PENELOPE'S ENGLISH EXPERIENCES
Being extracts from the commonplace book of Penelope Hamilton
by Kate Douglas Wiggin.
To my Boston friend Salemina.
No Anglomaniac, but a true Briton.
Part First—In Town.
I. The weekly bill. II. The powdered footman smiles. III. Eggs a la coque. IV. The English sense of humour. V. A Hyde Park Sunday. VI. The English Park Lover. VII. A ducal tea-party. VIII. Tuppenny travels in London. IX. A Table of Kindred and Affinity. X. Apropos of advertisements. XI. The ball on the opposite side. XII. Patricia makes her debut. XIII. A Penelope secret. XIV. Love and lavender.
Part Second—In the Country.
XV. Penelope dreams. XVI. The decay of Romance. XVII. Short stops and long bills. XVIII. I meet Mrs. Bobby. XIX. The heart of the artist. XX. A canticle to Jane. XXI. I remember, I remember. XXII. Comfort Cottage. XXIII. Tea served here. XXIV. An unlicensed victualler. XXV. Et ego in Arcadia vixit.
Part First—In Town.
Chapter I. The weekly bill.
10 Dovermarle Street.
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, had 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, and not that she ever accomplishes any results worth mentioning. She begins by making three columns headed respectively F., S., and P. These initials stand for Francesca, Salemina, and Penelope, but they resemble the signs for pounds, shillings, and pence so perilously that they introduce an added distraction.
She then places in each column the items in which we are all equal, such as rooms, attendance, fires, 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 fancy her whole time was spent in driving and drinking, if you judged her merely by this weekly statement at the hotel.
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 had 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 eye-glasses. We perch on either arm, and, after identifying our own extras, we summon the butler to identify his. There are a good many that belong to him or to the landlady; of that fact we are always convinced before he proves to the contrary. We can never see (until he makes us see) why the breakfasts on the 8th should be four shillings each because we had strawberries, if on the 8th we find strawberries charged in the luncheon column and also in the column of desserts and ices. And then there are the peripatetic lemon squashes. Dawson calls them 'still' lemon squashes because they are made with water, not with soda or seltzer or vichy, but they are particularly badly named. 'Still' forsooth! when one of them will leap from place to place, appearing now in the column of mineral waters and now in the spirits, now in the suppers, and again in the sundries. We might as well drink Chablis or Pommery by the time one of these still squashes has ceased wandering, and charging itself at each station. The force of Dawson's intellect is such that he makes all this moral turbidity as clear as crystal while he remains in evidence. His bodily presence has a kind of illuminating power, and all the errors that we fancy we have found he traces to their original source, which is always in our suspicious and inexperienced minds. As he leaves the room he points out some proof of unexampled magnanimity on the part of the hotel; as, for instance, the fact that the management has not charged a penny for sending up Miss Monroe's breakfast trays. Francesca impulsively presses two shillings into his honest hand and remembers afterwards that only one breakfast was served in our bedrooms during that particular week, and that it was mine, not hers.
The Paid Out column is another source of great anxiety. Francesca is a person who is always buying things unexpectedly and sending them home C.O.D.; always taking a cab and having it paid at the house; always sending telegrams and messages by hansom, and notes by the Boots.
I should think, were England on the brink of a war, that the Prime Minister might expect in his office something of the same hubbub, uproar, and excitement that Francesca manages to evolve in this private hotel. Naturally she cannot remember her expenditures, or extravagances, or complications of movement for a period of seven days; and when she attacks the Paid Out column she exclaims in a frenzy, 'Just look at this! On the 11th they say they paid out three shillings in telegrams, and I was at Maidenhead!' Then because we love her and cannot bear to see her charming forehead wrinkled, we approach from our respective corners, and the conversation is something like this:—
Salemina. "You were not at Maidenhead on the 11th, Francesca; it was the 12th."
Francesca. "Oh! so it was; but I sent no telegrams on the 11th."
Penelope. "Wasn't that the day you wired Mr. Drayton that you couldn't go to the Zoo?"
Francesca. "Oh yes, so I did: and to Mr. Godolphin that I could. I remember now; but that's only two."
Salemina. "How about the hairdresser whom you stopped coming from Kensington?"
Francesca. "Yes, she's the third, that's all right then; but what in the world is this twelve shillings?"
Penelope. "The foolish amber beads you were persuaded into buying in the Burlington Arcade?"
Francesca. "No, those were seven shillings, and they are splitting already."
Salemina. "Those soaps and sachets you bought on the way home the day that you left your purse in the cab?"
Francesca. "No; they were only five shillings. Oh, perhaps they lumped the two things; if seven and five are twelve, then that is just what they did. (Here she takes a pencil.) Yes, they are twelve, so that's right; what a comfort! Now here's two and six on the 13th. That was yesterday, and I can always remember yesterdays; they are my strong point. I didn't spend a penny yesterday; oh yes! I did pay half a crown for a potted plant, but it was not two and six, and it was a half-crown because it was the first time I had seen one and I took particular notice. I'll speak to Dawson about it, but it will make no difference. Nobody but an expert English accountant could find a flaw in one of these bills and prove his case."
