
I knew the words a trifle better than Francesca, and thus succeeded in getting in ahead as the fortunate hero : —
To tak’ the helm in hand,
Till you go up to the tall topmast;
But I fear ye ’ll ne’er spy land.’”
And the heroic sailor was right, for
A step but only ane,
When a bout flew out o’ our goodly ship,
And the saut sea it came in.”
Then we fetched a web o’ the silken claith, and anither o’ the twine, as our captain bade us; we wapped them into our ship’s side and letna the sea come in ; but in vain, in vain. Laith were the gude Scots lords to weet their cork - heeled shune, but they did, and wat their hats abune ; for the ship sank in spite of their despairing efforts,
That never mair cam’ hame.”
Francesca and I were now obliged to creep from under the tarpaulins and personate the disheveled ladies on the strand.
“ Will your hair come down ? ” asked the manager gravely.
“ It will and shall,” we rejoined ; and it did.
The maidens tore their hair.”
“ Do tear your hair, Jessie ! It’s the only thing you have to do, and you never do it on time ! ”
The Wrig made ready to howl with offended pride, but we soothed her, and she tore her yellow curls with her chubby hands.
Wi’ their gowd kaims i’ their hair,
A waitin’ for their ain dear luves,
For them they ’ll see nae mair.”
I did a bit of sobbing here that would have been a credit to Sarah Siddons.
“ Splendid ! Grand ! ” cried Sir Patrick, as he stretched himself fifty fathoms below the imaginary surface, and gave explicit ante-mortem directions to the other Scots lords to spread themselves out in like manner.
’T is fifty fathoms deep,
And there lies gude Sir Patrick Spens,
Wi’ the Scots lords at his feet.”
“ Oh, it is grand ! ” he repeated jubilantly. “ If I could only be the king and see it all from Dunfermline tower ! Could you be Sir Patrick once, do you think, now that I have shown you how ? ” he asked Francesca.
“ Indeed I can ! ” she replied, glowing with excitement (and small wonder) at being chosen for the principal rôle.
“ The only trouble is that you do look awfully like a girl in that white frock.”
Francesca appeared rather ashamed at her disqualifications for the part of Sir Patrick. “ If I had only worn my long black cloak ! ” she sighed.
“ Oh, I have an idea! ” cried the boy. “ Hand her the minister’s gown from the hedge, Rafe. You see, Mistress Ogilvie of Crummylowe lent us this old gown for a sail; she’s doing something to a new one, and this was her pattern.”
Francesca slipped it on over her white serge, and the Pettybaw parson should have seen her with the long veil of her dark hair floating over his ministerial garment.
“ It seems a pity to put up your hair,” said the stage manager critically, “ because you look so jolly and wild with it down, but I suppose you must; and will you have Rafe’s bonnet ? ”
Yes, she would have Rafe’s bonnet; and when she perched it on the side of her head and paced the deck restlessly, while the black gown floated behind in the breeze, we all cheered with enthusiasm, and, having rebuilt the ship, began the play again from the moment of the gale. The wreck was more horribly realistic than ever, this time, because of our rehearsal; and when I crawled from under the masts and sails to seat myself on the beach with the Wrig, I had scarcely strength enough to remove the cooky from her hand and set her a-combing her curly locks.
When our new Sir Patrick stretched herself on the ocean bed, she fell with a despairing wail ; her gown spread like a pall over the earth, the Highland bonnet came off, and her hair floated over a haphazard pillow of Jessie’s wild flowers.
“ Oh, it is fine, that part; but from here is where it always goes wrong! ” cried the king from the castle tower. “ It’s too bad to take the maidens away from the strand where they look so beautiful, and Rafe is splendid as the gude sailor, but Dandie looks so silly as one little dead Scots lord; if we only had one more person, young or old, if he was ever so stupid ! ”
“ Would I do ? ”
This unexpected offer came from behind one of the trees that served as topmasts, and at the same moment there issued from that delightfully secluded retreat Ronald Macdonald, in knickerbockers and a golf cap.