By this time we have agreed that the weekly bill as a whole is substantially correct, and all that Salemina has to do is to estimate our several shares in it; so Francesca and I say good night and 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 Sloyd Circle, of the Club for the Reception of Russian Refugees, and of the Society for the Brooding of Buddhism; but none of these organisations 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.
Chapter II. The powdered footman smiles.
Salemina is so English! I can't think how she manages. She had not been an hour on British soil before she asked a servant to fetch in some coals and mend the fire; she followed this Anglicism by a request for a grilled chop, 'a grilled, chump chop, waiter, please,' and so on from triumph to triumph. She now discourses of methylated spirits as if she had never in her life heard of 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 a; she ejaculates 'Quite so!' in all the pauses of conversation, and talks of smoke-rooms, and camisoles, and luggage-vans, and slip-bodies, 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.
This instantaneous assimilation of English customs does not seem to be affectation on Salemina's part; nor will I wrong her by fancying that she went through a course of training before she left Boston. From the moment she landed you could see that her foot was on her native heath. She inhaled the fog with a sense of intoxication that the east winds of New England had never given her, and a great throb of patriotism swelled in her breast when she first met the Princess of Wales in Hyde Park.
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. If they would only put him in livery, or make him wear a silver badge; anything, in short, to temper his pride and prevent one from mistaking him for the master of the house or the bishop within his gates. 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 demeanour, 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 parlour-maid's sister who has rung the visitors' bell by mistake. If my lady is within, I follow Parker to the drawing-room, my knees shaking under me at the 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 spirits, accustomed to the soft solicitations of the negro waiter or the comfortable indifference of the free-born American. We never indulge in ordinary democratic or 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 he is likely to think it good form. Accordingly, I maintain throughout dinner a lofty height of aristocratic elegance that impresses even the impassive Dawson, towards whom it is solely directed. To the amazement and amusement of Salemina (who always takes my cheerful inanities at their face value), I give an hypothetical account of my afternoon engagements, interlarding it so thickly with countesses and marchionesses and lords and honourables that though Dawson has passed soup to duchesses, and scarcely ever handed a plate to anything less than a baroness, he dilutes the customary scorn of his glance, and makes it two parts condescending approval as it rests 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 stroke his chin, and several times have I observed others, during the month of July, conduct themselves in many respects like animate objects with vital organs. Lest this incendiary statement be challenged, levelled 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 devitalised 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. Dawson tells me confidentially that if a footman smiles there is little chance of his rising in the world. He says a sense of humour is absolutely fatal in that calling, and that he has discharged many a good footman because of an intelligent and expressive face.
I tremble to think of what the powdered footman may become when he unbends in the bosom of the 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 neglige, 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.
Chapter III. Eggs a la coque.
Is it to my credit, or to my eternal dishonour 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 toilettes 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 fittings, 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 practised a new way of dressing her hair; and I made up a portfolio of sketches. We counted, therefore, on representing American letters, beauty, and art 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 neighbour 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-coloured chromo. 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, buttered eggs, and poached eggs ever since we came to Dovermarle Street, simply because we do not know how to eat boiled eggs prettily from the shell, English fashion, and cannot break them into a cup or 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 minced in an egg-cup, 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 wigwams and war-whoops about with us. No, it is clearly necessary that we master the gentle art of eating eggs tidily and daintily from the shell. I have seen English women—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, as Salemina would say, 'messing her pinafore.' 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 blameless 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 pinafore to Marjorimallow Hall.
But 'ease is the lovely result of forgotten toil,' and it is only a question of time and desire with Americans, we are so clever. Other nations have to be trained from birth; but as we need only an ounce of training where they need a pound, we can afford to procrastinate. Sometimes we procrastinate too long, but that is a trifle. On the third morning success crowned our efforts. Salemina smiled, and I told an anecdote, during the operation, although my egg was cracked in the boiling, and I question if the Queen's favourite maid-of-honour could have managed it prettily. 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 an embarrassed laugh she struck her egg a hasty blow.
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 neighbour, 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!
Chapter IV. The English sense of humour.
I do not see why we hear that the Englishman is deficient in a sense of humour. 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 not try to marry him, and even this pleasure he will allow her on occasion,—if well paid for it.
The longer I live, the more I feel it an absurdity to label nations with national traits, and then endeavour 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 generalising 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 Honourable 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 Honourable 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 doesn'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 Honourable Arthur that, however mistaken my speech and manner, 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 not be Francesca's headache.
The names of these English streets are a never-failing source of delight to me. In that one morning we drove past Pie, Pudding, and Petticoat Lanes, and later on we found ourselves in a 'Prudent Passage,' which opened, very inappropriately, into 'Huggin Lane.' Willie Beresford said it was the first time he had ever heard of anything so disagreeable as prudence terminating in anything so agreeable as huggin'. When he had been severely reprimanded by his mother for this shocking speech, I said to the Honourable Arthur:—
"I don't understand your business signs in England,—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 Honourable 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 Honourable Arthur that it remained his favourite joke for days, and the overworked goat was permitted to enjoy that oblivion from which Salemina insists it should never have emerged.
Chapter V. A Hyde Park Sunday.
The Honourable 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 Honourable Arthur. He is an Englishman first, and a man afterwards (I prefer it the other way), but he does not realise it; he thinks he is just like all other good fellows, although he is mistaken. He and Willie Beresford speak the same language, but they are as different as Malay and Eskimo. He is an extreme type, but he is very likeable 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 Honourable 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 these little matters of discipline are always attended to by the audience; but the Scotchman's points were too well taken; he was so trenchant, in fact, at times, that a voice would cry, 'Coom up, Sandy, an' 'ave it all your 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 'unconquered Scot' was on his native heath of argument, and the 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 or 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 colour 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.
Chapter VI. The English Park Lover.
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 counterpart 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 Phoebe to the altar on the next bank holiday; 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 fervour in his matter-of-fact caresses. He does not embrace Phoebe in the park, apparently, because he adores her to madness; because her smile is like fire in his veins, melting down all his defences; 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, infatuated 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 macintosh 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 analyse 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 faction), 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. 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 colour. 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 them, nor that they even allowed me to sit upon their green bench and witness their chaste salutes, but it was that they did fail to perceive me at all! 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.
Chapter VII. A ducal tea-party.
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 pounds 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 absolutely decline to drink tea with a duke."
"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. It is not that I fear nobility. I could meet Her Majesty the Queen at the Court of St. James without the slightest flutter of embarrassment, because I know I could trust her not to presume on my defencelessness to enter into conversation with me. But this duke, whose dukedom very likely dates back to the hour of the Norman Conquest, is a very different person, and is to be met under very different circumstances. He may ask me my politics. Of course I can tell him that I am a Mugwump, but what if he asks me why I am a Mugwump?"
"He will not," Hilda answered. "Englishmen are not wholly devoid of feeling!"
"And how shall I address him?" I went on. "Does one call him 'your Grace,' or 'your Royal Highness'? Oh for a thousandth-part of the unblushing impertinence of that countrywoman of mine who called your future king 'Tummy'! but she was a beauty, and I am not pretty enough to be anything but discreetly well-mannered. Shall you sit in his presence, or stand and grovel alternately? Does one have to curtsy? Very well, then, make any excuses you like for me, Hilda: say I'm eccentric, say I'm deranged, say I'm a Nihilist. I will hide under the scullery table, fling myself in the moat, lock myself in the keep, let the portcullis fall on me, die any appropriate early English death,—anything rather than curtsy in a tailor-made gown; I can kneel beautifully, Hilda, if that will do: you remember my ancestors were brought up on kneeling, and yours on curtsying, and it makes a great difference in the muscles."
Hilda smiled benignantly as she wound the coil of russet hair round her shapely head. "He will think whatever you do charming, and whatever you say brilliant," she said; "that is the advantage in being an American woman."
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 beeches. But there, to my dismay, stood a charmingly appointed tea-table 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. I murmured some words which might have been anything, and curtsied in a stiff-necked self-respecting sort of way. 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 Pythagoras 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, especially since, as I understand it, all that Victoria has to do is to say, 'Let there be dukes,' and there are dukes.
Chapter VIII. Tuppenny travels in London.
If one really wants to know London, one must live there for years and years.
This sounds like a reasonable and sensible statement, yet the moment it is made I retract it, as quite misleading and altogether too general.
We have a charming English friend who has not been to the Tower since he was a small boy, and begs us to conduct him there on the very next Saturday. Another has not seen Westminster Abbey for fifteen years, because he attends church at St. Dunstan's-in-the-East. Another says that he should like to have us 'read up' London in the red-covered Baedeker, and then show it to him, properly and systematically. Another, a flower of the nobility, confesses that he never mounted the top of an omnibus in the evening for the sake of seeing London after dark, but that he thinks it would be rather jolly, and that he will join us in such a democratic journey at any time we like.
We think we get a kind of vague apprehension of what London means from the top of a 'bus better than anywhere else, and this vague apprehension is as much as the thoughtful or imaginative observer will ever arrive at in a lifetime. It is too stupendous to be comprehended. The mind is dazed by its distances, confused by its contrasts; tossed from the spectacle of its wealth to the contemplation of its poverty, the brilliancy of its extravagances to the stolidity of its miseries, the luxuries that blossom in Mayfair to the brutalities that lurk in Whitechapel.
We often set out on a fine morning, Salemina and I, and travel twenty miles in the day, though we have to double our twopenny fee several times to accomplish that distance.
We never know whither we are going, and indeed it is not a matter of great moment (I mean to a woman) where everything is new and strange, and where the driver, if one is fortunate enough to be on a front seat, tells one everything of interest along the way, and instructs one regarding a different route back to town.
We have our favourite 'buses, of course; but when one appears, and we jump on while it is still in motion, as the conductor seems to prefer, and pull ourselves up the cork-screw stairway,—not a simple matter in the garments of sophistication,—we have little time to observe more than the colour of the lumbering vehicle.
We like the Cadbury's Cocoa 'bus very much; it takes you by St. Mary-le-Strand, Bow-Bells, the Temple, Mansion House, St, Paul's, and the Bank.
If you want to go and lunch, or dine frugally, at the Cheshire Cheese, eat black pudding and drink pale ale, sit in Dr. Johnson's old seat, and put your head against the exact spot on the wall where his rested,—although the traces of this form of worship are all too apparent,—then you jump on a Lipton's Tea 'bus, and are deposited at the very door. All is novel, and all is interesting, whether it be crowded streets of the East End traversed by the Davies' Pea-Fed Bacon 'buses, or whether you ride to the very outskirts of London, through green fields and hedgerows, by the Ridge's Food or Nestle's Milk route.