Suddenly as this apparition came, there was no lack of welcome on the children’s part. They shouted his name in glee, embraced his legs, and pulled him about like affectionate young bears. Confusion reigned for a moment, while Sir Patrick rose from her sea grave all in a mist of floating hair, from which hung impromptu garlands of pink thyme and green grasses.
“ Allow me to do the honors, please, Jamie,” said Mr. Macdonald, when he could escape from the children’s clutches. “ Have you been presented ? Ladies, the young master of Rowardennan. Jamie, Miss Hamilton and Miss Monroe from the United States of America.” Sir Apple-Cheek bowed respectfully. “ Let me present the Honorable Ralph Ardmore, also from the castle, together with Dandie Dinmont and the Wrig from Crummylowe. Sir Patrick, it is indeed a pleasure to see you again. Must you take off my gown ? It never looked so well before.”
“ Your gown ? ”
The counterfeit presentment of Sir Patrick vanished as the long drapery flew to the hedge whence it came, and there remained only an offended young goddess, who swung her dark mane tempestuously to one side, plaited it in a thick braid, tossed it back again over her white serge shoulder, and crowded on her sailor hat with unnecessary vehemence.
“ Yes, my gown ; whose else should you borrow, pray? Mistress Ogilvie of Crummylowe presses, sponges, and darns my bachelor wardrobe, but I never suspected that she rented it out for theatrical purposes. I have been calling upon you in Pettybaw ; Lady Ardmore was there at the same time. Finding but one of the three American Graces at home, I stayed a few moments only, and am now returning to Inchcaldy by way of Crummylowe.” Here he plucked the gown off the hedge and folded it carefully.
“ Can’t we keep it for a sail, Mr. Macdonald ? ” pleaded Jamie. “ Mistress Ogilvie said it was n’t any more good.”
“ When Mistress Ogilvie made that remark,” replied the Reverend Ronald, “ she had no idea that it would ever touch the shoulders of the martyred Sir Patrick Spens. Now I happen to love ” —
Francesca hung out a scarlet flag in each cheek, and I was about to say, “ Don’t mind me ! ” when he continued :
“ As I was saying, I happen to love Sir Patrick Spens, — it is my favorite ballad ; so, with your permission, I will take the gown, and you can find something less valuable for a sail.”
I could never understand just why Francesca was so annoyed at being discovered in our innocent game. Of course she was prone on Mother Earth and her tresses were much disheveled, but she looked lovely, after all, in comparison with me, the humble “ supe ” and lightning-change artist; yet I kept my temper, — at least I kept it until the Reverend Ronald observed, after escorting us through the gap in the wall, “ By the way, Miss Hamilton, there was a gentleman from Paris at your cottage, and he is walking down the road to meet you.”
Walking down the road to meet me, forsooth! Have ministers no brains ? The Reverend Macdonald had wasted five good minutes with his observations, introductions, explanations, felicitations, and adorations, and meantime, regardezmoi, messieurs et mesdames, s’il vous plait! I have been a Noroway dog, a ship-builder, and a gallant sailorman; I have been a gurly sea and a towering gale; I have crawled from beneath broken anchors, topsails, and mizzenmasts to a strand where I have been a suffering lady plying a gowd kaim. My skirt of blue drill has been twisted about my person until it trails in front ; my collar is wilted, my cravat untied ; I have lost a stud and a sleeve-link ; my hair is in a tangled mass, my face is scarlet and dusty — and a gentleman from Paris is walking down the road to meet me!
To hear the mavis singing ;
To see the birds on ilka bush
And leaves around them hinging.”
My Willie is not “drowned in Yarrow,” thank Heaven ! He is drowned in happiness, according to his own account.