There are trams, too, which take one to delightful places, though the seats on top extend lengthwise, after the old 'knifeboard pattern,' and one does not get so good a view of the country as from the 'garden seats' on the roof of the omnibus; still there is nothing we like better on a warm morning than a good outing on the Vinolia tram that we pick up in Shaftesbury Avenue. There is a street running from Shaftesbury Avenue into Oxford Street, which was once the village of St. Giles, one of the dozens of hamlets swallowed up by the great maw of London, and it still looks like a hamlet, although it has been absorbed for many years. We constantly happen on these absorbed villages, from which, not a century ago, people drove up to town in their coaches.
If you wish to see another phase of life, go out on a Saturday evening, from nine o'clock on to eleven, starting on a Beecham's Pill 'bus, and keep to the poorer districts, alighting occasionally to stand with the crowd in the narrower thoroughfares.
It is a market night, and the streets will be a moving mass of men and women buying at the hucksters' stalls. Everything that can be sold at a stall is there: fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, crockery, tin-ware, children's clothing, cheap toys, boots, shoes, and sun-bonnets, all in reckless confusion. The vendors cry their wares in stentorian tones, vying with one another to produce excitement and induce patronage, while gas-jets are streaming into the air from the roofs and flaring from the sides of the stalls; children crying, children dancing to the strains of an accordion, children quarrelling, children scrambling for the refuse fruit. In the midst of this spectacle, this din and uproar, the women are chaffering and bargaining quite calmly, watching the scales to see that they get their full pennyworth or sixpennyworth of this or that. To the student of faces, of manners, of voices, of gestures; to the person who sees unwritten and unwritable stories in all these groups of men, women, and children, the scene reveals many things: some comedies, many tragedies, a few plain narratives (thank God!) and now and then—only now and then—a romance. As to the dark alleys and tenements on the fringe of this glare and brilliant confusion, this Babel of sound and ant-bed of moving life, one can only surmise and pity and shudder; close one's eyes and ears to it a little, or one could never sleep for thinking of it, yet not too tightly lest one sleep too soundly, and forget altogether the seamy side of things. One can hardly believe that there is a seamy side when one descends from his travelling observatory a little later, and stands on Westminster Bridge, or walks along the Thames Embankment. The lights of Parliament House gleam from a hundred windows, and in the dark shadows by the banks thousands of coloured discs of light twinkle and dance and glow like fairy lamps, and are reflected in the silver surface of the river. That river, as full of mystery and contrast in its course as London itself—where is such another? It has ever been a river of pageants, a river of sighs; a river into whose placid depths kings and queens, princes and cardinals, have whispered state secrets, and poets have breathed immortal lines; a stream of pleasure, bearing daily on its bosom such a freight of youth and mirth and colour and music as no other river in the world can boast.
Sometimes we sally forth in search of adventures in the thick of a 'London particular,' Mr. Guppy's phrase for a fog. When you are once ensconced in your garden seat by the driver, you go lumbering through a world of bobbing shadows, where all is weird, vague, grey, dense; and where great objects loom up suddenly in the mist and then disappear; where the sky, heavy and leaden, seems to descend bodily upon your head, and the air is full of a kind of luminous yellow smoke.
A Lipton's Tea 'bus is the only one we can see plainly in this sort of weather, and so we always take it. I do not wish, however, to be followed literally in these modest suggestions for omnibus rides, because I am well aware that they are not sufficiently specific for the ordinary tourist who wishes to see London systematically and without any loss of time. If you care to go to any particular place, or reach that place by any particular time, you must not, of course, look at the most conspicuous signs on the tops and ends of the chariots as we do; you must stand quietly at one of the regular points of departure and try to decipher, in a narrow horizontal space along the side, certain little words that show the route and destination of the vehicle. They say that it can be done, and I do not feel like denying it on my own responsibility. Old Londoners assert that they are not blinded or confused by Pears' Soap in letters two feet high, scarlet on a gold ground, but can see below in fine print, and with the naked eye, such legends as Tottenham Court Road, Westbourne Grove, St. Pancras, Paddington, or Victoria. It is certainly reasonable that the omnibuses should be decorated to suit the inhabitants of the place rather than foreigners, and it is perhaps better to carry a few hundred stupid souls to the wrong station daily than to allow them to cleanse their hands with the wrong soap, or quench their thirst with the wrong (which is to say the unadvertised) beverage.
The conductors do all in their power to mitigate the lot of unhappy strangers, and it is only now and again that you hear an absent-minded or logical one call out, 'Castoria! all the w'y for a penny.'
We claim for our method of travelling, not that it is authoritative, but that it is simple—suitable to persons whose desires are flexible and whose plans are not fixed. It has its disadvantages, which may indeed be said of almost anything. For instance, we had gone for two successive mornings on a Cadbury's Cocoa 'bus to Francesca's dressmaker in Kensington. On the third morning, deceived by the ambitious and unscrupulous Cadbury, we mounted it and journeyed along comfortably three miles to the east of Kensington before we discovered our mistake. It was a pleasant and attractive neighbourhood where we found ourselves, but unfortunately Francesca's dressmaker did not reside there.
If you have determined to take a certain train from a certain station, and do not care for any other, no matter if it should turn out to be just as interesting, then never take a Lipton's Tea 'bus, for it is the most unreliable of all. If it did not sound so learned, and if I did not feel that it must have been said before, it is so apt, I should quote Horace, and say, 'Omnibus hoc vitium est.' There is no 'bus unseized by the Napoleonic Lipton. Do not ascend one of them supposing for a moment that by paying fourpence and going to the very end of the route you will come to a neat tea station, where you will be served with the cheering cup. Never; nor with a draught of Cadbury's cocoa or Nestle's milk, although you have jostled along for nine weary miles in company with their blatant recommendations to drink nothing else, and though you may have passed other 'buses with the same highly-coloured names glaring at you until they are burned into the grey matter of your brain, to remain there as long as the copy-book maxims you penned when you were a child.
These pictorial methods doubtless prove a source of great financial gain; of course it must be so, or they would never be prosecuted; but although they may allure millions of customers, they will lose two in our modest persons. When Salemina and I go into a cafe for tea we ask the young woman if they serve Lipton's, and if they say yes, we take coffee. This is self-punishment indeed (in London!), yet we feel that it may have a moral effect; perhaps not commensurate with the physical effect of the coffee upon us, but these delicate matters can never be adjusted with absolute exactitude.
Sometimes when we are to travel on a Pears' Soap 'bus we buy beforehand a bit of pure white Castile, cut from a shrinking, reserved, exclusive bar with no name upon it, and present it to some poor woman when we arrive at our journey's end. We do not suppose that so insignificant a protest does much good, but at least it preserves one's individuality and self-respect.
Chapter IX. A Table of Kindred and Affinity.
On one of our excursions Hilda Mellifica accompanied us, and we alighted to see the place where the Smithfield martyrs were executed, and to visit some of the very old churches in that vicinity. We found hanging in the vestibule of one of them something quite familiar to Hilda, but very strange to our American eyes: 'A Table of Kindred and Affinity, wherein whosoever are related are forbidden in Scripture and our Laws to Marry Together.'
Salemina was very quiet that afternoon, and we accused her afterwards of being depressed because she had discovered that, added to the battalions of men in England who had not thus far urged her to marry them, there were thirty persons whom she could not legally espouse even if they did ask her!
I cannot explain it, but it really seemed in some way that our chances of a 'sweet, safe corner of the household fire' had materially decreased when we had read the table.
"It only goes to prove what Salemina remarked yesterday," I said: "that we can go on doing a thing quite properly until we have seen the rule for it printed in black and white. The moment we read the formula we fail to see how we could ever have followed it; we are confused by its complexities, and we do not feel the slightest confidence in our ability to do consciously the thing we have done all our lives unconsciously."
"Like the centipede," quoted Salemina:—
"'The centipede was happy quite Until the toad, for fun, Said, "Pray, which leg goes after which?" Which wrought his mind to such a pitch, He lay distracted in a ditch Considering how to run!'"
"The Table of Kindred and Affinity is all too familiar to me," sighed Hilda, "because we had a governess who made us learn it as a punishment. I suppose I could recite it now, although I haven't looked at it for ten years. We used to chant it in the nursery schoolroom on wet afternoons. I well remember that the vicar called one day to see us, and the governess, hearing our voices uplifted in a pious measure, drew him under the window to listen. This is what he heard—you will see how admirably it goes! And do not imagine it is wicked: it is merely the Law, not the Gospel, and we framed our own musical settings, so that we had no associations with the Prayer Book."
Here Hilda chanted softly, there being no one in the old churchyard:—
"A woman may not marry with her Grandfather. Grandmother's Husband, Husband's Grandfather.. Father's Brother. Mother's Brother. Father's Sister's Husband.. Mother's Sister's Husband. Husband's Father's Brother. Husband's Mother's Brother.. Father. Step-Father. Husband's Father.. Son. Husband's Son. Daughter's Husband.. Brother. Husband's Brother. Sister's Husband.. Son's Son. Daughter's Son. Son's Daughter's Husband.. Daughter's Daughter's Husband. Husband's Son's Son. Husband's Daughter's Son .. Brother's Son. Sister's Son. Brother's Daughter's Husband.. Sister's Daughter's Husband. Husband's Brother's Son. Husband's Sister's Son."
"It seems as if there were nobody left," I said disconsolately, "save perhaps your Second Cousin's Uncle, or your Enemy's Dearest Friend."
"That's just the effect it has on one," answered Hilda. "We always used to conclude our chant with the advice:—
"And if there is anybody, after this, in the universe. left to. marry.. marry him as expeditiously. as you. possibly. can.. Because there are very few husbands omitted from this table of. Kindred and. Affinity.. And it behoveth a maiden to snap them up without any delay. willing or unwilling. whenever and. wherever found."
"We were also required to learn by heart the form of Prayer with Thanksgiving to be used Yearly upon the Fifth Day of November for the happy deliverance of King James I. and the Three Estates of England from the most traitorous and bloody-intended Massacre by Gunpowder; also the prayers for Charles the Martyr and the Thanksgiving for having put an end to the Great Rebellion by the Restitution of the King and Royal Family after many Years' interruption which unspeakable Mercies were wonderfully completed upon the 29th of May in the year 1660!"