We are exploring the neighborhood together, and whichever path we take we think it lovelier than the one before. This morning we drove to Pettybaw Sands, Francesca and Salemina following by the footpath and meeting us on the shore. It is all so enchantingly fresh and green on one of these rare bright days : the trig lass bleaching her claes on the grass by the burn, near the little stone bridge ; the wild partridges whirring about in pairs ; the farm-boy seated on the clean straw in the bottom of his cart, and cracking his whip in mere wanton joy at the sunshine; the pretty cottages, and the gardens with rows of currant and gooseberry bushes hanging thick with fruit that suggests jam and tart in every delicious globule. It is a love-colored landscape, we know it full well; and nothing in the fair world about us is half as beautiful as what we see in each other’s eyes.
We tied the pony by the wayside and alighted : Willie to gather some sprays of the pink veronica and blue speedwell, I to sit on an old bench and watch him in happy idleness. The “ white-blossomed slaes ” sweetened the air, and the distant hills were gay with golden whin and broom, or flushed with the purply-red of the bell heather.
An old man, leaning on his staff, came totteringly along, and sank down on the bench beside me. He was dirty, ragged, unkempt, and feeble, but quite sober, and pathetically anxious for human sympathy.
“ I’m achty-seex year auld,” he maundered, apropos of nothing, “ achty-seex year auld. I’ve seen five lairds o’ Pettybaw, sax placed meenisters, an’ seeven doctors. I was a mason an’ a stoot mon i’ them days, but it’s a meeserable life now. Wife deid, bairns deid. I sit by my lane an’ smoke my pipe, wi’ naebody to gi’e me a sup o’ water. Achty-seex is ower auld for a mon, — ower auld.”
These are the sharp contrasts of life one cannot bear to face when one is young and happy. Willie gave him a half-sovereign and some tobacco for his pipe, and when the pony trotted off briskly, and we left the shrunken figure alone on his bench as he was lonely in his life, we kissed each other and pledged ourselves to look after him as long as we remain in Pettybaw; for what is love worth if it does not kindle the flames of spirit, open the gates of feeling, and widen the heart to shelter all the little loves and great loves that crave admittance ?
As we neared the tiny fishing-village on the sands we met a fishwife brave in her short skirt and eight petticoats, the basket with its two hundred pound weight on her head, and the auld wife herself knitting placidly as she walked along. They look superbly strong, these women ; but, to be sure, the “ weak anes dee,” as one of them told me.
There was an air of bustle about the little quay, —
When the boats come in sae early ;
When the lift is blue an’ the herring-nets fu’,
And the sun glints in a’ things rarely.”
The silvery shoals of fish no longer come so near the shore as they used in the olden time, for then the kirk bell of St. Monan’s had its tongue tied when the “ draive ” was off the coast, lest its knell should frighten away the shining myriads of the deep.
We walked among the tiny whitewashed low-roofed cots, each with its little fishes tacked invitingly against the door-frame to dry, until we came to my favorite, the corner cottage in the row. It has beautiful narrow garden strips in front, —solid patches of color in sweet gillyflower bushes from which the kindly housewife plucked a nosegay for us. Her white columbines she calls “ granny’s mutches ; ” and indeed they are not unlike those fresh white caps. Robbie Burns, ten inches high in plaster, stands in the cottage window in a tiny box of blossoming plants surrounded by a miniature green picket fence. Outside, looming white among the gillyflowers, is Sir Walter, and near him is still another and a larger bust on a cracked pedestal a foot high, perhaps. We did not recognize the head at once, and asked the little woman who it was.
“ Homer, the gret Greek poet,” she answered cheerily ; “ an’ I ’m to have anither o’ Burns, as tall as Homer, when my daughter comes hame frae E’nbro’.”
If the shade of Homer keeps account of his earthly triumphs, I think he is proud of his place in that humble Scotchwoman’s gillyflower garden, with his head under the drooping petals of granny’s white mutches.