"1660! We had been forty years in America then," soliloquised Francesca; "and isn't it odd that the long thanksgivings in our country must all have been for having successfully run away from the Gunpowder Treason, King Charles the Martyr, and the Restituted Royal Family; yet here we are, you and I, the best of friends, talking it all over."
As we jog along, or walk, by turns, we come to Buckingham Street, and looking up at Alfred Jingle's lodgings say a grateful word of Mr. Pickwick. We tell each other that much of what we know of London and England seems to have been learned from Dickens.
Deny him the right to sit among the elect, if you will; talk of his tendency to farce and caricature; call his humour low comedy, and his pathos bathos—although you shall say none of these things in my presence unchallenged; the fact remains that every child, in America at least, knows more of England—its almshouses, debtors' prisons, and law-courts, its villages and villagers, its beadles and cheap-jacks and hostlers and coachmen and boots, its streets and lanes, its lodgings and inns and landladies and roastbeef and plum-pudding, its ways, manners, and customs,—knows more of these things and a thousand others from Dickens's novels than from all the histories, geographies, biographies, and essays in the language. Where is there another novelist who has so peopled a great city with his imaginary characters that there is hardly room for the living population, as one walks along the ways?
O these streets of London! There are other more splendid shades in them,—shades that have been there for centuries, and will walk beside us so long as the streets exist. One can never see these shades, save as one goes on foot, or takes that chariot of the humble, the omnibus. I should like to make a map of literary London somewhat after Leigh Hunt's plan, as projected in his essay on the World of Books; for to the book-lover 'the poet's hand is always on the place, blessing it.' One can no more separate the association from the particular spot than one can take away from it any other beauty.
'Fleet Street is always Johnson's Fleet Street' (so Leigh Hunt says); 'the Tower belongs to Julius Caesar, and Blackfriars to Suckling, Vandyke, and the Dunciad...I can no more pass through Westminster without thinking of Milton, or the Borough without thinking of Chaucer and Shakespeare, or Gray's Inn without calling Bacon to mind, or Bloomsbury Square without Steele and Akenside, than I can prefer brick and mortar to wit and poetry, or not see a beauty upon it beyond architecture in the splendour of the recollection.'
Chapter X. Apropos of advertisements.
Francesca wishes to get some old hall-marked 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 (where we had been choosing the best locations for our memorial tablets), 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!) We had intended to take a sail to Richmond on a penny steamboat, but it was drizzling, so we had a cosy fire instead, 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."
"I know," he answered calmly, "and my only error in judgment was that I didn'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 wonder 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 Honourable 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 didn't suppose that he could find anything too young for his taste, but I didn't dare.
"Salemina adores cats," I went on. "How is this, Sally, dear?— 'A handsome orange male Persian cat, also a tabby, immense coat, brushes and frills, is offered in exchange for an electro-plated revolving covered dish or an Allen's Vapour 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 remarkable 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 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 Sydenham House, Craig 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, Essex. 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. As a sample of her stock please note: A superlatively exquisite, essentially beautiful, and important lace flounce for sale, at a reasonable price. Also a bargain of peerlessly choice character.—Six grandly glittering paste cluster buttons, of important size, emitting dazzling rays of incomparable splendour and lustre. Don't readily forget this or her name and address,—Clara (Miss) Willard (the Lady Trader), Waddington, Essex. Immaculate promptitude and scrupulous liberality observed: therefore, on these credentials, ye must deal with her; it is the duty of intellect to be reciprocal.'"
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. "Do you think you can 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 grey 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, and, alas! I am not quite ready to adopt any other.
We discussed international marriages while we were at our toilets, Salemina and I prinking by the light of one small candle-end, while Francesca, as the youngest and prettiest, illuminated her charms with the six sitting-room candles and three filched from the little table in the hall.
I gave it as my humble opinion that for an American woman an English husband was at least an experiment; Salemina declared that for that matter a husband of any nationality was an experiment. Francesca ended the conversation flippantly by saying that in her judgment no husband at all was a much more hazardous experiment.
Chapter XI. The ball on the opposite side.
We are all three rather tired this morning,—Salemina, Francesca, and I,—for we went to one of the smartest balls of the London season last night, and were robbed of half our customary allowance of sleep in consequence.
It may be difficult for you to understand our weariness, when I confess that the ball was not quite of the usual sort; that we did not dance at all; and, what is worse, that we were not asked, either to tread a measure, or sit out a polka, or take 'one last turn.'
To begin at the beginning, there is a large vacant house directly opposite Smith's Private Hotel, and there has been hanging from its balcony, until very lately, a sign bearing the following notice:—
THESE COMMANDING PREMISES WITH A SUPERFICIAL AREA OF 10,000 FT. AND 50 FT. FRONTAGE TO DOVERMARLE ST. WILL BE SOLD BY AUCTION ON TUESDAY, JUNE 28TH, BY MESSRS. SKIDDY, YADDLETHORPE AND SKIDDY LAND AGENTS AND SURVEYORS 27 HASTINGS PLACE, PALL MALL.
A few days ago, just as we were finishing a late breakfast, an elderly gentleman drove up in a private hansom, and alighted at this vacant house on the opposite side. Behind him, in a cab, came two men, who unlocked the front door, went in, came out on the balcony, cut the wires supporting the sign, took it down, opened all the inside shutters, and disappeared through some rear entrance. The elderly gentleman went upstairs for a moment, came down again, and drove away.