(When we passed the cottage, on our way to the sands next day, Robbie Burns’s head had been broken off accidentally by the children, and we felt as though we had lost a friend ; but Scotch thrift and loyalty to the dear ploughman-poet came to the rescue, and when we returned, Robbie’s plaster head had been glued to his body. He smiled at us again from between the two scarlet geraniums, and a tendril of ivy had been gently curled about his neck to hide the cruel wound.)
After such long, lovely mornings as this, there is a late luncheon under the shadow of a rock with Salemina and Francesca, an idle chat or the chapter of a book, and presently Lady Ardmore and her daughter Elizabeth drive down to the sands. They are followed by Robin Anstruther, Jamie, and Ralph on bicycles, and before long the stalwart figure of Ronald Macdonald appears in the distance, just in time for a cup of tea, which we brew in Lady Ardmore’s bath-house on the beach.
And strawn it o’er wi’ san’,
And there was mair mirth that bow’r within,
Than in a’ their father’s lan’.”
Tea at Rowardennan Castle is an impressive and a delightful function. It is served by a ministerial-looking butler and a just-ready-to-be-ordained footman. They both look as if they had been nourished on the Thirty-Nine Articles, but they know their business as well as if they had been trained in heathen lands, — which is saying a good deal, for everybody knows that heathen servants wait upon one with idolatrous solicitude. However, from the quality of the cheering beverage itself down to the thickness of the cream, the thinness of the china, the crispness of the toast, and the plummyness of the cake, tea at Rowardennan Castle is perfect in every detail.
The scones are of unusual lightness, also. I should think, if they were sold at a bakery, they would scarcely weigh more than four to a pound ; but I am aware that the casual traveler, who eats only at hotels, and never has the privilege of entering feudal castles, will be slow to believe this estimate. Salemina always describes a Scotch scone as an aspiring but unsuccessful soda biscuit of the New England sort.
Stevenson, in writing of that dense black substance, inimical to life, called Scotch bun, says that the patriotism that leads a Scotsman to eat it will hardly desert him in any emergency. Salemina thinks that the scone should be bracketed with the bun (in description, merely, never in the human stomach), and says that, as a matter of fact, “ th’ unconquer’d Scot ” of old was not only clad in a shirt of mail, but well fortified within when he went forth to warfare after a breakfast of oatmeal and scones. She insists that the spear which would pierce the shirt of mail would be turned aside and blunted by the ordinary scone of commerce ; but what signifies the opinion of a woman who eats sugar on her porridge ?
Considering the air of liberal hospitality that hangs about the castle teatable, I wonder that our friends do not oftener avail themselves of its privileges and allow us to do so ; but on all dark, foggy, or inclement days, or whenever they tire of the sands, everybody persists in taking tea at Bide-a-Wee Cottage.
We buy our tea of the Pettybaw grocer, some of our cups are cracked, the teapot is of earthenware, Miss Grieve disapproves of all social tea-fuddles and shows it plainly when she brings in the tray, and the room is so small that some of us overflow into the hall or the garden : it matters not; there is some fatal charm in our humble hospitality. At four o’clock one of us is obliged to be, like Sister Anne, on the housetop ; and if company approaches, she must descend and speed to the plumber’s for sixpenny worth extra of cream. In most well - ordered British households Miss Grieve would be requested to do this speeding, but both her mind and her body move too slowly for such domestic crises ; and then, too, her temper has to be kept as unruffled as possible, so that she will cut the bread and butter thin. This she generally does if the day’s work has not been too arduous; but the washing of her own spinster cup and plate, together with the incident sighs and groans, occupies her till so late an hour that she is not always dressed for callers.
Willie and I were reading The Lady of the Lake, the other day, in the back garden, surrounded by the verdant leafage of our own neeps and vegetable marrows. It is a pretty spot when the sun shines : Miss Grieve’s dish - towels and aprons drying on the currant bushes, the cat playing with a mutton-bone or a fishtail on the grass, and the little birds perching on the rims of our wash-boiler and water-buckets. It can be reached only by way of the kitchen, which somewhat lessens its value as a pleasureground or a rustic retreat, but Willie and I retire there now and then for a quiet chat.