"The house has been sold, I suppose," said Salemina; "and for my part I envy the new owner his bargain. He is close to Piccadilly, has that bit of side lawn with the superb oak-tree, and the duke's beautiful gardens so near that they will seem virtually his own when he looks from his upper windows."
At tea-time the same elderly gentleman drove up in a victoria, with a very pretty young lady.
"The plot thickens," said Francesca, who was nearest the window. "Do you suppose she is his bride-elect, and is he showing her their future home, or is she already his wife? If so, I fear me she married him for his title and estates, for he is more than a shade too old for her."
"Don't be censorious, child," I remonstrated, taking my cup idly across the room, to be nearer the scene of action. "Oh, dear! there is a slight discrepancy, I confess, but I can explain it. This is how it happened: The girl had never really loved, and did not know what the feeling was. She did know that the aged suitor was a good and worthy man, and her mother and nine small brothers and sisters (very much out at the toes) urged the marriage. The father, too, had speculated heavily in consorts or consuls, or whatever-you-call-'ems, and besought his child not to expose his defalcations and losses. She, dutiful girl, did as she was bid, especially as her youngest sister came to her in tears and said, 'Unless you consent we shall have to sell the cow!' So she went to the altar with a heart full of palpitating respect, but no love to speak of; that always comes in time to heroines who sacrifice themselves and spare the cows."
"It sounds strangely familiar," remarked Mr. Beresford, who was with us, as usual. "Didn't a fellow turn up in the next chapter, a young nephew of the old husband, who fell in love with the bride, unconsciously and against his will? Wasn't she obliged to take him into the conservatory, at the end of a week, and say, 'G-go! I beseech you! for b-both our sakes!'? Didn't the noble fellow wring her hand silently, and leave her looking like a broken lily on the-"
"How can you be so cynical, Mr. Beresford? It isn't like you!" exclaimed Salemina. "For my part, I don't think the girl is either his bride or his fiancee. Probably the mother of the family is dead, and the father is bringing his eldest daughter to look at the house: that's my idea of it."
This theory being just as plausible as ours, we did not discuss it, hoping that something would happen to decide the matter in one way or another.
"She is not married, I am sure," went on Salemina, leaning over the back of my chair. "You notice that she hasn't given a glance at the kitchen or the range, although they are the most important features of the house. I think she may have just put her head inside the dining-room door, but she certainly didn't give a moment to the butler's pantry or the china closet. You will find that she won't mount to the fifth floor to see how the servants are housed,—not she, careless, pretty creature; she will go straight to the drawing-room."
And so she did; and at the same instant a still younger and prettier creature drove up in a hansom, and was out of it almost before the admiring cabby could stop his horse or reach down for his fare. She flew up the stairway and danced into the drawing-room like a young whirlwind; flung open doors, pulled up blinds with a jerk, letting in the sunlight everywhere, and tiptoed to and fro over the dusty floors, holding up her muslin flounces daintily.
"This must be the daughter of his first marriage," I remarked.
"Who will not get on with the young stepmother," finished Mr. Beresford.
"It is his youngest daughter," corrected Salemina,—"the youngest daughter of his only wife, and the image of her deceased mother, who was, in her time, the belle of Dublin."
She might well have been that, we all agreed; for this young beauty was quite the Irish type, such black hair, grey-blue eyes, and wonderful lashes, and such a merry, arch, winsome face, that one loved her on the instant.
She was delighted with the place, and we did not wonder, for the sunshine, streaming in at the back and side windows, showed us rooms of noble proportions opening into one another. She admired the balcony, although we thought it too public to be of any use save for flowering plants; she was pleased with a huge French mirror over the marble mantle; she liked the chandeliers, which were in the worst possible taste; all this we could tell by her expressive gestures; and she finally seized the old gentleman by the lapels of his coat and danced him breathlessly from the fireplace to the windows and back again, while the elder girl clapped her hands and laughed.
"Isn't she lovely?" sighed Francesca, a little covetously, although she is something of a beauty herself.
"I am sorry that her name is Bridget," said Mr. Beresford.
"For shame!" I cried indignantly. "It is Norah, or Veronica, or Geraldine, or Patricia; yes, it is Patricia,—I know it as well as if I had been at the christening.—Dawson, take the tea-things, please; and do you know the name of the gentleman who has bought the house on the opposite side?"
"It is Lord Brighton, miss." (You would never believe it, but we find the name is spelled Brighthelmston.) "He hasn't bought the 'ouse; he has taken it for a week, and is giving a ball there on the Tuesday evening. He has four daughters, miss, and two h'orphan nieces that generally spends the season with 'im. It's the youngest daughter he is bringing out, that lively one you saw cutting about just now. They 'ave no ballroom, I expect, in their town 'ouse, which accounts for their renting one for this occasion. They stopped a month in this 'otel last year, so I have the honour of m'luds acquaintance."
"Lady Brighthelmston is not living, I should judge," remarked Salemina, in the tone of one who thinks it hardly worth while to ask.
"Oh, yes, miss, she's alive and 'earty; but the daughters manages everythink, and what they down't manage the h'orphan nieces does. The 'ouse is run for the young ladies, but m'ludanlady seems to enjoy it."