On this particular occasion Willie was reading the exciting verses where FitzJames and Murdoch are crossing the stream
where the crazed Blanche of Devan first appears:—
Noontide was sleeping on the hill:
Sudden his guide whoop’d loud and high —
‘ Murdoch ! was that a signal cry ? ’ ”
“ It was indeed,” said Francesca, appearing suddenly at an upper window overhanging the garden. “ Pardon this intrusion, but the castle people are here,” she continued in what is known as a stage whisper, — that is, one that can be easily heard by a thousand persons, — “ the castle people and the ladies from Pettybaw House ; and Mr. Macdonald is coming down the loaning ; but Calamity Jane is making her toilette in the kitchen, and you cannot take Mr. Beresford through into the sitting-room at present. She says this hoose has so few conveniences that it’s ‘ fair sickenin’.’ ”
“ How long will she be ? ” queried Mr. Beresford anxiously, putting The Lady of the Lake in his pocket, and pacing up and down between the rows of neeps.
“ She has just begun. Whatever you do, don’t unsettle her temper, for she will have to prepare for eight to-day. I will send Mr. Macdonald to the bakery for gingerbread, to gain time, and possibly I can think of a way to rescue you. If I can’t, are you tolerably comfortable ? Perhaps Miss Grieve won’t mind Penelope, and she can come through the kitchen any time and join us ; but naturally you don’t want to be separated. Of course I can lower your tea in a tin bucket, and if it should rain I can throw out umbrellas. The situation is not so bad as it might be,” she added consolingly, “ because in case Miss Grieve’s toilette should last longer than usual, your wedding need not be indefinitely postponed, for Mr. Macdonald can marry you from this window.”
Here she disappeared, and we had scarcely time to take in the full humor of the affair before Robin Anstruther’s laughing eyes appeared over the top of the high brick wall that protects our garden on three sides.
“ Do not shoot,” said he. I am not come to steal the fruit, but to succor humanity in distress. Miss Monroe insisted that I should borrow the inn ladder. She thought a rescue would be much more romantic than waiting for Miss Grieve. Everybody is coming out to witness it, at least all your guests, — there are no strangers present, — and Miss Monroe is already collecting sixpence a head for the entertainment, to be given, she says, to Mr. Macdonald’s sustentation fund.”
He was now astride of the wall, and speedily lifted the ladder to our side, where it leaned comfortably against the stout branches of the draper’s peach vine. Willie ran nimbly up the ladder and bestrode the wall. I followed, first standing, and then decorously sitting down on the top of it. Mr. Anstruther pulled up the ladder, and replaced it on the side of liberty ; then he descended, then Willie, and I last of all, amidst the acclamations of the on-lookers, a select company of six or eight persons.
When Miss Grieve formally entered the sitting-room bearing the tea-tray, she was buskit braw in black stuff gown, clean apron, and fresh cap trimmed with purple ribbons, under which her white locks were neatly dressed.
She deplored the coolness of the tea, but accounted for it to me in an aside by the sickening quality of Mrs. Sinkler’s coals and Mr. Macbrose’s kindlingwood, to say nothing of the insulting draft in the draper’s range. When she left the room, I suppose she was unable to explain the peals of laughter that rang through our circumscribed halls.
Lady Ardmore insists that the rescue was the most unique episode she ever witnessed, and says that she never understood America until she made our acquaintance. I persuaded her that this was fallacious reasoning ; that while she might understand us by knowing America, she could not possibly reverse this mental operation and be sure of the result. The ladies of Pettybaw House said that the occurrence was as Fifish as anything that ever happened in Fife. The kingdom of Fife is noted, it seems, for its “ doocots [dovecotes] and daft lairds,” and to be eccentric and Fifish are one and the same thing. Thereupon Francesca told Mr. Macdonald a story she heard in Edinburgh, to the effect that when a certain committee or council was quarreling as to which of certain Fifeshire towns should be the seat of a projected lunatic asylum, a new resident arose and suggested that the building of a wall round the kingdom of Fife would solve the difficulty, settle all disputes, and give sufficient room for the lunatics to exercise properly.