Dovermarle Street was so interesting during the next few days that we could scarcely bear to leave it, lest something exciting should happen in our absence.
"A ball is so confining!" said Francesca, who had come back from the corner of Piccadilly to watch the unloading of a huge van, and found that it had no intention of stopping at Number Nine on the opposite side.
First came a small army of charwomen, who scrubbed the house from top to bottom. Then came men with canvas for floors, bronzes and jardinieres and somebody's family portraits from an auction-room, chairs and sofas and draperies from an upholsterer's.
The night before the event itself I announced my intention of staying in our own drawing-room the whole of the next day. "I am more interested in Patricia's debut," I said, "than anything else that can possibly happen in London. What if it should be wet, and won't it be annoying if it is a cold night and they draw the heavy curtains close together?"
But it was beautiful day, almost too warm for a ball, and the heavy curtains were not drawn. The family did not court observation; it was serenely unconscious of such a thing. As to our side of the street, I think we may have been the only people at all interested in the affair now so imminent. The others had something more sensible to do, I fancy, than patching up romances about their neighbours.
At noon the florists decorated the entrance with palms, covered the balcony with a gay awning, and hung the railing with brilliant masses of scarlet and yellow flowers. At two the caterers sent silver, tables, linen, and dishes, and a Broadwood grand piano was installed; but at half-past seven, when we sat down to dinner, we were a trifle anxious, because so many things seemed yet to do before the party could be a complete success.
Mr. Beresford and his mother were dining with us, and we had sent invitations to our London friends, the Hon. Arthur Ponsonby and Bertie Godolphin, to come later in the evening. These read as follows:—
Private View The pleasure of your company is requested at the coming-out party of The Hon. Patricia Brighthelmston July —- 189- On the opposite side of the street. Dancing about 10-30. 9 Dovermarle Street.
At eight o'clock, as we were finishing our fish course, which chanced to be fried sole, the ball began literally to roll, and it required the greatest ingenuity on Francesca's part and mine to be always down in our seats when Dawson entered with the dishes, and always at the window when he was absent.
An enormous van had appeared, with half a dozen men walking behind it. In a trice, two of them had stretched a wire trellis across one wall of the drawing-room, and two more were trailing roses from floor to ceiling. Others tied the dark wood of the stair railing with tall Madonna lilies; then they hung garlands of flowers from corner to corner and, alas! could not refrain from framing the mirror in smilax, nor from hanging the chandeliers with that same ugly, funereal, and artificial-looking vine,—this idea being the principal stock-in-trade of every florist in the universe.
We could not catch even a glimpse of the supper-rooms, but we saw a man in the fourth story front room filling dozens of little glass vases, each with its single malmaison, rose, or camellia, and despatching them by an assistant to another part of the house; so we could imagine from this the scheme of decoration at the tables.—No, not new, perhaps, but simple and effective.
By the time we had finished our entree, which happened to be lamb cutlets and green peas, and had begun our roast, which was chicken and ham, I remember, they had put wreaths at all the windows, hung Japanese lanterns on the balcony and in the oak-tree, and transformed the house into a blossoming bower.
At this exciting juncture Dawson entered unexpectedly with our sweet, and for the first and only time caught us literally 'red-handed.' Let British subjects be interested in their neighbours, if they will (and when they refrain I am convinced that it is as much indifference as good breeding), but let us never bring our country into disrepute with an English butler! As there was not a single person at the table when Dawson came in, we were obliged to say that we had finished dinner, thank you, and would take coffee; no sweet to-night, thank you.
Willie Beresford was the only one who minded, but he rather likes cherry tart. It simply chanced to be cherry tart, for our cook at Smith's Private Hotel is a person of unbridled fancy and endless repertory. She sometimes, for example, substitutes rhubarb for cherry tart quite out of her own head; and when balked of both these dainties, and thrown absolutely on her own boundless resources, will create a dish of stewed green gooseberries and a companion piece of liquid custard. These unrelated concoctions, when eaten at the same moment, as is her intention, always remind me of the lying down together of the lion and the lamb, and the scheme is well-nigh as dangerous, under any other circumstances than those of the digestive millennium. I tremble to think what would ensue if all the rhubarb and gooseberry bushes in England should be uprooted in a single night. I believe that thousands of cooks, those not possessed of families or Christian principles, would drown themselves in the Thames forthwith, but that is neither here nor there, and the Honourable Arthur denies it. He says, "Why commit suicide? Ain't there currants?"
I had forgotten to say that we ourselves were all en grande toilette, down to satin slippers, feeling somehow that it was the only proper thing to do; and when Dawson had cleared the table and ushered in the other visitors, we ladies took our coffee and the men their cigarettes to the three front windows, which were open as usual to our balcony.
We seated ourselves there quite casually, as is our custom, somewhat hidden by the lace draperies and potted hydrangeas, and whatever we saw was to be seen by any passer-by, save that we held the key to the whole story, and had made it our own by right of conquest.
Just at this moment—it was quarter-past nine, although it was still bright daylight—came a little procession of servants who disappeared within the doors, and, as they donned caps and aprons, would now and then reappear at the windows. Presently the supper arrived. We did not know the number of invited guests (there are some things not even revealed to the Wise Woman), but although we were a trifle nervous about the amount of eatables, we were quite certain that there would be no dearth of liquid refreshment.