This is the sort of tale that a native can tell with a genial chuckle, but it comes with poor grace from an American lady sojourning in Fife. Francesca does not mind this, however, as she is at present avenging fresh insults to her own beloved country.
The broadsword upon target jarr’d.”
Robin Anstruther was telling stories at the tea-table.
“ I got acquainted with an American girl in rather a queer sort of way,” he said, between cups. “ It was in London, on the Duke of York’s wedding-day. I ’m rather a tall chap, you see, and in the crowd somebody touched me on the shoulder and a plaintive voice behind me said, ‘ You ’re such a big man, and I am so little, will you please help me to save my life ? My mother was separated from me in the crowd somewhere as we were trying to reach the Berkeley, and I don’t know what to do.’ I was a trifle nonplused, but I did the best I could. She was a tiny thing, in a marvelous frock and a flowery hat and a silver girdle and chatelaine. In another minute she spied a second man, an officer, a full head taller than I am, broad shoulders, splendidly put up altogether. Bless me ! if she did n’t turn to him and say, ‘ Oh, you ’re so nice and big, you ’re even bigger than this other gentleman, and I need you both in this dreadful crush. If you ’ll be good enough to stand on either side of me, I shall be awfully obliged.’ We exchanged amused glances of embarrassment over her blonde head, but there was no resisting the irresistible. She was a small person, but she had the soul of a general, and we obeyed orders. We stood guard over her little ladyship for nearly an hour, and I must say she entertained us thoroughly, for she was as clever as she was pretty. Then I got her a seat in one of the windows of my club, while the other man, armed with a full description, went out to hunt up the mother ; and by Jove ! he found her, too. She would have her mother, and her mother she had. They were awfully jolly people ; they came to luncheon in my chambers at the Albany afterwards, and we grew to be great friends.”
“ I dare say she was an English girl masquerading,” I remarked facetiously. “ What made you think her an American ? ”
“ Oh, her general appearance and accent, I suppose.”
“ Probably she did n’t say Barkley,” observed Francesca cuttingly ; “ she would have been sure to commit that sort of solecism.”
“ Why, don’t you say Barkley in the States ? ”
“ Certainly not; with us c-l-e-r-k spells clerk, and B-e-r-k Berk.”
“ How very odd ! ” remarked Mr. Anstruther.
“ No odder than your saying Bark, and not half as odd as your calling it Ălbany,” I interpolated, to help Francesca.
“ Quite so,” said Mr. Anstruther; “ but how do you say Ălbany in America ? ”
“ Penelope and I allways call it Allbany,” responded Francesca, “ but Salemina, who has been much in England, ălways calls it Ălbany.”
This anecdote was the signal for Miss Ardmore to remark (apropos of her own discrimination and the American accent) that hearing a lady ask for a certain med’cine in a chemist’s shop, she noted the intonation, and inquired of the chemist, when the fair stranger had retired, if she were not an American. “ And she was!” exclaimed the Honorable Elizabeth triumphantly. “ And what makes it the more curious, she had been over here twenty years, and of course spoke English quite properly.”
In avenging fancied insults, it is certainly more just to heap punishment on the head of the real offender than upon his neighbor, and it is a trifle difficult to decide why Francesca should chastise Mr. Macdonald for the good-humored sins of Mr. Anstruther and Miss Ardmore ; yet she does so, nevertheless.
The history of these chastisements she recounts in the nightly half-hour which she spends with me when I am endeavoring to compose myself for sleep. Francesca is fluent at all times, but once seated on the foot of my bed she becomes eloquent!
“ It all began with his saying ” —
This is her perennial introduction, and I respond as invariably, “ What began? ”
“ Oh, to-day’s argument with Mr. Macdonald. It was a literary quarrel this afternoon.”
“ ‘ Fools rush in ’ ” — I began.
“ There is a good deal of nonsense in that old saw,” she interrupted ; “ at all events, the most foolish fools I have ever known stayed still and did n’t do anything. Rushing shows a certain movement of the mind, even if it is in the wrong direction. However, Mr. Macdonald is both opinionated and dogmatic, but his worst enemy could never call him a fool.”
“ I did n’t allude to Mr. Macdonald.”
“ Don’t you suppose I know to whom you alluded, dear ? Is not your style so simple, frank, and direct that a wayfaring girl can read it and not err therein ? No, I am not sitting on your feet, and it is not time to go to sleep. As a matter of fact, we began this literary discussion yesterday morning, but were interrupted ; and knowing that it was sure to come up again, I prepared for it with Salemina. She furnished the ammunition, so to speak, and I fired the guns.”
“ You always make so much noise with blank cartridges I wonder you ever bother about real shot,” I remarked.
“ Penelope, how can you abuse me when I am in trouble ? Well, Mr. Macdonald was prating, as usual, about the antiquity of Scotland and its æons of stirring history. I am so weary of the venerableness of this country. How old will it have to be, I wonder, before it gets used to it ? If it’s the province of art to conceal art, it ought to be the province of age to conceal age. ‘ Everything does n’t improve with years,’ I observed sententiously.
“ ‘ For instance ? ’ he inquired.
“ Of course you know how that question affected me ! How I do dislike an appetite for specific details! It is simply paralyzing to a good conversation. Do you remember that silly game in which some one points to you and says, ‘ Beast, bird, or fish, — beast! ’ and you have to name one while he counts ten ? If a beast has been requested, you can think of one fish and two birds, but no beasts. If he says ‘ Fish,’ all the beasts in the universe stalk through your memory, but not one finny, scaly, swimming thing! Well, that is the effect of ‘ For instance ? ’ on my faculties. So I stumbled a bit, and succeeded in recalling, as objects which do not improve with age, mushrooms, women, and chickens, and he was obliged to agree with me, which nearly killed him. Then I said that although America is so fresh and blooming that people persist in calling it young, it is much older than it appears to the superficial eye. There is no real propriety in dating us as a nation from the Declaration of Independence in 1776, I said, nor even from the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620 ; nor, for that matter, from Columbus’s discovery in 1492. It’s my opinion, I asserted, that some of us had been there thousands of years before, but nobody had had the sense to discover us. We could n’t discover ourselves, — though if we could have foreseen how the sere and yellow nations of the earth would taunt us with youth and inexperience, we should have had to do something desperate ! ”
“ That theory must have been very convincing to the philosophic Scots mind,” I interjected.
“ It was ; even Mr. Macdonald thought it ingenious. ‘ And so,’ I went on, ‘ we were alive and awake and beginning to make history when you Scots were only barelegged savages roaming over the hills and stealing cattle. It was a very bad habit of yours, that cattle-stealing, and one which you kept up too long.’
“ ‘ No worse a sin than stealing land from the Indians,’ he said.
“ ‘ Oh yes,’ I answered, ‘ because it was a smaller one ! Yours was a vice, and ours a sin ; or I mean it would have been a sin had we done it; but in reality we did n’t steal land ; we just took it, reserving plenty for the Indians to play about on ; and for every hunting-ground we took away we gave them in exchange a serviceable plough, or a school, or a nice Indian agent, or something. That was land-grabbing, if you like, but that is a habit you have still, while we gave it up when we reached years of discretion.’ ”
“ This is very illuminating,” I interrupted, now thoroughly wide awake, “ but it is n’t my idea of a literary discussion.”
“ I am coming to that,” she responded. “ It was just at this point that, goaded into secret fury by my innocent speech about cattle-stealing, he began to belittle American literature, the poetry especially. Of course he waxed eloquent about the royal line of poet-kings that had made his country famous, and said the people who could claim Shakespeare had reason to be the proudest nation on earth. ‘ Doubtless,’ I said. ‘ But do you mean to say that Scotland has any nearer claim upon Shakespeare than we have ? I do not now allude to the fact that in the large sense he is the common property of the English-speaking world ’ (Salemina told me to say that), ‘ but Shakespeare died in 1616, and the union of Scotland with England did n’t come about till 1707, nearly a century afterwards. You really have n’t anything to do with him ! But as for us, we did n’t leave England until 1620, when Shakespeare had been perfectly dead four years. We took very good care not to come away too soon. Chaucer and Spenser were dead, too, and we had nothing to stay for ! ’ ”
I was obliged to relax here and give vent to a burst of merriment at Francesca’s absurdities.
“ I could see that he had never regarded the matter in that light before,” she went on gayly, encouraged by my laughter, “ but he braced himself for the conflict, and said, ‘ I wonder that you did n’t stay a little longer, while you were about it. Milton and Ben Jonson were still alive; Bacon’s Novum Organum was just coming out; and in thirty or forty years you could have had L’Allegro, Penseroso, and Paradise Lost; Newton’s Principia, too, in 1687. Perhaps these were all too serious and heavy for your national taste ; still, one sometimes likes to claim things one cannot fully appreciate. And then, too, if you had once begun to stay, waiting for the great things to happen and the great books to be written, you would never have gone, for there would still have been Swinburne, Browning, and Tennyson to delay you.’
“ ‘If we could n’t stay to see out your great bards, we certainly could n’t afford to remain and welcome your minor ones,’ I answered frigidly ; ‘ but we wanted to be well out of the way before England united with Scotland, and we had to come home, anyway, and start our own poets. Emerson, Whittier, Longfellow, Holmes, and Lowell had to be born.’
“ ‘ I suppose they had to be if you had set your mind on it,’ he said, ‘ though personally I could have spared one or two on that roll of honor.’
“ ‘ Very probably,’ I remarked, as thoroughly angry now as he intended I should be. ‘ We cannot expect you to appreciate all the American poets; indeed, you cannot appreciate all of your own, for the same nation does n’t always furnish the writers and the readers. Take your precious Browning, for example! There are hundreds of Browning Clubs in America, and I never heard of a single one in Scotland.’
“ ‘ No,’ he retorted, ‘ I dare say ; but there is a good deal in belonging to a people who can understand him without clubs ! ’ ”
“ Oh, Francesca! ” sitting bolt upright among my pillows. “ How could you give him that chance ! How could you! What did you say ? ”
“ I said nothing,” she replied mysteriously. “ I did something much more to the point, — I cried ! ”
“ Yes, cried; not rivers and freshets of woe, but small brooks and streamlets of helpless mortification.”
“ What did he do then ? ”
“ Why do you say ‘ do ’ ? ”
“ Oh, I mean ‘ say,’ of course. Don’t trifle; go on. What did he say then ? ”
“ There are some things too dreadful to describe,” she answered, and wrapping her Italian blanket majestically about her she retired to her own room, shooting one enigmatical glance at me as she closed the door.
That glance puzzled me for some time after she left the room. It was as expressive and interesting a beam as ever darted from a woman’s eye. The combination of elements involved in it, if an abstract thing may be conceived as existing in component parts, was something like this : —
One half, mystery.
One eighth, triumph.
One eighth, amusement.
One sixteenth, pride.
One sixteenth, shame.
One sixteenth, desire to confess.
One sixteenth, determination to conceal.
And all these delicate, complex emotions played together in a circle of arching eyebrow, curving lip, and tremulous chin, — played together, mingling and melting into one another like fire and snow ; bewildering, mystifying, enchanting the beholder !
If Ronald Macdonald did — I am a woman, but, for one, I can hardly blame him!
Kate Douglas Wiggin.
(To be continued.)